Monday, March 29, 2010

Sri Lanka: Tamils on probation

Six months ago in Sri Lanka, as the last bastion of the Tamil Tigers fell, tens of thousands of civilians who had fled the fighting were detained in refugee camps. Now the Sri Lankan army has given them permission to return home.

We went to meet these refugees who have lost everything.

© France 24

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Monday, March 29, 2010

Brigadier 'involved' in Lasantha murder

The Attorney General (AG) of Sri Lanka has informed the Supreme Court that a senior military officer was involved in the assassination of Sunday Leader Editor, Lasantha Wickramathunga.

In a written submission to the court, the AG has told the courts that Brig Duminda Keppetiwalana who was arrested on suspicion on conspiring to overthrow the government, was involved in the murder and the assassination attempt on another senior journalist, Upali Tennakoon.

Mr. Wickramathunga, a strong critic of Mahinda Rajapaksa administration, was killed in a busy road in the Colombo district on 08 January, last year.

Editor assaulted

Editor of Rivira Sinhala weekly, Upali Tennakoon, has left the country after he and his wife were attacked with iron rods and other weapons days later in Gampaha district.

At lease 53 military personnel, serving and retired officers, were arrested by the authorities after the 26 January presidential election on charges of conspiring to overthrow the government together with main opposition candidate, Gen (retd.) Sarath Fonseka.

More than 23 of them were later released by the courts; Brig Keppetiwalana is the most senior serving military officer to be arrested.

Gen Fonseka is facing two court martials on charges of involving in politics while in uniform and corruption in procurements.

The AG made the submission in response to the Fundamental Rights (FR) petition filed by Brig Keppetiwalana against his continuous detention.

Brig Keppetiwalana's involvement was revealed after investigations on phone records, the AG has said.

The Supreme Court has granted permission to further detain Brig Keppetiwalana, under emergency regulations, until 29 April.

© BBC Sinhala

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Monday, March 29, 2010

The media ‘Konvicted’

by Kusal Perera - The Akon rumpus, with all its nutty and freaky sides, did have one thing good about it. It raised the question, “what is media freedom ?” Except for “”Sirasa”” and its group channels, none of the mainstream media, ever bothered to investigate into this Akon show unplugging and expose the lumpen politics, that had a media institute mobbed and stoned once again, under this regime.

The mainstream print media over the past two or three days, reported on producing 16 men in Colombo magistrate courts by police and bailing them out, in relation to this mob attack. They carried excerpts of statements from all who condemned the Akon show and briefly noted the MBC/MTV Colombo office attack was condemned by some. This print media wants the reader to accept, their responsibility is over with that.

The electronic visual media was even worse. Their coverage in all channels excluding the State run, that in any way won’t be independent and “Sirasa” doing its own publicity, did not provide that was worthy of news and was there only to report on court decisions. There was one private channel that played proxy to the State as well.

The question is, what more freedom or independence does the media need, if the role it plays in society, is just this negative and limited ?

The choice of Akon as the super star attraction in the show “Super fest 2010” that was organised for 24 April at the SSC Stadium, Colombo, is another that needs to be publicly discussed. What branding can Sri Lanka have for tourism promotion with such a controversial artiste in his own country, is open for serious questions in the media.

But, that does not and should not deny an exposure of the mob attack on MBC/MTV right now. The issue, who was behind the mob attack which targeted the Braybrooke place office and why, needs to be laid bare in all media, for the benefit of the society. This society has a right to know all details and without bias. That needs an independent media no doubt. If the media outside State control claims it is independent and not being partial with State politics, that then is their responsibility.

Such media would have to first clear the case for the public, as to who exactly is responsible for this show. No media so far has factually revealed the organiser(s) of this Akon show and who the sponsors are. No media has to date made it clear to the public, the role of the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB) in this event, as they officially sat at the media brief, announcing the event. The SLTPB is one of the 4 State organisations established under the Tourism Act 38 of 2005. Its MD at the Cinnamon Grand media brief explained as to what the SLTPB expects from this Akon show and said they have the SriLankan Airlines to facilitate Indian and Maldive tourists who would want to visit the show.

