Wednesday, December 16, 2009

"SRI LANKAN EXECUTION VIDEO 'NOT FAKE" : Forensic Video Expert Grant Fredricks

A forensic video specialist says footage broadcast by Channel 4 News, appearing to show the summary execution of Tamil Tiger fighters, wasn't fabricated, as the Sri Lankan government has claimed.

It was a quick and violent end to a long and violent war; 80,000 dead; maybe 20,000 in what was called the No Fire Zone in the last few bloody weeks.

Tens of thousands of Tamil civilians caught up in the final showdown as artillery shells slammed down; both government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam accused of war crimes.

But journalists and independent investigators were denied access to the combat zone, and even after it was all over to eye-witnesses too. But reports still filtered out of unspeakable suffering.

Then, in August, this grim video was obtained by and broadcast by Channel 4 News.

The raw footage, a continuous shot one minute eight seconds long, purported to show the casual execution of eight bound, blindfolded, naked Tamil men by Sri Lankan government soldiers.

If this was what was claimed, this video would bolster international demands for an independent war crimes investigation - something the victorious Sri Lankan government has resisted.

The government denounced the controversial video as a fake, but the UN expert on extrajudicial killings wasn't convinced.

"This video tape seems to have most of the characteristics of a genuine article and that in itself is sufficient to impose an obligation on a government to undertake a sustained and effective impartial investigation to ascertain the truth." - Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur

The Sri Lankan government conducted four investigations and then announced to a roomful of foreign diplomats that they'd all concluded that the footage was doctored.

But some remained unconvinced by the "impartiality" of these findings, the US State Department among them.

Now, an independent expert in forensic video analysis has examined the footage, at the request of The Times. Grant Fredericks is a former policeman who works with the FBI as an expert witness.

He concluded that the video, consistent with a cell-phone recording, showed "no evidence of digital manipulation, editing or any other special effects."

The level of subtle detail, he said, could not have been virtually produced, citing the visible discharge of gas - from the barrel of the weapon and bleeding from the injury, which, he said, could not have been reproduced without special effects.

No errors exist anywhere to support a technical fabrication, he said.

"All the events that are purported to have taken place in the field of view of the camera are authentic.

"There's no signs of editing, there is no signs of any errors in the video. It's impossible to reproduce virtually in a computer environment." - Grant Fredericks, Forensics Video Analyst

Professor Rajiva Wijesinha from the Sri Lankan Ministry of Disaster Management responded:

"The technical reasons given by our expert are not even addressed by Mr Fredericks and I think that's rather sad because I think we have given the full background of our chap, who has also an international reputation and I think he is very good.

"So I'm afraid I don't find Mr Fredericks very convincing." - Professor Rajiva Wijesinha, Sri Lankan Ministry of Disaster Management

With a presidential election looming next month, there is growing dissent in the ranks of the leadership.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa's brother and defence minister has now been accused of ordering other such killings at the end of the war by a former army commander.

With their victory receding into the past, the cabal who won the war are now turning on each other and tonight Channel 4 News has learned that the UN's special rapporteur will soon announce the findings of another independent report into the executions' video.

Sri Lanka's first peace time election in decades will be haunted by the horrors of its war.

© Channel 4

Related Links:

Major General Jagath Dias assigned to investigate into JDS - Sri Lanka Guardian
Defence ministry asks German police help to probe JDS - Colombo Today
Technical analyst exposes 'C- 4' gutter journalism -
Channel 4 News summarily executes responsible journalism - The Nation
Channel 4 video an absolute fake: Experts - Sunday Observer
It's war crimes stupid! - The Island Editorial
Channel 4 Fake Video Footage: At last the Original has Emerged - Asian Tribune
Disprove analysis on Channel 4 video clip, says expert - Sunday Observer

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Free Tissanayagam!

Thursday last week was Human Rights Day. It was also the 100th day of journalist J.S. Tissanayagam serving his prison sentence of 20 years hard labour. Since his arrest he has spent over 600 days behind bars.

