If the detention of BoduBalaSena prelate Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thera raised a hornet’s nest, the reaction to that incident was calm compared to the hot air generated as a result of the arrest of Yoshitha Rajapaksa, son of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa last Saturday.
Social media went in to melt down and even sections of the media took up cudgels on behalf of the younger Rajapaksa who was detained on charges related to money laundering, using the television station Carlton Sport Network. Nishantha Ranatunga, brother of minister Arjuna, was also arrested.
The so-called ‘joint opposition’, the self-styled but officially unrecognised coalition in Parliament deplored Yoshitha Rajapaksa’s arrest claiming it was a political witch hunt. The former President himself made some emotional comments saying political revenge should be reserved for politicians, not their children. “Arrest me instead”, he declared.
The response from the public has been equivocal. While there was some support for the former President, there was also the inevitable comparison of Yoshitha Rajapaksa’s plight with that of Sarath Fonseka’s, soon after the latter lost the presidential election in 2010. Many noted that Fonseka was summarily imprisoned; Rajapaksa has only been arrested.
This being Sri Lanka, the issue is mostly being seen with emotional blinkers. There is also a calculated move—especially in social media—to persuade the general public to do so for political gain.
We do not wish to comment on whether the younger Rajapaksa is guilty or not. That is a matter for the courts to decide. It is relevant to note though that the arrest has been carried out after one year of investigations and not as a knee jerk reaction to political pressure. Nevertheless, Yoshitha Rajapaksa must be granted his presumption of innocence until and unless he is proven guilty.
What deserves comment is some of the defences being offered on his behalf, some of them by no less a person than his father. For instance, Mahinda Rajapaksa is saying that it is wrong to arrest politicians’ children and that only politicians should be detained. Surely, the lawyer in Rajapaksa must know that authorities can detain only the person accused, not their family members!
Then, the former President goes on to cite the case where the daughter of former President Ranasinghe Premadasa, Dulanjalee, was reported by the media to be allegedly involved in a counterfeit currency case. He claims that Dulanjalee “got caught” and that he intervened to have her released after considering the services rendered to the country by her late father.
Even this matter is currently still in courts and Dulanjalee Premadasa has already written to Rajapaksa vehemently rejecting his claims and pointing out that she is not an accused in the case.
We understand that the former president is upset these days, but that is a sad statement, coming from a former Head of State and a leader who led the country for ten years. In fact Rajapaksa is cutting the proverbial nose to spite the face.
Firstly, by his own admission, it shows that the former President interfered with ongoing investigations to have a ‘suspect’ released. Secondly, there is no system of justice that allows suspects to go free just because their fathers have been past Presidents or have rendered great service to the country!
The wheel has indeed turned full circle for the Rajapaksas and we do empathise with the distress caused by seeing a son hauled away to prison. But, just as much as Yoshitha Rajapaksa or anybody else for that matter should not be the victim of a political witch hunt, he should also not be a recipient of special privileges just because he happens to be son of Mahinda Rajapaksa
That is the moral of the story. And, it is a story that even those in power right now should remember for their turn to face the music will surely come.