Where then does the company “Platinum Entertainment” which claims they booked in Akon for the show, fit in ? The media again has a responsibility to explain to the public, their shared roles with SLTPB, in this now denied entertainment.

The media also had a responsibility to investigate as to why the MBC/MTV office was attacked instead of the Tourism Ministry or the SriLankan Airlines, a co-sponsor of the event.

The Colombo Fort Magistrate had ordered the MTV to hand over all footage of the attack to the Slave Island police for further investigations. Most of those footage were aired by “Sirasa” on Wednesday (25 March) in their news bulletins. “Sirasa” in fact claimed they identified some goons in the visuals.

There were therefore enough photos and enough information available at hand, if any news paper, any news channel ever wanted to take this issue of media bashing in public and respect the right of the reader, the viewer, to have unbiased and uncensored information. If the media respected the right for freedom of expression.

But the media did not and why not ? This is for media organisations to investigate. Media organisations that ask for media freedom, ask for freedom of expression and right for information, should start asking their colleagues, why they don’t act professional in exercising their responsibilities.

There are obvious reasons for such timid behaviour of this Sri Lankan media. Some are justifiable and within limits. Yet the fact remains, it is not only political coercion that makes the media timid. It is also the media culture that prefers to avoid responsibility which restricts such exposure. A media culture that prefers to sensationalise social issues that avoids responsible reporting.

In a society like this Sri Lankan society that festers and degenerates at all levels, that corrupts all systems, it would be futile to expect any profession with any integrity. In a society where the Oath of Hypocrites is unknown to the medical profession, it would be unfair to demand an impeccably clean and responsible media. A media that would take up the challenge of playing professional and honest at any cost.

That being difficult, it does not mean the decline should be allowed. It is therefore necessary now to seek a “press button” that would pause this decline and provide time for a turn around. If the Akon show that was mobbed to a stop could play simulator for such, then thank him, the “Konvict”, the “Troublemaker”.

© Groundviews

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Monday, March 29, 2010

Sri Lanka: Arrest of Muslim author 'illegal'

Lawyers for the Muslim author arrested on charges of anti-state activities accuse Sri Lankan authorities of illegal arrest and detention.

Alex Fernando, counsel for Sarah Malani Perera, told BBC Sandeshaya that he is yet to be informed of the reasons for the arrest.

"She too has not been informed of any reasons for the arrest," he said.

Mrs. Perera, who converted from Buddhism to Islam, was forced to remove the face veil by the officers at Mirihana police station, he said.

A family friend who wished to be anonymous told the BBC that "they had made a video out of it and they were taking photographs against her will."

Religious harassment

But the police spokesman said that he was not aware of such harassment.

Superintendant of Police (SP) Prishantha Jayakody told BBC Sandeshaya that Mrs. Perera has been detained under a detention order (DO) for anti-state activity.

"If there is an accusation against the police, they can lodge a complaint with senior police authorities," he said.

But Mr. Fernando says he is yet to see any documentary evidence of such an order despite repeated requests from the police.

Mrs. Perera, who is a resident in the Gulf state of Bahrain, had recently written two books on her conversion, in Sinhala, the language of Sri Lanka's ethnic majority who are mostly Buddhists.

She was detained when on a three-month holiday in her country of origin.

BBC's Charles Haviland in Colombo says that Buddhist nationalism is an influential force in Sri Lanka and the party in question is part of the government coalition.

Sri Lankan Muslims are regarded as the third ethnic group here and occupy a respected and prominent position in society. But accounts of conversions from Buddhism to Islam are rare.

© BBC Sinhala

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Monday, March 29, 2010

Sri Lanka Poll 2010: Election Commissioner’s office in total disarray

By Rathindra Kuruwita - The Postal Voting for the General Election 2010 concluded amidst allegations of malpractice and disfranchisement by the opposition political parties and election monitors. Peoples action For Free and Fair Elections (PAFFERAL) claimed that they have received 142 complaints of election law violations including election officials failing to report on time, to provide necessary documents and equipment, ledgers and seals to facilitate postal voting.

