Sep 17, 2018

Female author slams Sri Lanka rights record at state awards festival Featured

Sri Lanka's cultural minister and his officials were in for a rude awakening when the recipient of a state literary award turned her acceptance speech into a scathing attack against the government's human rights record.

Journalist and author Devika Wadigamangawa was awarded the best children's book translator for her Sinhala version of "Ich und meine Schwester Klara" (Me and My Sister Clara) by dissident Bulgarian writer in exile Dimiter Inkiow.

Taking the stage at the 2018 state literary awards festival, held at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Commemoration Hall (BMICH), she courageously stood up for scores of her colleagues who have been subject to oppression and came heavily upon the government's failure to deliver justice.

This is the first time an award winner made use of the event to criticise a government in office.

The present government led by Maithripala Sirisena came to power in 2015 promising to punish perpetrators of human rights violations who carried on with impunity.

JDS has recorded attacks, including murder, against 44 journalists during the former regime under Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Cultural minister gobsmacked

Devika Wadigamangawa condemned the current government for undermining investigations on crimes against journalists and going back on commitments.

"Those who were killed, forcibly disappeared or maimed and denied justice have been my colleagues during my journalist career spanning over two decades," she said while the Cultural Minister Wijayadasa Rajapakshe looked on.

"If I was to be presented with this award by a politician, even it be the president, I won't touch it. I only accept it as a respect to artists as it is given by a literary personality."

She received the award from leading Sinhala writer and scholar Professor Somaratna Balasooriya.

Minister Wijayadasa Rajapakshe known for his Sinhala Buddhist bias and resistance to reforms that strengthen human rights, refrained from responding to the attack by the award winner.

President Maithripala Sirisena later addressed the event.

Devika Wadigamangawa who started her journalist career in the late 80s used to be an active member of the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA).

In 2009, she was forced to flee the island with her journalist husband, a former president of the SLWJA to save their lives.