Colombo (AsiaNews) – Patali Champika Ranawaka, an ultra-nationalist Sinhalese politician appointed environment and natural resources minister just two weeks ago, has already stirred controversy. In a statement on how to deal with “dissidents”, whether Tamil rebels or peace activists, he said that extra-judicial means should be available. The condemnation from civil society groups was swift and unanimous.
Organisations representing journalists and defending press freedom as well as groups from the country’s Muslim and Tamil communities signed a joint statement in which they called for a retraction and highlighted the many anti-democratic views the minister expressed in the past.
Equally worrisome is the fact that Mr Ranawaka is a close collaborator of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse.
The controversy began last Sunday when Ranawaka told Ravaya, a local newspaper, that if existing laws were not adequate to re-establish order in the country, “we shall use other means”.
Since last summer the ugly head of civil war has reared its head again in the north and the east of the country as army and Tamil Tigers began again to battle it out. Hundreds of people have died as a result and the peace process has stalled in all but name.
In their press release press and community groups accuse the minister of supporting the extremist National Movement against Terrorism (NMAT) which is waging a campaign against supporters of the Tamil cause, including peace activists and defenders of freedom of speech.
The minister himself has already referred to latter as terrorists in the past.
For the signatories to the press release, his remarks are “offensive and irresponsible for a member of the government.”
Ranawaka belongs to the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), a party led by Buddhist monks that is opposed to power sharing with the Tamil minority and to Norway’s mediation in the peace process.
In the past the party expressed anti-Semitic views comparing Tamils to the Jews and formulating theories about ‘Aryan-Sinhalese’ supremacy.
The group that signed the joint statement against the minister includes the Free Media Movement, the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association, the Federation of Media Employees Trade Union, the Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum and the Sri Lanka Tamil Journalists Alliance.
They call on the international community and the Sri Lankan government to remain vigilant in a context of heightened threats against democracy and human rights in the country.