“There have been many instances of election law violation which are far worse than the postal voting for the 2010 Presidential Elections. Election law violators have become more brazen,” said Executive Director of PAFFERAL, Rohana Hettiarachchi.

Postal voting

What the two days of postal voting also showed was the unpreparedness and the disorganized state of the opposition parties. In some voting centres there were no party representatives of the opposition claimed Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE) spokesman Keerthi Tennakoon. “In many voting centres, especially in the south, Anuradhapura, Matale, Kurunegala and some parts of Ratnapura, there were no representatives from the opposition, specially from the United National Party (UNP) and this shows that the opposition parties are in disarray.

“The fact that the UNP was not able to mobilize the adequate number of polling agents for the postal vote raises questions whether the UNP is able to contribute significantly to the 100 000 strong joint task force by the opposition to prevent election malpractices at the polling and counting centres on April 08th.

“At this rate I don’t think that the UNP will play a big role in the task force, the majority of the human resources will come from the DNA. The DNA is smaller but better organized and more fiery, our grass root structure has suffered terribly in the last few years,” said a UNP district Organizer on condition of anonymity. “I am worried whether we can find the necessary polling agents in some parts of the country.”

Access to Counting Centres

After weeks of tussling between the Election monitors and the Commissioner it was announced that election monitors will be allowed to enter district counting Centres. The elections commissioner’s decision has only made the monitors angrier as they believe that this is an attempt to mislead the public.

“The Election commissioner has allowed the monitors to enter the district counting centre. It’s the place where the district returning officers announce the final result for the entire district. What’s the point in us being there, a place where no real counting takes place?” asked CaFFE spokesman, Keerthi Tennakoon. “We need to be present at all the counting centres to ensure transparency, if monitors are present, organized gangs cannot enter counting centres surreptitiously. The elections commissioner is refusing to accommodate election monitors claiming that there is no space, which is absurd. For example in the Ampara counting centre there will be over 300 people, party representatives and election officials, so how can he say that there is no space for additional three people from PAFFERAL, CaFFE and CMEV?”

© Lakbima News

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Monday, March 29, 2010

Police Protect Sirasa Attackers

By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema - Police Chief Mahinda Balasuriya vehemently denied having reprimanded the DIG for Colombo H. M. B. Herath and the Slave Island OIC K. M. Perera for taking action and intervening in the attack on MTV/MBC last Monday (22).

The Sunday Leader has learned that political pressure on the Police Chief, compelled the IGP to censure the policemen who acted to stop the attack from escalating further. The Sunday Leader has reliably learnt that the IGP was pressured into acting in this manner following evidence (reproduced elsewhere on these pages) of UPFA members attached to the Kelaniya Pradeshiya Sabha being involved in the attack.

Kelaniya Pradeshiya Sabha members from the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance — Chathura Dhanushka, Sarathchandra Dias and Hasitha Madawala have been identified as being involved in the attack on MTV/MBC network offices in Colombo last Monday.

The three men, along with several other individuals involved in the attack, were identified from video footage recovered by CCTV cameras at the offices. The 16 individuals arrested by the Slave Island Police for their involvement in the attack also hail from the Kelaniya electorate.

All 16 suspects have now been released. Police sources attached to the Slave Island Police, speaking on grounds of anonymity, said that the 16 suspects had been released on police bail after merely recording their statements.

However, Director General of the Media Center for National Security (MCNS) Lakshman Hulugalle, at a press conference following the attack, denied any government involvement in the attack on the offices of the popular radio and television channels.

He said the individuals who targeted Sirasa were protesting against the proposed musical concert by American recording artiste Akon. Hulugalle blamed the Jathika Sangha Sammelanaya for the attack, adding that both parties, the protestors and Sirasa had to share the blame because they had attacked each other.

