Death of Discipline

Ceylon Today Editorial

The incident involving the Navy Commander and the Hambantota Harbour employees has become yet another scapegoat incident which has grabbed the masses’ attention from the significant story and sidetracked towards the less significant but yet flamboyant story.

During a protest organized by the unconfirmed employees of the Hambantota Magampura Harbour which saw the workers forcibly controlling two foreign merchant vessels at the Port, being intervened by the Sri Lanka Navy. As per the provisions of the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code, it is the Sri Lanka Navy that should intervene in a matter of this magnitude port workers forcibly delaying the departure of foreign vessels – and not the Sri Lanka Police. The Sri Lanka Police is not equipped or trained to handle riots, protests that take place at sea.

Thus, the Navy’s presence at the protest site was justifiable. After all, what the workers were staging can be and has been defined as an act of piracy. Firing in the air and firing blanks were strictly adhered to as a scare tactic to disperse the protesting crowd.

Talking about the elephant in the room now: the Navy Commander assaulting journalists who were covering the protest, is one of the most abhorrent examples of media freedom violations, that was reported during the present government’s tenure. This is unfortunately not even the first time a military officer had attempted to manhandle the media; last June, when the armoury of the Sri Lanka Volunteer Force Headquarters in Salawa, Kosgama exploded due to unknown reasons (still) several journalists and news reporters were threatened and allegedly assaulted by certain high ranking officers of the military forces.

The Navy Commander Vice Admiral Ravindra Wijegunratne’s berserk mode will undoubtedly go down in shame history, regardless of the fact that all the necessary government bodies are rejecting to believe it actually took place.

The Navy Commander had no right and no need to assault journalists. By doing so, he has unintentionally drawn to him the wrath of the country’s entire fourth estate and it will not be any time soon that we let go of this. The Navy Commander’s discipline was a farce when compared to the pride we had in the Sri Lanka Navy and this should be redeemed before it’s too late.

The Sri Lanka Navy, following its crucial role in the latter part of the Civil War, managed to secure a good reputation with the nation’s populace and was also able to achieve recognition internationally. But following those years, the Sri Lanka Navy, and the other military forces became political puppets. Navy officers have been accused of political kidnappings and forced disappearances. This slapstick comedy act by the Navy Commander will only add those disgraces.

This is why we call for justice. We call for immediate disciplinary action against the Navy Commander and if possible, termination of his service and a dishonourable discharge. If the government wants to prove that they had no hand in this and to prove that media freedom is not violated under their watch, this is the only plausible course of action.

Coming back to the main objective of the story, the one that we all chose to ignore and conveniently forget: while this has been happening, the unconfirmed employees of the Hambantota Harbour are continuing to protest outside the port premises. It is high time a proper leader went and listened to their grievances, without sending some small fry politician who no one cares about.

We implore the President and Prime Minister to visit these workers and lend an ear to their issues. They only ask for job security which can be provided so easily. The Hambantota Port can be managed by outsiders, but they also need the human labour that is required to do so and it is cheaper to use the local labour for the job, instead of importing it. If the President or the Prime Minister visited these protestors, explained that scenario of events, things would have been completely different. This incendiary situation could have been avoided.

And to those who turned a simple protest – that of the Buddhist activists and their likes with the mysterious political links – do not think your actions went unseen. You were not afraid to show your face at the Hambantota Port. You were there when the differently-abled soldiers were protesting in Colombo. Everyone who has an iota of understanding and common knowledge knows that the incident was fired up by you. Every time someone in the Joint Opposition or the likes of you talks about media freedom, a dead journalist rolls in his/her grave.

You are literally the political drop of dung in the worker’s pot of milk. Your actions have been noted and we do not intend to let them go until some justice is done.