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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2704

How Sri Lanka’s American Embassy saved ‘Ravaya’ Editor Victor Ivan’s life during Premadasa presidency

Daya Gamage of US Bureau Asian Tribune reviews ‘The Queen of Deceit’

Washington, D.C. 21 July (Asiantribune.com): It became a great amusement to this writer, while reviewing a book written by Sri Lanka’s weekly political tabloid ‘Ravaya’ editor Victor Ivan that, with all his critical analyses of the United National Party regimes of Jayawardene and Premadasa in the eighties, he never felt that his life was threatened as much as under the regime of President Chandrika Kumaratunga.

This writer’s endeavor is not to give a complete review of Ivan’s book ‘The Queen of Deceit’ published last year revealing many inside stories of the style of governance of Kumaratunga and the ‘reign of terror’ and crony capitalism under her but a presentation of actual facts that surrounded the most uncomfortable life Mr. Ivan was leading as a foremost political commentator of the Jayawardene-Premadasa regimes in the eighties which he comfortably conceals from the rest of the world.

In fact, the story is how Mr. Victor Ivan got a “Life Insurance Certificate” from the American Embassy in Colombo in the late eighties to save his life from grave danger, and imminent assassination of Richard de Soyza style, during President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s rule in Sri Lanka.

Never in these ‘Asian Tribune’ columns has this writer ever mentioned his previous profession but to make his facts and information more cogent the writer reveals the role he played to persuade the American Embassy to issue an “insurance certificate’ to avert the imminent assassination of ‘Ravaya’ editor Victor Ivan. Although the American Embassy and this writer wouldn’t have during that period always totally agreed to the style of Mr. Ivan’s reporting and ‘Ravaya’ editorial line, it was their intention to encourage the freedom of speech, right to dissent, encourage good governance and rule of law.

In the English edition of “The Queen of Deceit” On page 46 Victor Ivan writes “In a television interview during the run up to the 2001 parliamentary election, President Kumaratunga claimed that she had intervened when certain members of her cabinet called for the assassination of two newspaper editors. During an interview with the press a few days later, a ‘Ravaya’ journalist asked her to name the two newspaper editors who were under threat from members of her cabinet. She replied: ‘Your editor is insulting me no end. He was one of those that were to be killed. He lives today because of me.’

What Mr. Ivan endeavors to convince his readers is that he was in imminent danger under the Kumaratunga administration because of his open journalistic style and uncompromising criticism of her regime and that he never faced such a situation during the Sri Lankan regimes of Jayewardene and Premadasa.

On page 47 Victor Ivan declares “I have criticized all political leaders, starting with the J.R. Jayawardene administration, but no politician, barring Chandrika, has made it a policy to harass me. To my knowledge, her hit squad has attempted to assassinate me on three occasions.”

Again on page 92 he writes “I have worked as a journalist during the administrations of four presidents but I have never seen a more ruthless president than the one I write about in this book. The President read ‘Ravaya’ but she could not digest the criticism leveled against her, and her mafia began to follow me. There was a time when my vehicle was followed by one of their double cabs.”

Then the ‘Ravaya’ editor writes on page 96 “Although the two editors escaped death, many sinister incidents followed the President’s interview. Kumar Ponnambalam was assassinated right after. And we knew that there was plan to attack and burn ‘The Sunday Leader’ and ‘Ravaya’ newspaper offices. We had to take insurance cover with a high premium because of this threat.”

This writer’s attempt is not to dispute what Mr. Ivan says about the threat to his life during Chandrika Kumaratunga rule but to present a factual scenario how this writer and Sri Lanka’s American Embassy got involved in facilitating to protect him when his life was under threat during the Premadasa regime which Mr. Ivan conceals. When the ‘Ravaya’ editor had to pay a ‘high premium’ to take insurance cover during Kumaratunga administration, the American Embassy provided him with a free ‘life insurance certificate’ that Mr. Ivan immediately exhibited to the Premadasa regime in the late eighties.

After Ranasinghe Premadasa was elected president of Sri Lanka in late 1988, the American Embassy was closely monitoring, among other socio-political and economic developments, his reign of terror in eliminating dissenting voices, abductions of political opponents and assassination of critics of his regime.

Days before Richard De Soyza was to leave abroad he was abducted and his mutilated corpse washed ashore in Mount Lavinia. UNP Dehiwala-Mt.Lavinia Municipal Councilor Lakshman Perera who was producing an anti-Premadasa stage play ‘Who is This: What is He Doing’, scripted by Richard de Soyza, disappeared.

The Sinhala weekly Tabloid ‘Ravaya’ was the most critical of the Premadasa regime and was most effective. The American Embassy sensed that its editor Victor Ivan’s life would have been in danger when the tabloid’s news editor Newton Seneviratne, in one of the conversations, told this writer that their lives, mainly Victor Ivan’s life, are in danger and that Premadasa was sure to eliminate them. Seneviratne, whom this writer knew for long years when he was in the now defunct ‘Davasa’ newspaper of the Sun Group, mentioned that the ‘Ravaya’ was holding its anniversary soon. The writer told him the best insurance certificate Victor Ivan and the rest of the ‘Ravaya’ editorial board could get is to invite a senior American Embassy official to the anniversary party to send a message to the Premadasa Administration and that he was glad to arrange it.

This writer was the Senior Political Specialist at the American Embassy who worked closely with the hierarchy of the senior American Foreign Service Officers including the Heads of Mission.

This writer convinced the then Political Counselor, the third senior Department of State Foreign Service Officer in the Embassy, Robert K. Boggs, to attend the ‘Ravaya’ anniversary party at its Ratmalana editorial office. Arrangements were made to invite Robert K. Boggs, Political Counselor of the American Embassy and to give extensive photographic coverage to the event highlighting the attendance of the senior American Embassy official.

In fact, in the name of free press, right to dissent, good governance and rule of law Sri Lanka’s American Embassy, with that gesture in sending the third-most senior officer to the evening reception, issued a ‘Life Insurance Certificate’ to ‘Ravaya’ editor Victor Ivan to stay alive to write “The Queen of Deceit” in the year 2006. The Premadasa regime got the message sent by the American Embassy, and the readers of “Ravaya’ saw photographs of Political Counselor Robert K. Boggs liberally displayed in the weekly tabloid.

And with this submission, this writer reveals what Mr. Ivan conveniently concealed from the rest of the world demonizing only one Sri Lankan regime when Sri Lankans experienced another obnoxious regime under which “The Queen of Deceit” writer’s life was threatened.

- Asian Tribune -

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