Eight Tamils arrested who were dubbing for a documentary film for Channel IV television in the UK

The reported arrest of eight persons, all Tamils, for allegedly seeking to defame the armed forces through propaganda films, should be a cause for alarm for the nation’s security agencies and forces. Better or worse still, it should be a cause for concern for the Tamils in the country, and more so their moderate political leadership in the Tamil National Alliance (TNA).

channel 4 - 2It will take time before the police complete their investigations, and decide whether or not to approach the courts. If the case then goes to the court, it would be for the judiciary pronounce if they are guilty of the offences now claimed against them. But the politics and the counter-propaganda that the arrests have now made, if and when taken to the logical conclusion, has the potential to harass the present government at the Centre and embarrass the larger Tamil community and their social and political leaderships.

According to reports, the eight persons were dubbing for a documentary film for the famed Channel IV television in the UK. Every Sri Lankan, nearer home and afar, now identifies the channel as the one that brought out a particular version of the concluding days/hours of the very decisive Eelam War IV.

The channel is remembered even more for the exclusive expose of LTTE leader Prabhakaran’s innocent-looking young son, Balachandran, munching from a packet of crispy in one frame and with a fatal bullet wound in another. None thus far has asked or has been told about the time-gap between the two shots, and if a child, surrounded by what he would have been indoctrinated as crude and brute gun-wielding enemies, would be looking so casual and totally un-agitated and in full control and charge of the self. If nothing else, the father could have been expected to tell his little one not to expect mercy from the Tamil community’s ultimate tormentors.

The police seems to suggest that the work of the arrested persons was illegal, and possibly in more ways than one. It has neither been stated, nor proved thus far, but the implication is that they were doing something, whose single and sole purpose was to bring (further?) discredit to the nation’s armed forces. If they were working for the Channel IV team, and if they were doing something illegal and improper, then does it imply that all other works of the kind could have been listed so or, could still be listed so? 

Truth and veracity

These are questions, but clearer answers for these and others would be known when, and only when the police investigations are concluded and a court case, if any goes through the logical process. It’s going to take its time, and fairly so, but the international community in particular, should already begin preparing its defence for all the charges and accusations made in the past, based on other products and productions of the kind.

Chief among the questions that the police investigators in the matter would (have to) relate to the truth and veracity of the canned material that has been seized. Channel IV in particular had sworn for the authenticity of the material it had presented in the past on similar lines. Otherwise, it would have and should have pulled out what has by now become a series, predictably timed for a UNHRC session or something important occurring in the Sri Lankan context, either inside the country or elsewhere.

The channel did not try to distance or disown the telecast material in the past. So there is nothing to question the veracity or the channel’s strong belief in the veracity of what had been telecast in the past.  So it becomes all the more important for the Sri Lankan police to fast-track their investigations following the arrest of these eight persons, and also prove that they were fabricated.


Consequences for UNHRC?

The nation’s courts apart, only then would the international community be convinced enough to question their past conclusions, based on near-similar material of whatever kind. Who knows, it may then have consequences for the pending UNHRC probe report on war crimes and accountability issues.  If proved vitiated by motives and interpolations by the arrested eight, then it may have serious consequences for all that is being said on the accountability issues and war crimes.

They are not directly linked in anyway whatsoever, but any discredit heaped on one expose on war crimes allegations has the potential to challenge such others as well, if only in the mind’s eyes of the beholder. It’s thus that the Darusman Report may come to be challenged for the inputs and sources, from within the new Sri Lankan government, like the predecessor too or such other material that might be ready to be presented in the coming weeks and months.

If nothing else, on Channel IV telecast, the Sri Lankan government had claimed that they are fake and faked and also produced so-called scientific test reports to prove its arguments. The government did not have to work hard on and against the Darusman Report. It was purportedly the private property of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, but got promptly leaked to the media and also got referred to the UNHRC as a basic document of whatever kind.

This is not to say that the Sri Lankan government was correct, and alone was correct. In the light of the eight-man arrest now, it needs however to be recalled that the present rulers, particularly the UNP partners, including Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, had never ever challenged the predecessor government’s claims and accusations on Channel IV, Darusman Report and the UNHRC probe, too. It’s incidental that President Maithripala Sirisena was the acting Defence Minister at the war’s end in mid-May 2009.

The new government promptly purchased time from the UN, prime-mover US and the UNHRC, for the latter to table the pending probe report. It has since been following on the predecessor’s foot-steps, declaring that the probe report, whenever presented, would only guide domestic investigations and legal processes, which alone were constitutionally valid. The government has also continued with the services of the predecessor’s probe team on missing persons. Government leaders even said that some of them (implying that they are Tamils, mostly) might have perished in the war or migrated overseas. Predecessor Rajapaksa regime had even publicly sought the assistance and cooperation of western nations to trace those who might be living in their countries (legally or otherwise???), to add up the numbers.


What after propaganda?

In the light of the current arrests, that too by a government which they see as genuine and sincere, democratic and honest, the international community (read: West) should ask themselves as to what if the perceptions being presented by the media reports on the police investigations thus far are genuine and honest, too. If it implies that it was all a part of propaganda, what end was it then expected/supposed to serve, over the medium and long terms?

It would be a different matter if the police were to conclude that the material now at their disposal was genuine and its veracity and credibility were beyond reproach. Such a finding would doubly-endorse the findings of previous tele-documentaries of the kind, from Channel IV or otherwise. It would also lend, without asking and/or attempting, greater credence and credibility to the rest of the documented probes of whatever kind and by whichever group.

It’s not as if the Colombo arrests automatically lead to anything more sinister until at least proved. But in the air of permissiveness that already exists after the genocide resolution passed by the Northern Provincial Council within weeks of the presidential poll, and the accompanying barrage of pro-LTTE social/traditional media propaganda all over again should raise questions in and for the Sri Lankan State.

Coupled with the fact that identifiable separatist groups have become active all over again in the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora and that the West-condoned (though not inspired) TNGTE is being heard more now than ever in the post-war years, the perceived hardening of the moderates in the TNA should make it difficult for the Sri Lankan State to revive ethnic negotiations, whether now or after the parliamentary polls, whenever held. It’s the right recipe that the separatists have always dined upon in post-Independent Sri Lanka the failure of the moderates to either win their case and cause from the majority Sinhala-shaped Sri Lankan State opinion on the one hand and the moderates’ one unconvincing and half-hearted approach to putting down the extremist positions within the community, building on the common Tamil people’s natural proclivity to take the middle-path!

The first set of variables is already here, and the second set is rearing its ugly head to go. It’s the admixture of this incomprehensible complexity that had failed the Sri Lankan State’s better judgment and that of the armed forces, too. The resultant concoction has always and at every turn been disastrous for the nation as a whole, and the Tamil community even more so. And like the proverbial Nero, the Sinhala-majority ruling class is busy burying its head even more deeply in the constitutional conundrum that they call the 19-A reforms, which again is a sure recipe for a politico-administrative disaster, in turn, in its present form and format.

(The writer id Director, Chennai Chapter of the Observer Research Foundation, the multi-disciplinary Indian public-policy think-tank, headquartered in New Delhi. email: sathiyam54@gmail.com)

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