If Azad Salley is a terrorist in the producing, a terrorist who has to be pre-empted by recourse to detention below the Prevention of Terrorism Act, or a promoter of fanatical, fundamentalist ethno-religious hatred, he comes with the strangest of profiles.
Far from becoming born into and raised in anything like a backward, fundamentalist, religiously fanatical background, his father was a Communist (as comrade DEW Gunasekara could confirm) who later became a Maoist (or ‘Marxist-Leninist’). ‘Communist Salley’ as he was recognized, didn’t appear to have an ethno-religious bone in his physique.
Azad’s father wasn’t only a communist, he was a journalist and he wasn’t a journalist for a Saudi fundamentalist Wahhabi newssheet. He was a long time employee of Reuters. I was introduced to the slim, be-spectacled ‘Communist Salley’ by Mervyn de Silva, my father, at the tele-printer at the Reuters office.
My father had also introduced me to George Rajapaksa, his classmate and Cabinet Minister of the Sirimavo Bandaranaike administration, at the latter’s residence down Flower Road. George Rajapaksa was of course the uncle of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brothers.
It is a tale so redolent of Sri Lanka’s ironic, typically absurdist trajectory and travails, that the son of one particular of these (leftwing) personalities introduced to me by my father, has been detained beneath the administration of the nephew of one more albeit far better known (progressive) personality, doubtless by yet another nephew of that personality.
When Azad and I ran into every other, it was at former Mayor Sirisena Cooray’s property. Azad was a vibrant, jocular, spirited young UNP politician who attended every single Premadasa commemoration that I was at (the last being 1999). We lost track of each and every other since, but I was not surprised that he had joined Mahinda Rajapaksa. I was even much less shocked to hear that he had debated the BBS spokesperson on television in Sinhala, and from what I gathered, got the much better of the polemical exchange.
Of course Azad is one thing of a firebrand, just as Mahinda Rajapaksa, Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Dinesh Gunawardena and Mavai Senadirajah were at the exact same age (and stage of their politics). His rhetoric was definitely no more militant than that of Cabinet Ministers Wimal Weerawansa and Champika Ranawaka.
Azad did punch back rhetorically when Islamophobia was lately unleashed in our public domain. He was a spirited young man and may have felt compelled to speak out by the conspicuous silence and pusillanimity of much more established Muslim politicians. By no means has the absence of Ashraff been felt far more acutely. Salley may possibly also have spotted a political opening. Because when is that a crime?
If Azad had to be arrested for incitement, what of the far much more explicitly hostile, antagonistic and hateful speech at public rallies and street agitations by allegedly Buddhist organisations, all of which have gone international on YouTube? Who is investigating the leaflets bearing violent , threatening graphics of swords and leaping swordsmen, and which advertise events explicitly as ‘rebellions’ or ‘uprisings’?
Surely, even-handedness needs a crackdown on fundamentalist incitement of a majoritarian assortment, just as on those emanating from minority sources? In the absence of such balance, even-handedness and organic justice, what does the arrest of Azad Salley and the circumstances of his detention make this government and far more importantly the Sri Lankan state look like in the eyes of the globe?
Was Azad arrested because he dared to speak back, to debate? Is it that he was an uppity nigger who needed to be taught a lesson an articulate and upfront young Muslim who had to be locked up as an instance to the minorities and as a sacrifice at the altar of Sinhala supremacism a sop to a Sinhala Cerberus?
If I were a human rights activist or diplomat campaigning in Geneva on Sri Lanka, the arrest of Azad Salley would make my day. Conversely, if I were nonetheless the Sri Lankan Ambassador/Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, I would face an acute diplomatic and moral-ethical difficulty.
Of the 13 member states that voted for us in Geneva this year, 7 were from the OIC. It was the Muslim (perhaps I should say ‘halal’) Bala Sena that saved Sri Lanka, the Sinhalese and the Sinhalese Buddhists from a humiliating defeat in Geneva this time. We would have been down to six votes with no that assistance fewer than the votes obtained by Syria at the UNHRC, and even Libya prior to the intervention. Whilst it voted in our favour, the OIC has also created a demarche in Jeddah about anti-Muslim coercion and threats in Sri Lanka, even though the OIC Ambassadors based in Colombo have met the President. How will the OIC vote go in March 2014?
