The focus on Barack Obama as the person of the moment, and the politician that grabbed the globes imagination throughout 2008 caused me to reflect in this post on other politicians who overcame even higher odds at greater personal costs in 2008. But it also important to continually remember that there are many other people around the world who show even greater perseverance and courage. Many of them remain anonymous, but some become known and on occasion they can have as big an impact, albeit in different ways, as national political leaders.
I was given reason to remember this basic truth when I read this truly extraordinary piece, reproduced in New Matilda. It is by Lasantha Wickrematunge, the editor of Sri Lanka’s Sunday Leader who was murdered in Colombo on 8 January 2009.
He was obviously sufficiently certain that he would be assassinated that he prepared an editorial to be published posthumously. It is brave, chilling and absolutely scathing in the most personal way possible of Sri Lankan President, Mahinda Rajapakse.
The murdered editor points out that he and Mahinda had been friends for over twenty-five years and they regularly met privately met. He then goes on to address his remarks directly to his friend and President, saying “When finally I am killed, it will be the government that kills me.”
In the wake of my death I know you will make all the usual sanctimonious noises and call upon the police to hold a swift and thorough inquiry. But like all the inquiries you have ordered in the past, nothing will come of this one, too. For truth be told, we both know who will be behind my death, but dare not call his name. Not just my life, but yours too, depends on it.
Sadly, for all the dreams you had for our country in your younger days, in just three years you have reduced it to rubble. In the name of patriotism you have trampled on human rights, nurtured unbridled corruption and squandered public money like no other President before you.
I strongly recommend reading the whole thing at this link.
The Sri Lankan civil war is a horrendous litany of appalling human rights abuses on both sides stretching back a very long time. It doesn’t get the profile of the Middle East, but Barack Obama’s words in his inauguration speech are quite apt for this conflict:
“To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”
You don’t get many more obvious examples of silencing dissent than murdering journalists and newspaper editors.
UPDATE (6 Feb): More details on this assassination and the long sad history of violent suppression of free speech in Sri Lanka in this piece from Inside Story.