Human rights activists, journalists, international human rights organisations and leading politicians have been severely critical of the punishment accorded to him and even American President Barack Obama had described the jailing of Tissanayagam as: ‘being emblematic of the distressing reality of a journalist being jailed for writing’. The recent report of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee headed by well known Senators John F Kerry (Democratic Party contestant against President George W Bush) and ranking Senator Richard Lugar of the Republican Party had called upon the government of Sri Lanka to pardon those like J.S.Tissanayagam who were indicted under emergency laws. But appeals both here and abroad to right this injustice have fallen on deaf ears so far.

Tissanayagam was charged under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and Emergency Laws where the rights of an accused are curtailed to a bare minimum. A lawyer, also a cricketer, described the chances of Tissanayagam being tried under these laws as having the same chances that a batsman would have where he could be ruled out on an appeal even on a no ball! The prestigious International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) in a report on the sentencing of Tissanayagam has observed: Communalising written expression without evidence of resulting violence; equating terrorism with an intention to cause feelings of ill will; stripping of accused persons of their basic rights; admission into evidence confessions made while in police custody, shifting the burden to the accused to prove coercion and mandating harsh minimum sentences. These laws pose threats to the rights of citizens to express controversial views – a pillar of law based democratic society, the ICJ has said.

The fundamental conclusion of jurists, human rights activists and independent politicians has been that the accused has not received justice as expected in a democratic civilised country.

The PTA was enacted and Emergency laws were moved during a time of extreme terrorist violence when it was believed that ordinary laws such as the Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code will be insufficient to take on terrorism of the most virulent kind. Still it was pointed out that Sri Lanka being a signatory to the United Nations Human Rights Charter and other international humanitarian legislation should not violate them.

It could be pointed out that even those countries which are now the leading lights of human rights are still its greatest violators, the United States leading them all.

Abductions of alleged terrorists from foreign countries and trying them in secret locations in other countries in military courts that have shown scant regard to principles of American justice has been subject to devastating widespread criticism. Yet, under the Obama administration, a great effort is being made to right these wrongs even though it is by no means easy.

Where Tissanayagam is concerned, whatever his transgressions have been, he has done so in his journalistic endeavours. He was found guilty under the PTA of causing communal disharmony, inciting racial hatred and supporting terrorism in accordance with the provisions of the PTA. Honest and sincere reporting of a military operation in a civilian village could lead to charges such as those mentioned above, depending on how the security forces and the government interpret them. If civilians were wounded in a bombardment whether it was the military or terrorists who were responsible, it is the bounden duty of a journalist to report the event accurately. If not he is doing a great disservice not only to his profession but also to the parties involved, be it those of the government or terrorists—all being citizens of Sri Lanka. To be punished for reporting the truth will lead to extinction of war reporting and in fact all forms of journalism. Lack of such independence would also lead to the transformation of journalists to stenographers and lackeys as many of our colleagues have turned out to be in recent times. The law and the courts therefore need to take these factors into intense consideration.

What a journalist reports on civil conflicts will have a tremendous impact on future society. Biased reporting could do irreparable harm.

Another factor to take cognisance of is that the war on terrorism is now said to be over with the government being the victors. Thus should the Prevention of Terrorism Act be imposed in all its severity as when terrorism was at its height, on possible transgressions that took place earlier? Reconciliation, amnesties and confidence building measures are the usual means called on when estranged parties are to be brought together. Severe punishments being continued with little or no regard to skewed instances of justice is not the way to get about it.

The government has been indulgent on leading LTTE terrorists who have collaborated with them. There is Daya Master the Official translator of the LTTE for over three decades being arrested, treated with kid gloves and released on bail. There is the Eastern Province terrorists such as Karuna the former leader of the military wing of the LTTE in the Eastern Province who is suspected of mass murder, including the cold blood murders of abut 700 policemen who surrendered to the LTTE on orders of the Premadasa government. Karuna is now a cabinet minister! In contrast what sins have been committed by Tissanayagam? Has he been responsible even for a single death to receive a sentence of 20 years RI?

Sri Lanka is still a country that effuses piety and (Metta) loving kindness. Early morning we wake up to religious sermons and devotional songs of the three great religions on radio and TV. Buddhists who comprise nearly 75 percent of the population take the vow of not killing any living being—not even an insect. Government by law prevents even stray dogs with incurable diseases being killed. Our leaders clad in saintly white flowing garbs are regularly seen carrying trays of flowers in temples (TV cameras to record the events). But do we show the same loving kindness to our fellow human beings?