So, here, in the meanwhile, is Salley, a mainstream politician, a former Deputy Mayor of Colombo, a man whose photograph with President Rajapaksa shows excellent mutual cordiality and warmth, who has been detained beneath the Prevention of Terrorism Act, without a single weapon or bullet found anywhere near him or a solitary act of violence becoming related with him.
The Prevention of Terrorism Act is meant precisely for what it says: the prevention precisely of terrorism. Was Azad Salley a founder, leader, member, supporter or sympathizer of an armed terrorist group? There are no unarmed terrorist groups, it have to be stated. If they are unarmed, they are not or not yet, terrorist. Was he verifiably planning to organize one particular? If so which, when and where?
Has any act of violence resulted from something that Azad Salley has stated or done? If so which, what, when and where?
If any offense has been committed by Salley, why has it not been placed in the public domain? Why is it shrouded in secrecy? Why has Salley not been charged beneath the standard laws of the land? Why has he not been granted unfettered access to counsel, family and visitors?
If this is the therapy meted out in peacetime to an unarmed electoral politician, what might have happened in Welikada? What should have occurred in wartime to numerous other people? What may possibly be taking place now, outdoors of Colombo, in the former conflict zones, to Tamils?
These are the questions that would logically happen to any person and could be legitimately raised in Geneva and elsewhere.
Let us assume that Azad Salley produced some imprudent, even intemperate remarks to a publication and even an audience of activists, in Chennai. The periodical in query, Junior Vikatan, it have to be noted, is edited by Cho Ramaswamy, a courageous lonely crusader against the Tigers considering that the 1980s. Neither he nor the journal can be remotely characterised as subversive or secessionist. Something can be lost in translation even though.
No matter. What ever Azad may possibly have said, it could have been countered by correct revelation in the mass media, and subsequent critique and open debate. An notion, nevertheless erroneous or indefensible, have to and can only be countered by one more concept, not by arrest and detention for 90 days. That is if you are committed to standard democratic values and practices though.
If nonetheless, a government or a state chooses to use the strongest legislation in its armoury to punish the expression or exchange of suggestions, even so erroneous, that government or state runs the risk of revealing itself or obtaining itself depicted by critics, as undemocratic and authoritarian. As a result it is the repressive action of the regime rather than anything that Azad Salley might have stated that brings discredit to Sri Lanka and offers ammunition to those who seek international investigation.
Does the detention of Azad Salley assist avoid terrorism or does it contribute to the opposite outcome of radicalisation?
The answer to that query lies in our knowledge as a society. In 1972, a couple of dozen young Tamils were detained due to the fact they had hoisted black flags in protest against the promulgation of the Republication Constitution, ignoring the written entreaties of the Tamil parliamentary political leadership headed by SJV Chelvanayakam. These young males had not engaged in any violent activities. They were held in detention for 5 years.
At the time of their arrest there was no armed movement in Jaffna. By the time of their release in 1977, the Tigers had commenced armed operations, whilst the EROS/GUES had been formed in London and obtained weapons coaching in Lebanon. Those in doubt may possibly check with Karuna, KP, Suresh, Siddarthan and Douglas.
It was certainly not these in detention who initiated this armed movement, since they couldn’t even though behind bars. Nonetheless, their quite presence behind bars for non-violent activism mightily strengthened the argument of these shadowy figures like the teenaged Velupillai Prabhakaran, that there was no space for and no point in something but armed actions.
As a result, the detention by the state of unarmed political activists in no way acted as a deterrent to armed violence and terrorism, but truly radicalized the tactics and later the strategy itself of the politics of the Tamil minority.
What is the signal that Azad’s therapy sends out to the disaffected youth and the shadowy groups that may possibly exist in the Eastern province? As with Tamils, so also probably with Muslims, but is that the insidious intent?