However, the JHU-affiliated Jathika Sangha Sammelanaya condemned the attack and denied any involvement.

© The Sunday Leader

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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Sri Lanka: Violence, blunders mar Postal Voting

By Sandun A. Jayasekera - Postal voting for the April 8 general election ended yesterday against the backdrop of election monitoring groups reporting several incidents of violence from around the country and of mistakes and blunders by elections officers.

Peoples Action for Free and Fair Election (PAFFREL) Executive Director Rohana Hettiarachchi said its elections monitors had reported serious lapses by election officials from many parts of the country such as instances of election officials failing to report on time, failing to provide necessary documents and equipment such as ledgers and seals to facilitate postal voting.

For instance voting could not be held at the Wilgamuwa education office on Thursday as the Returning Officers failed to turn up. Mr. Hettiarachchi said his organization had deployed about 1,000 monitors mainly at police stations, SLTB depots and hospitals to monitor the two-day postal voting and by yesterday PAFFREL had received 142 complaints of election violence.

Campaign for Free and Fair Election (CaFFE) spokesman Keerthi Tennekoon said postal voting at Bandarawela, Kurunegala, Gampaha and Matale had been disrupted in varying proportions.

“This was due to the inefficiency of elections officials,” he said adding that some 1,250 observers were deployed island wide to monitor the postal voting held on Thursday and Friday.

Mr. Tennekoon said an escalation of election violence had been reported from Matale, Kurunegala, Dambulla, Ampara, Ratnapura, Galle, Matara and Polonnaruwa during the past few days.

“For the first time, the elections commissioner has allowed us to observe the counting and the declaration of results,” he added.

The Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) in a media communiqué said it was deeply concerned by reports alleging that attempts had been made to disenfranchise postal voters by officials in their capacity as certifying officers.

CMEV said some 235 monitors deployed by it had observed election malpractice by election officials and political partiy agents at Sabaragamuwa, Central, Uva, Western and Eastern provinces.

Meanwhile an Elections Secretariat source said nearly 96 per cent of the 415,432 eligible voters had cast their votes by last afternoon.

© Daily Mirror

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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Sri Lankan Muslim convert accused of being 'anti-state'

A Sri Lankan woman who converted from Buddhism to Islam has been arrested by the authorities on suspicion of anti-state activities.

The woman, who is resident in the Gulf state of Bahrain, had recently written two books about her conversion.

They were written in Sinhala, the language of Sri Lanka's ethnic majority, who are mostly Buddhists.

She was on holiday in Sri Lanka when she was detained and is now being held in a police station.

The national police spokesman told the BBC he believed there were allegations that she was involved in anti-government or anti-state activities.

He did not know the details but remarked that although her name was Sinhalese, she was acting and wearing clothes in the manner of a Muslim woman.

Unconfirmed reports say that family members have tried to send lawyers but they have not been able to take the case to court - and that she has been detained under emergency laws.

The police spokesman told the BBC's Sinhala service that he did not have enough details to comment on the allegations. The police at the local police station where she is held have refused to comment on the case.

Books published

A report in the Bahrain-based Gulf Daily News named her as Sarah Malanie Perera and said she had lived in the Gulf state since the mid-80s.

But it said she converted to Islam in 1999 and that her parents and sisters also made the conversion.

The newspaper quoted her sister, also a Bahrain resident, as saying she was apprehended while trying to send books out of Sri Lanka through freight. A member of staff was linked to a Buddhist nationalist party and reported the book to police.

A member of the Muslim community in Sri Lanka said that Ms Perera had no pre-existing connection with Sri Lankan Muslims and the local community had nothing to do with the book over whose contents she was arrested.

He said she had been under arrest since Monday and had not yet been produced in court.

The BBC's Charles Haviland in Colombo says that Buddhist nationalism is currently an influential force in Sri Lanka and the party in question is part of the government coalition.

Sri Lankan Muslims are regarded as the third ethnic group in Sri Lanka occupy a respected and prominent position in society. But accounts of conversions from Buddhism to Islam are rare.