Converting the death penalty to life imprisonment is one such instance. But we should extend this fellow feeling much further.

President Rajapakse we hope will extend his compassion to our fellow journalist who could not have been found guilty under the former civilised laws of the land.

© The Sunday Leader - Editorial (13.12.2009)

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Sri Lanka Makes Journalism an Act of Terrorism

by Clothilde Le Coz - As of December 10, J.S. Tissainayagam, a respected Tamil journalist and editor, had served the first 100 days of a 20-year sentence in a Sri Lankan jail. In his World Press Freedom Day statement, President Obama cited Tissainayagam as an "emblematic example" of a journalist who was being persecuted. Amnesty International also named Tissainayagam a prisoner of conscience, and held a vigil for him in the U.K. in early September.

Yet the hopes for Tissainayagam's release grow dimmer by the day. His case is attracting attention -- and outcry -- because it is the first known instance in the democratic world of a journalist being charged under the provisions of an anti-terror law.

Writing as an Act of Terrorism

J.S. Tissainayagam wrote for the North Eastern Monthly Magazine and the Sunday Times in Sri Lanka, and is the founder of the website He was arrested on March 7, 2008 and held without charges for six months. On August 25, 2008, he was indicted under the Prevention of Terrorism Act on three counts.

The Judicial process lasted a further 12 months and on August 31, 2009, Tissainayagam was found guilty on all three counts. He was sentenced to 20 years of "rigorous imprisonment." The National Post of Canada wrote an editorial defending Tissainayagam and calling for his release. This is how the Post explained the Sri Lankan government's case against him:

While he is accused of having taken money from the outlawed (and brutal) Tamil Tigers to operate a website providing the Tamil version of facts about the civil war, Mr. Tissainayagam's main crime seems to have been writing two articles in the now-defunct Northeastern Monthly magazine in 2006 and 2007 criticizing the Sri Lankan persecution of the Tamils, who were seeking an independent homeland in the north-east corner of the island nation.

Mr. Tissainayagam criticized wartime tactics employed by Sri Lankan leaders, including the alleged withholding of food, medicine and other essential items from Tamil areas as a way to strike back at the Tigers. He also complained that the Sri Lankan army was conducting extrajudicial executions -- murdering civilian Tamils as a warning to the Tigers that Colombo was not to be messed with and a caution to ordinary Tamils not to abet the Tigers.

None of the charges stated that Tissainayagam received funds from a terrorist organization, nor was he accused of funding terrorist organizations. Neither his coerced confession nor the evidence presented in court revealed that he had received funds from the Tamil Tigers. Therefore, it seems that his only act of terrorism was his writing -- a dangerous precedent.

Lack of Press Freedom in Sri Lanka

Inside of Sri Lanka, state media are providing biased accounts of the situation. This isn't surprising, as the president controls the state media and uses them to campaign against the opposition. This is putting other Sri Lankan journalists in danger.

During the opposition United National Party's convention in Colombo on December 5, seven journalists working for state TV stations Rupavahini and ITN were slightly injured and their equipment was damaged when they were manhandled outside the location of the meeting. UNP leader Ravi Karunanayake said his party was not involved in the violence, and confirmed that the journalists had not been invited to the meeting. It is still not known who was responsible for this act. Meanwhile, in November, the three main Tamil dailies in Jaffna received threatening letters accusing them of playing into the hands of "terrorists."

On the eve of the commemoration of International Human Rights Day on December 10, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that "the Obama Administration is dedicated to upholding the tenets of the Universal Declaration at home and championing them abroad through a policy of principled engagement." This policy must be followed in Sri Lanka.

In Sri Lanka, there will be no post-war reconciliation if a Tamil intellectual such as Tissainayagam can be found guilty of such baseless charges. Tamil journalists, human rights activists, politicians and other groups will naturally feel at risk if they too can be jailed at any time for 20 years. Clearly, the use of the anti-terrorist act in this instance is an attempt to intimidate government critics.

