I Shouldn’t Be Afraid

Please vote for freedom. It matters to me.

Lasantha’s funeral, January 2019

As it gets closer to D-Day, people jokingly ask me if I’m afraid. If white vans are coming, if I have an escape plan. I laugh it off but I have to think. I am afraid. And I shouldn’t be.

I’m a person. I have two young kids. I have a family. Lasantha had kids. Prageeth had kids. And wives, and husbands, and mothers and fathers. They’re dead and they shouldn’t be. They should be playing with grandkids. They should be watching cricket. We’re human beings.

None of us deserve to be killed, or beaten, or abducted or afraid for what we’ve said, or reported, or thought. It’s just not how people should live, and it’s not how people should treat each other.

I worked at the Leader after Lasantha died. My Editor Frederica dealt with so much and eventually left the country. Mandana took over and was later held at knifepoint, along with her 10-year old. The paper eventually shut down.

People say that ‘you’re paid’ or it’s NGO or foreign money or something and I think back to my Leader days. We earned so little, and even that was always late. People don’t understand that journalists are barely middle class, and ‘activism’ is not a job. It’s not like genuine public interest reporting attracts advertising money. All the money is in corruption, not exposing it. You get paid for selling out, not for integrity. It’s not some glamorous job.

You may get invited to a cocktail party where they talk about press freedom. Some diplomat will nod about ‘the situation’, but it’s not like they’ll give you a visa if shit hits the fan. In the end it’s just your frail body, your loved ones asking why you’re so stupid, and a public that doesn’t really seem to care.

This is no way to live. Don’t vote for this.

I’m out of journalism now. I’m just a writer, on my own. I’ve been making some money here on Medium, but election season has reduced that by 80%. Medium members don’t care about Sri Lankan politics. It doesn’t pay. It’s not even what I’m very interested in. But if I don’t speak out, it’s something that will be interested in me.

There’s just something in me that feels compelled to speak out and I don’t know what it is but it’s there and I can’t help it. And I think that’s OK. I think that’s my right, I think it’s our right, and it’s not something I can change without feeling like a bad person.

I don’t like corrupt and mean people running rampant and I want to call it out if I see it. I don’t like lies, especially stupid ones. I don’t like people being stomped on or oppressed or hurt and I’d like to speak out for them. I’m in no way a judge of these things, but I’d just like to have my own voice among many. Without my body being in danger.

And I remember when this was dangerous. I remember the bodies, and the beatings, and the people that were harassed, and those who just left. I had honestly forgotten much of this over the past five years, but now it could be just days away. And I don’t want to go back.

I’m afraid and I don’t want to be. I don’t deserve to be. None of us do. This shouldn’t be up to a popular vote, but it is. It sadly is. So please vote wisely.

Vote for freedom. Vote for speech. Vote for life.