Alternative Facts in a Parallel Universe

Daily FT editorial, Colombo, March 11, 2024

Many are talking about the book recently published by former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa titled “The Conspiracy to Oust Me from the Presidency.” As the name indicates, the supposed tell-all by the ousted leader makes for some fascinating reading, despite it being far removed from reality. This is in no way an endorsement for anyone to purchase this trivia and enrich an individual who does not deserve to make money explaining the misery he caused; thanks to a few citizen journalists the crux of the work of fiction is now in the public domain.

The Aragalaya or struggle of the masses that ousted Rajapaksa is now being portrayed as a conspiracy. A movement that witnessed hundreds of thousands of citizens take to the street to demand not only his ouster but a whole system change to the Government was apparently an international conspiracy. Rajapaksa and his ghost authors are short on evidence for this accusation other than circumstantial evidence that Ambassadors had visited military establishments and had conversations with the top brass of the military during these troubled times.

The fact that the military didn’t intervene to crush the peoples’ protests in the eyes of Rajapaksa, an alleged war criminal, is part of the grand conspiracy. He asserts that Defence Secretary Kamal Gunarathne and Chief of Defence Staff Shavendra Silva were reluctant to take “decisive action” against the protesters. Rajapaksa cannot fathom even at this very late stage that handling protesters is not the job of the military but the Police. Every citizen has a right to assemble, to speak and yes, to protests. These are not rights that need to be crushed by the military using brute force. Whatever the compulsions of the military to show a degree of restraint rather than backing the President, who himself has a chequered history of war crimes and grave human rights violations, it was the correct move which prevented a bloodbath.

In addition to the accusations of war crimes during the war, Gotabaya Rajapaksa is accused of numerous other crimes including the murder, abduction, torture of numerous journalists, activists and political opponents. He is further accused of corruption, embezzlement and misappropriation of State funds.

While there was some progress in the investigations into crimes committed by Rajapaksa during the Yahapalana regime, most of these cases were deliberately stalled either through political deal-making, interference into investigations by the police and prosecution by the Attorney General’s Department. Since his ouster and return to the country after fleeing in 2022, he has been granted immunity by the Ranil Wickremesinghe administration. Through all this it has been made abundantly clear that justice will not be delivered to Rajapaksa’s victims by the Sri Lankan judicial system.

Rather than writing books, in a properly functioning democracy Gotabaya Rajapaksa should face legal action for the alleged crimes committed against the people of this country, ranging from war crimes, killing of journalists, corruption and other economic crimes. Due to the betrayal of the Aragalaya movement by those who grabbed power after the ousting of Rajapaksa in July 2022, there is little hope for such accountability, on the former President or any other. In the very least, that monumental struggle, despite its failures, launched by the starving masses of this country in 2022 should not be allowed to be desecrated as a conspiracy.

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