© BBC News

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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Sri Lanka: Former Chief Justice warns govt. of impending doom

By Athula Bandara - “Sri Lanka would soon end being another Myanmar if the prevailing situation in the country was allowed to go on unchecked.”

Former Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva said this while addressing a group of scholars and professionals at the Anuradhapura CTC Conference Hall on Thursday (25). Speaking further he said Gen. Sarath Fonseka who saved the country from terrorism and created an atmosphere for all communities to live in peace and harmony had lost his own freedom and was now in jail.

“As our rulers continue to violate the constitution or the common law of the country, we are nearing a chaotic situation here similar to that of Myanmar. The country would in turn face a serious economic crisis come August. Other countries and even the UNO have focused attention on the violation of human rights in this country, he added. “This would result in the denial of GSP concessions to Sri Lanka and in turn many garment factories will face a threat of closure.”

The former CJ warned that the loss of employment suffered by garment workers would further add to the unemployment problem facing the government. “The future of this country depends on finding lasting solutions to the problems I have mentioned above,” he said.

© Daily Mirror

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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Sri Lanka: "Sirasa" says anti-Akon protestors barking up the wrong tree

by Shamindra Ferdinando - Media Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena declined to comment on the attack. Claiming that he had been busy campaigning in Matara for the forthcoming General Election, Yapa urged the media to direct their questions to police headquarters.

Despite the Tourism Ministry denying its involvement with the now cancelled Akon concert, following last Monday’s attack on the MTV/MBC head office at Braybrook Place for being the sponsor of the event, it has come to light the MTV/MBC had only been the media sponsor, whereas the Sri Lankan Airlines, the Cinnamon Grand and Dialog Telecom PLC, too, threw their weight behind the controversial project.

A spokesman for MTV/MBC told The Island that the government and a section of the State-run and the privately-owned media had justified the attack on MTV/MBC on the grounds that they organized the event.

Tourism Minister Achala Jagoda on Thursday (March 25) made an abortive bid to distance his ministry from the Akon show, though Dileep Mudadeniya, the Managing Director of Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau said this would contribute immensely towards promoting tourism and make Colombo a popular venue in global entertainment. He said that the Akon show was in line with their campaign ‘Visit Sri Lanka 2011’ to attract tourists.

The Sirasa official said that they didn’t organize or fund the project, though an attempt was being made to blame the MTV/MBC management for inviting a foreign artiste, who had ridiculed Buddhism.

Nothing could be far from the truth, he said, emphasizing that they were only the media sponsor. He said that the print and electronic media reported on the Akon show in the recent past. Platinum Entertainment Private Limited is the main organizer of the event, in collaboration with the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau.

The Jathika Sanga Sammelanaya on Thursday denied allegations that its members had been at the scene of the attack. Ven. Hadigalle Wimalasara Thera said that an attempt was being made to blame it on the Jathika Sanga Sammelanaya, though they were not involved in the incident. The denial followed a statement issued by the Media Centre for National Security that members of the JSS had protested outside MTV/MBC offices shortly before the attack.

JHU spokesman Nishantha Sri Warnasinghe said that those who promote tourism should be careful to ensure that they did not cause unnecessary problems.

Media Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena declined to comment on the attack. Claiming that he had been busy campaigning in Matara for the forthcoming General Election, Yapa urged the media to direct their questions to police headquarters.

He was responding to queries at the weekly media briefing at his ministry. But Cabinet spokesman Minister G. L. Peiris assured that the party would take disciplinary action against any party member if found guilty of attacking Sirasa. Addressing the post-Cabinet press briefing on Thursday, Peiris said that the President had directed the police to take action against the attackers. He was responding to a query whether any UPFA local government politicians had been involved in the incident.

Sirasa pointed out that the State media had accused Sirasa employees of attacking a group of protestors without any provocation. They were quoted as saying that Sirasa employees fired water cannon and pelted stones at them causing mayhem. Sirasa said that they could have deceived people with their lies if they did not capture them on video. Sirasa showed the presence of a police jeep at the scene of the attack, calling on people to help identify persons involved in the attack.

