Face To Face With Killers

By Faraz Shauketaly-Sunday, October 20, 2013 Journalists are a different species entirely. Well, I would say that but consider the inherent risks. Actuaries would be foolish if they did not load the risks when being asked to insure the life of a journalist practising that rather peculiar art in Sri Lanka. That is to say, because – for whatever reason – journalists have been at the receiving end of a number of attacks on their person, they have been threatened, cajoled, beaten up, threatened, insulted by having their parents and grandparents also remembered, kidnapped or held against their will, shot at and yes, even sadly, murdered. Their loyalties have been held up high and questioned by all and sundry, even at the highest echelons of power. Doubts, aspersions and whatever else have been cast on their allegiances and their very existence on Mother Earth questioned. The reasons could well be many and the credible evidence, varying in credibility, but in all instances, these incidents have been significantly contrary to common law. Last week was only second to the week in which I was shot, in terms of being traumatic. It was time to see if the Sri Lanka Police had done their job thus far: identify the drug-crazed brainless twits who entered my home, threatened me, beat me up, damaged my property and forced me to my knees, constructively forced me to plead for my life and who then shot me in my neck. It was said by the surgeon at the National Hospital’s ICU, “touch and go. Perhaps two millimetres.” To those of you that do not know, that’s the same length as two characters in this article. A friend of mine, who is not exactly ecclesiastical in leanings, was prompted to say, “It was He who saved you.” I quite agree. A political icon put it thus, “anunamayenbayrunna”. The closest English translation would be, “you escaped by a cats whisker”. Slow justice There were a number of well wishers. And wishes of a speedy recovery. And advice. And pleas – to come home, and stay at home. None have been able to explain the rationality of why. Why would one human being – however much a brainless twit – wish to take the life of another? Is there such a breakdown in respect for the law and to honour the law, that one takes the law contrary to the acceptable judicious way, into one’s own hands? How fair is it for another to dictate the course of the lives of others thanks to their arbitrary taking of another’s life? And what of the consequences of these actions on the rest of those left behind? The rest of all of us. Do actions such as these, manifestly contrary to common law, augur confidence in the judiciary and the legislators who draft these rules? Do such instances inspire the people to place their faith in the judiciary; or in the ability of the Police to apprehend and expeditiously prosecute the perpetrators? Are the people of this country so blasé about the judiciary that they accept that ‘this is the way’ – and, cursing under their breath, accept that in our country the wheels of justice simply turns very slowly indeed? Why is it that this malaise is permitted to gain a foothold and has become the status quo? Will the slowness of our judicial process endear our nation to foreign investors who, apart from identifying the commercial potential, are also most adept at identifying how strong or otherwise the judicial process is?

Khuram Shaikh case The murder of Khuram Shaikh, the unfortunate Briton, holidaying in a rural backwater famed only for its fishing, and now as the hometown of the President of Sri Lanka, has shown all the hallmarks and consistencies associated with Sri Lanka’s judicial process of which I write of today: the sinfully slow wheels of justice, that threaten to throw into imbalance international perception of the democratic ideals that we practise in Sri Lanka. It may well be the time of the common man now. But as Warden De Saram reminded fellow Thomians, if it is not to become the time of breakdown, we must have our wits about us. There are many clever fellows indeed but many of them have little wisdom. Some seek to rule by way of nationalistic fervour, or, as Warden De Saram inimitably put it, by slogans. Warden said it was vulgar. Indeed it is so. Our quest to live in peace alongside harmony and a healthy regard for the beliefs and lifestyles of our fellow men has been prostituted for the personal benefit of a few at the expense of many. The breakdown of the rule of law and of standard is a direct result. Khuram Shaikh’s murder case has necessarily attracted intense international attention. He was, after all, the epitome of the sun and fun seeking tourist who traversed the world looking to attain a superior relaxing experience. Sri Lanka markets itself as an ideal contender to deliver such service with its abundant natural beauty and made-in-heaven beaches. The backbone of an equitable society relies to a large extent on a sound legal process. In Khuram Shaikh’s case, the judicial process has been slow and it has been frustrating to follow. If it affects decent, law abiding and liberal thinking, common men in such a manner, consider the pain inflicted upon Khuram Shaikh’s family and friends. The pain of mind they are currently experiencing without closure is altogether unbearable to even think of. His girlfriend has waived her right to anonymity and has publicly identified herself as a victim allegedly also attacked. She has indicated her willingness to come forward, identify and testify in Court. That opportunity has been denied her thus far. Her own trauma – one where again there is no closure – continues with no end in sight. Perhaps if the perpetrators of this crime were to be charged and tried by a military tribunal, justice would be swift, a la Fonseka. Face to face In my own matter, coming face to face with my would-be assassins was hugely traumatic. The opportunity to come face to face arose when I was asked to identify the perpetrators at an identification parade at Mount Lavinia Court. I was shocked that the ‘parade’ took place openly, that is to say that I would be visible to the culprits. That, however, is how it was. Within moments I picked out the gunman. It really was a no brainer. His face will forever be etched in my memory. He looked at me and he shook his head. He was sweating profusely. He was an imp of a fellow and, in a one to one, he would have had a difficult time with me. I felt utter contempt for this fellow; I really wanted to knock him down if the truth be known. Having been warned by the Police not to attempt any such ‘stunt’ it was difficult in the extreme to control myself, my emotions and what my mind most naturally wanted to do: to give him the most soundest of beatings imaginable. The second fellow was easier to spot, although he tried to hide his height by bending his knees ever so slightly so he would appear shorter and, therefore, blend in easier with the other 40 persons present. Although in court he looked drugged; his eyes displayed all the hallmarks of a regular user. He was the one who ordered the gunman to fire. The marks he left in his attempt to strangle me with his bare hand not only damaged by cartilage and my larynx, but has also

left a permanent mark on my neck. I was shaking with an anger that threatened to dispense with any civility. In that moment I found myself espousing the cause of jungle law: I wanted to subject him to the same anguish – mental and physical – that he caused me to suffer. Que sera The third man was more difficult and it took me several minutes more: he had sported a very bushy beard but there was nothing to stop me from identifying him. He was of the ‘don’t make a noise, nothing will happen’ fame. He strangled me, dug me in my eyes, broke my glasses and used a fabric of some sort to strangle me. To say he looked sheepish was an understatement. My job done, I rushed out of Court, into the comfort of my car and entered my own world: which included being in the company of people I trust, people who subscribe to liberal, fair, equitable values. I promised myself that I will not play any further role in this process that was like a very, very slow snail. I will only return when there is a real immediacy. My information is that by the time the investigators are ready to take this matter forward to the High Court, the best part of at least 18 months would go past. Now that I am in what I call the “twenty20” phase of my life, I really have no time to dwell on that. I am going ahead with my life, and once the Police guards are withdrawn (as I expect they will, now that I have identified the culprits) I know that those who got me the first time will no doubt try again. That perhaps is fate. There’s nothing – not even Sri Lanka’s ultra slow judicial process – that anyone can do. As my grannie said, “que sera sera”. What will be will be.(faraz@thesundayleader.lk)

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