The United States must include Tissainayagam's release as a benchmark for the restoration of the rule of law in Sri Lanka. Without press freedom and freedom of expression, the country will never be united, peaceful and on the right track for economic development and good governance.
Another Journalist in Danger

Tissainayagam is far from the only journalist suffering in Sri Lanka. Frederica Jansz, the new editor-in-chief and news editor of the independent Sri Lankan weekly, The Sunday Leader received death threats 10 months after Lasantha Wickrematunge, her predecessor, was murdered. No real investigation has been made regarding his case.

Clothilde Le Coz has been working for Reporters Without Borders in Paris since 2007. She is now the Washington director for this organization, helping to promote press freedom and free speech around the world. In Paris, she was in charge of the Internet Freedom desk and worked especially on China, Iran, Egypt and Thailand. During the time she spent in Paris, she was also updating the "Handbook for Bloggers and Cyberdissidents," published in 2005. Her role is now to get the message out for readers and politicians to be aware of the constant threat journalists are submitted to in many countries.

© Media Shift (

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Oceanic Viking Sri Lankans 'all refugees'

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has determined that all 78 people involved in the stand-off on board the Oceanic Viking are refugees.

The Sri Lankan asylum seekers were rescued at sea by the Australian Customs ship before being taken to Indonesia's Bintan Island, where they refused to disembark for a month.

The Federal Government says it will now be up to the UN agency to determine where the refugees should be settled.

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison says he thinks the deal which was struck to get the asylum seekers to leave the ship will ensure them of an automatic trip to Australia.

"Australia does its fair share in terms of taking refugees who've been determined as such by the UNHCR in Indonesia but there is no rule that says we always take every last one of them," he said.

"But what I suspect will happen here is that the special deal that the Prime Minister did with the Oceanic Viking will follow through and they will have got their quick run to Australia.

"That sends a very obvious message to people smugglers operating in the area."

The Greens' Sarah Hanson-Young has welcomed the UN's decision to declare the asylum seekers refugees.

"It's very sad however they had to go through such a traumatic experience to prove it," she said.

Another boat

The Australian Navy intercepted a boat carrying asylum seekers near Ashmore Islands overnight.

The boat is carrying 51 passengers and four crew.

The people on board will be taken to Christmas Island for identity and health checks before they are assessed for refugee status.

© ABC News

Related Links:
Detention conditions inappropriate - Amnesty International

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

India forced Sri Lanka to replace Gen Fonseka

The Sri Lankan General Sarath Fonseka who led troops to victory, defeating Tamil separatists after decades of war, was replaced on the advice of Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, who conveyed to Sri Lankan leadership that he had received credible intelligence about the possible coup against the Sri Lankan government.

Well-placed sources in Colombo disclosed to The Nation on Monday that after the annihilation of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), on the night of 21/22 May 2009, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called Sri Lankan leadership on telephone and discussed matters in the contest of intelligence.

Indian Prime Minister warned that intelligence reports indicated that democratic institutions in Sri Lanka were under threat from Sri Lanka Army (SLA).

“SLA and General Fonseka have become too powerful. The situation is dangerous as it sometimes happened in Pakistan and Bangladesh, where military got control of democratic institutions,” the sources revealed while quoting the conversation that took place between Indian PM and Sri Lankan leader.

Above all, Indian Prime Minister also advised the Sri Lankan political leadership that they must act swiftly and order changes in senior leadership of Armed forces.
It is quite obvious that India was not happy with Sri Lanka’s unprecedented victory that could lead to peace and domestic stability; thus denying India’s leverage in Sri Lanka’s internal affairs. India was also displeased with Sri Lankan leadership for the killing of large number of Tamils during the war and for not fully implementing the 13th amendment that meant grant of autonomy to Tamils in the North and East. It seemed a well thought-out strategy that was carefully crafted by Indian Intelligence Agency RAW in Colombo and New Delhi to steal away the rejoicings of Sri Lankan nation in the aftermath of a grand victory against LTTE.

Reportedly, during the course of ground operations, General Fonseka had ignored President’s concerns on different occasions. Indians cashed on the opportunity and created an unfounded fear among the President who got scared and made abrupt changes in Army’s leadership, without realising the consequences in the process.

© Nation

Related Links:
Govt. denies Indian role in removal of Fonseka - Daily Mirror

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