It was with shock and dismay that everyone received the news of the killing of a schoolgirl in the North the other day. Angry mobs wreaked havoc in Jaffna on Wednesday, demanding that the suspected murderers be either handed over to them for lynching or summarily executed inside the police station where they were being held. Their consternation is understandable.
What we have just witnessed in Jaffna is typical of Sri Lankans who want justice hurried. There have been many instances, in all parts of the country, where people took the law into their own hands and meted out instance justice to suspected criminals.
Among the Jaffna protesters were some schoolchildren, according to media reports. When people are driven by their emotions they lose self-control, and violence becomes the inevitable outcome. Mobs do not reason; nor can they be reasoned with. They want only one thing—violence. We believe Wednesday’s attacks on the police and courts were spontaneous.
Scores of protesters were taken into custody for pelting stones on the police and the Jaffna court complex. The law enforcement authorities cannot be faulted for firing tear gas and making arrests. Lawbreakers ought to be dealt with severely lest others of their ilk should follow suit. But, it is a supreme irony that while the ordinary people are being arrested in this manner for hurling stones, a minister accused of threatening a judge and causing a court house to be attacked, under the previous dispensation, is now a prominent member of the National Executive Committee promoting good governance! Some members of the respected Bar Association of Sri Lanka also went berserk, abusing judges and smashing furniture in the Colombo High Court when the judgment in the White Flag case was delivered in 2011. They went scot free despite the severity of their offence. No sooner had the present government been formed than protests were staged near the Supreme Court, demanding the ouster of the then Chief Justice. Nobody was arrested.
The Jaffna protesters’ demand for extrajudicial executions to avenge the murder victim points to a severe erosion of public faith in the judicial process. The general consensus is that the crime rate is very high in the country and urgent action is necessary to bring it down. As for the areas which bore the brunt of mindless terror and became desensitised to violence in the process for nearly three decades need to be policed better with more Tamil speaking police personnel recruited.
One of the biggest challenges before the incumbent government which extols the virtues of good governance and reconciliation is to restore the faith of the public in the law enforcement authorities and the judicial process. Regrettably, it is apparently moving along the muddy ruts left by its predecessors if its propensity for ‘megaphone probes’ show trials etc is any indication.
Mob violence ought to be prevented, especially in the North where it is believed that surreptitious attempts are being made to revive terrorism. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa has alleged that the Tiger flag was raised in the North and the LTTE’s dead cadres were commemorated on May 19. Pooh-poohing his claim, President Maithripala Sirisena has vowed to do everything in his power to prevent terrorism from raising its ugly head ever again in this country. Politicians’ claims and rhetoric are not to be taken seriously.
However, it is incumbent upon religious, civil society and political leaders to step in to impress on the public in the former war zone the need to act with restraint without creating conditions for the revival of satanic forces with messianic posturing. Clashes between the law enforcement authorities and civilians will only help further the sinister agendas of subversive elements currently in suspended animation.