President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has been included in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2021 “press freedom predators” gallery.
RSF published a gallery of grim portraits, those of 37 heads of state or Government who crack down massively on press freedom.
Some of these “predators of press freedom” have been operating for more than two decades while others have just joined the blacklist, which for the first time includes two women and a European predator.
Nearly half (17) of the predators are making their first appearance on the 2021 list, which RSF is publishing five years after the last one, from 2016.
All are heads of state or Government who trample on press freedom by creating a censorship apparatus, jailing journalists arbitrarily or inciting violence against them, when they don’t have blood on their hands because they have directly or indirectly pushed for journalists to be murdered.
Nineteen of these predators rule countries that are coloured red on the RSF’s press freedom map, meaning their situation is classified as “bad” for journalism, and 16 rule countries coloured black, meaning the situation is “very bad.” The average age of the predators is 66. More than a third (13) of these tyrants come from the Asia-Pacific region.
RSF said that Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s election as President in November 2019 returned Sri Lanka to the darkest hours of its recent history. A retired army lieutenant-colonel, “Gota” was defence minister while his brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, was president from 2005 to 2015, the so-called “dark decade” during which the military finally crushed the Tamil armed separatists by dint of a great deal of bloodshed, ending the decades-old civil war in 2009.
It was during his time as defence minister that Gotabaya Rajapaksa acquired another surname – “Terminator.” He owes this distinction to his role as overseer of a death squad known as the “white van commando” because of the vehicles it used to kidnap and torture journalists, and in some cases execute them, on his orders, RSF said.
RSF said that his accession to the presidency re-awakened old demons, especially as he reappointed himself as Defence Minister and appointed his brother, the former president, as Prime Minister.
According to RSF, much of the Sri Lankan press is now censoring itself, either because of what he did in the past or what he is doing now as President. (Colombo Gazette)