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THE BLACK COUNTRY LASANTHA

16-01-2009

OK, it might be a bit of an exaggeration to compare a Black Country community activist with an assassinated Sri Lankan newspaper editor, but Dave Woodhall argues there are real parallels.

Last week’s Stirrer’s messageboard featured a piece about Lasantha Wickrematunge, editor of the Sunday Leader newspaper in Sri Lanka until he was assassinated recently. Lasantha had been a thorn in the side of the Sri Lankan government for many years, using his newspaper to speak out about government corruption and to fight for peace and justice in a land bedevilled by civil war.

So passionate was he in his beliefs that Lasantha had been attacked on several occasions and his house sprayed with machine gun fire. So good at his job that he predicted he would one day be murdered by government forces unable to silence or discredit him and his newspaper.

Indeed, he penned his own epitaph, published three days after gunmen shot and killed this great man. “When I am killed, it will be the
government that kills me” he wrote with poignant foresight.

The Sri Lankan government’s record on human rights has been condemned by all quarters, and Lasantha was willing to speak out on the subject, knowing that his own life would be in jeopardy as a result.

I can’t begin to imagine how a man must feel when he knows that his government, far from allowing him to do his work unharmed, want him dead. As someone who makes a living by writing in a completely different area, I can’t even begin to kid myself that I would be so brave in such circumstances.

Lasantha spoke out about injustice and corruption at all levels. He was an opponent of the Tamil Tigers and their terror campaign as well as the army’s occupation of much of Sri Lanka. He was a believer in the need for Sri Lanka to become a free, liberal and secular democracy.

And these beliefs finally killed him.

I hope it doesn’t sound too flippant to say that Lasantha and Mac Beckley spent their entire lives without knowing of each other’s existence, yet they had much in common. Mac, who died over Christmas, would be the first to say his efforts were insignificant compared to those of a man who gave his life to his country’s fight for democracy, although as someone who knew him for many years, I would say Mac would have been equally determined should the need have arisen.

That was the kind of man he was.

Mac was a community activist in the Black County. He was chair of the Great Bridge Residents Association, served on many committees and was voted Tiptonian of the Year in 2000. I know from first-hand experience that Mac would help anyone, at any time, and often the only thanks he would get were sneers that he was "only in it for himself."

Yet despite such ill-informed criticism, Mac continued to help others, even when he was diagnosed with the cancer that was to kill him. He joined forces with local traders and police to instigate an anti-crime campaign in the area, was a prime mover in the redevelopment of Sheepwash Urban Park and was forever fighting for investment into an often-neglected area.

Lasanthaa Wickrematunge and Mac Beckley may have enjoyed completely different lifestyles, but they shared similar beliefs. Lasantha willingly died for his; Mac, like most of us living in post-war Britain, was lucky that he never faced such a dilemma. Yet they both did what they could. The world is a lesser place for their passing.

DID YOU KNOW MAC BECKLEY? LEAVE A COMMENT ON THE STIRRER FORUM
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