Human Rights

Sangakkara, batsman and propagandist extraordinaire

Leading Sri Lankan batsman Kumar Sangakkara is currently in Australia to play cricket but he also appears to be auditioning for a job in Mahinda Rajapaksa’s propaganda unit.

As he did on the England tour last year, Sangakkara takes every opportunity in Australia to suggest that his homeland has become a haven of peace and tranquility.

He did so again this week when sending a message to the protesters who plan to gather at the MCG on Boxing Day, calling for an Australian cricket boycott on future tours and matches against Sri Lanka.

“We are mature enough not to take these things personally. This (cricket tour) is one area they are trying to use to further their agenda. For us sports is beyond politics. We are ambassadors for our country,” Sangakkara said.

Tunnel vision

A Tamil Refugee Council spokesman, Mal Bala, said Sangakkara’s view of the country came from his tunnel vision as a member of the well-off Sinhalese community who was educated at an elite private school, Trinity College in Kandy.

“We all respect Sangakkara as a cricketer, but he would have no real idea how life is for the Tamils in the north and east of country,” Bala said.

“These people have been kept in concentration camps after the war and now they are being repressed in everyday life by the military. Rape, murder and torture continues as the regime tries to apply a stranglehold on the Tamil population.

“Our protest is going ahead at full steam because we want to give the Australian public the truth about Sri Lanka not the sort of propaganda Sangakkara is peddling.”

The Boxing Day protesters asked for a boycott on Sri Lanka until president Rajapaksa agrees to UN demands for an independent inquiry into war crimes and crimes against humanity at the end of the civil war in 2009 and until his regime and military ends the on-going persecution of Tamils.

A UN report has said at least 40,000 innocent Tamil civilians were murdered by Sri Lankan Army artillery and bombs while sheltering in hospitals, schools and other buildings. The civilians had been asked to go to these so-called “safe zones” by the Army, who then deliberately targeted them.

The Tamils in north-east Sri Lanka remain under the boot of the Sri Lankan Army, with the Indian Economic and Political Weekly reporting in June this year that –three years after the war — there was one soldier for every five people in the north of the country.

The 'other Sri Lanka'

“For us,” said Sangakkara, “it’s about showing the world what Sri Lanka is like now. People from outside should really come back and visit. If you don’t see what’s happening on the ground it’s hard to change your opinion.”

A few requests for Sangakkara, then, before we agree to head off on a trip.

Could you arrange a trip for us to all the detention centres in the country, where torture and other abuses remain a regular feature of daily life for imprisoned Tamils?

We guess that might be a bit difficult, given that the UN Human Rights Council was given a flat “no” from the Government six weeks ago when it asked Sri Lanka to allow the International Red Cross to visit detention centres. But surely a man of Sangakkara’s connections could pull a few strings?

Could he also take us to the main Colombo police station to see how the investigation into the murder of the Sunday Leader newspaper editor, Lasantha Wickrametunge, is coming along?

It’s been four years since he was gunned down in broadlight on his way to work after he forecast his death in his newspaper, knowing he had crossed the Rajapaksa clan with his gutsy, honest, critical journalism. So far there’s been no sign that it’s being investigated, let alone solved, and, funnily enough, his wife, Sonali Samarasinghe Wickrametunge, has fled to the US in fear.

I would have also liked to have caught up with his successor in the editor’s chair, Frederica Jansz, but I’m told she’s also fled the country, after she got a death threat from the defence minister, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who just happens to be the president’s brother. Those Rajapaksas’ certainly like to keep it all in the family, don’t they?

While we are at the police station maybe we can check on the investigations into the other 30 or so journalists who have been killed or “disappeared” in the past few years. Surely the men on the beat must have a few leads by now?  They haven’t? Ah well, I suppose policing is a tough business these days.

After we wrap things up in Colombo, could we head north? We’d like to go to Mullivaikal, where thousands of innocent Tamils were slaughtered in 2009 and now lie in mass graves. That is, of course, if the bodies haven’t disappeared, due to the Army using acid to cover up their war crimes.

Maybe, also, we could see the site of the town’s hospital, which became a pile of rubble after the Army mortar bombs and artillery had targeted it and killed at least 70 people in one hit.

Then, seeing as we are in the area, could we also visit the prison in which several Jaffna University students were lodged recently after being declared terrorists for lighting candles to commemorate the Tamil war dead ?

Finally, there’s one last thing to organise, and we are off.

We’ve got a few Tamil refugees here who wouldn’t mind having look at the old country as well. Could we bring them along ? We reckon it would be nice for them to see their old friends and families, if they haven’t been locked up.

The trouble is they keep saying if they went back it would be a rather limited tour, something about a “white van” trip between the airport and the torture chamber at Negombo prison.

It wouldn’t be like that, Kumar, would it?

© What's the Score, Sport?


Trevor Grant is a former chief cricket writer at The Age, and
now works withthe Boycott Sri Lanka Cricket Campaign and the Refugee Action Collective.


Articles by Trevor Grant:

Should we boycott Sri Lankan cricket?
Big country, small heart: The story of Paartheepan Ranjini
Hushing up crimes: Politics of deceptions, fabrications and lies

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Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

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