Sri Lanka is a multi-cultural and multi linguistic country with Sinhalese forming the majority followed by Tamils, Muslims and Christians. The victorious candidate of the Presidential election 2019, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, led his campaign on national security and unitary nation concepts. The official results indicated that the UDF candidate sweeping the districts of North and Eastern provinces with minority voter base, while Gotabaya Rajapaksa assuring a landslide victory from other parts of the country.
India, the power house of the South Asian region, with vast number of distinct and unique cultures, religions and communities, had a history of close bilateral relationship with Sri Lanka and always fostered the idea of a united Sri Lanka and harmony among communities. India was the first country to congratulate the newly elected President and External Affairs Minister of India visited Colombo extending partnership for shared peace, progress, prosperity & security and to organize newly Sri Lankan President’s visit to India. The newly elected Sri Lankan President was invited by the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who recently was elected for the second term earlier in the year with a similar election campaign.
Print, Electronic and Social media were abuzz with numerous posts of and news reports of the President’s visit. The two leaders had a very cordial and successful discussion and issued a joint communique.
In this back drop we observed a Facebook page by the name President Uncle carried a post with an image which read “We are going to be a multicultural nation in Sri Lanka. We will set another example like Singapore and Canada. This is not a Sinhalese or Tamil nation. Everyone will have their place, equal language, culture and religion.” President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The post further mentioned that this statement was made by the Sri Lankan president in India and felt sorry for his followers since President saying different version in India to that he said in Sri Lanka
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Similar posts were going viral in Facebook as well as other social media streams. While many had commended the statement some were of the view President Gotabaya Rajapaksa did not issue such a statement and many had requested to verify these claims.
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There were few other statements as well, some shared as political satire, claiming that, President had deceived the nation and had actually left for Thirupathi Temple in India, stating that Indian PM had not extended any invitation.
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There had been a plethora of fake statements circulating over social media claiming to be statements of newly elected President, over past couple of weeks. Most of these statement were issued in a positive note along the lines of the President’s manifesto hence most of the public were misled to believing these were genuine statements made by the President. As a result President’s office issued a special media release stating that legal action would be taken against anyone who shared such false information.
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The President of Sri Lanka Gotabaya Rajapaksa accepted the invitation extended by Indian Prime Minister, and announced that he will visit India, as his first official foreign trip as Head of State, on 29th of November 2019. Below is the tweet from official Gotabaya Rajapaksa account before leaving to India.
We noticed that, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s official social media handles had covered most of the key moments during this visit and we were unable to locate any statement similar to the first claim. We browsed Indian Prime Minister’s Twitter account and did not come across any statement of this nature either which had covered number of highlights of the meeting of two leaders extending the view that a stable, secure and prosperous Sri Lanka augurs well not only in India’s interest but also for the entire Indian Ocean Region.
Furthermore, we went through the joint communique of the two leaders and could not locate a statement similar to the first claim.
We contacted the official President Secretariat and the Media division, who confirmed that, “Such a statement was not made by HE Gotabaya Rajapaksa” and there were number of queries from media, including foreign media, regarding this fake statement, indicating how viral these claims were.
We also noticed that number of comments stated that a similar quote to the one claimed was issued by former Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew at the declaration of independence in 1965. We checked the transcript of the speech made by former Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and a press conference given by him on 9th of August, 1965 and found content similar the one claimed.
National Archived of Singapore – TRANSCRIPT OF A PRESS CONFERENCE GIVEN BY THE PRIME MINISTER OF SINGAPORE, MR. LEE KUAN YEW, AT BROADCASTING HOUSE, SINGAPORE, AT 1200 HOURS ON MONDAY 9TH AUGUST, 1965
Based on this press conference a poster had been shared widely over the internet and it was evident that instead of Singapore, Sri Lanka had been replaced as shown below.
From our investigation it is clear that Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had not made a statement as “We are going to be a multicultural nation in Sri Lanka. We will set another example like Singapore and Canada. This is not a Sinhalese or Tamil nation. Everyone will have their place, equal language, culture and religion.” However, during the fruitful discussions with Indian delegates, a number of ideas were shared along similar lines on the importance of stable and secure nation and unity among all communities.
Title:Fact Check : Statements related to Sri Lankan President’s visit to IndiaFact Check By: Sathyajith Subasinghe