Sirasa went to the extent of offering Rs. 50,000 each to anyone helping the station identify each attacker.

© The Island

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Friday, March 26, 2010

Sri Lanka: Attack over ‘offensive’ music video revives old fears

By Adithya Alles - Anger against the popular rap and hip-hop singer Akon, whose music video has footage of bikini-clad women dancing near a Buddha statue, may have been just a ruse used in this week’s attack on a private media house in Sri Lanka, media advocates fear.

Some 200 people attacked and stoned the head office of MTV and Sirasa, two of the country’s popular privately owned television and radio networks, on Monday, in the wake of anger over the video of a song by the U.S.-based Akon, which has now been cancelled. MTV was one of the concert promoters.

While the attackers may have indicated that their anger was caused by the music video, media activists say that the attack has simply added to a long list of intimidation and harassment faced by journalists in this South Asian island nation.

A poster left behind by the mob gave a clue as to the motive behind the attack -- or at least what those behind it wanted others to think had ignited their wrath. Written in clearly legible Sinhala, it said: ‘Don’t bring Akon to Sri Lanka’. Akon, a Senegalese American, was to perform in Sri Lanka in April.

Anger over the singer’s arrival in Sri Lanka grew in the last week over a music video for the song ‘Sexy Bitch’, which includes two women in bikinis dancing in front of a white Buddha statue.

Over 60 percent of Sri Lanka’s 20 million people are Buddhists and what they see as sacrilege easily generates anger.

Two Facebook groups against the Akon show have sprung up, getting more than 12,000 members. However, there was no indication that the protest campaign was going to turn violent. In fact, some group members have posted messages urging others not to allow extremists to take over their peaceful campaign.

A similar incident in 2004, though without the involvement of any Facebook groups, had ended in disastrous circumstances.

In December 2004, public anger broke out when Indian superstar Shahruk Khan was to hold a concert in Colombo that coincided with the death anniversary of a beloved Buddhist monk. Despite the protests, the concert went ahead and toward the end, a hand grenade explosion left two concertgoers dead. The culprits have never been indentified.

The Free Media Movement (FMM), the country’s foremost media rights group, believes that the mob attack was not a random event. "This cannot be taken as an isolated act. It is part and parcel of what has been taking place in the recent past," FMM spokesman Sunil Jayasekera said in an interview.

Others say that the row over the Akon concert provided an effective veil for anyone who wanted to target the Sirasa broadcasting house, which has been known for its independent reporting during the civil war between the state and separatist Tamil rebels in the country.

"This (Akon) concert was just an excuse for this attack. There had been concerns over its safety even before this controversy over the concert," said Susil Kidelepitiya, a former news director at Sirasa. Kidelepitiya is contesting the April general election as part of the opposition United National Party.

Media activists say that the long list of intimidations, arrests, assaults, abduction and even unsolved murders has already made journalists look over their shoulders all the time.

"This is not the first time MTV/Sirasa or their journalists have been attacked. Their studios were set on fire in January 2009. No one knows who did that," Jayasekera said. The FMM official says the government needs to take action to assure the media community that it can safely do its job.

After that 2009 attack, Reporters Without Borders had said: "The attack seems to be because its coverage was not ‘patriotic’ enough. The network is one of the country’s few, and very popular, independent news sources. The incident recalls the November 2007 attack on the Leader Publication printing works, for which nobody has been punished."

Reporters Without Borders had also noted that the MTV/Sirasa network has been criticised "for not giving enough air-time to recent government victories over the (Tamil Tiger) rebels," which the government defeated militarily last year.

Officials of the Working Journalists’ Association agree that authorities have shown a lukewarm attitude in investigating such attacks.

"If there is a sense that these kinds of acts are tolerated, it does not augur well for the future," Lasantha Ruhunge, the association secretary, told IPS. "Then more and more journalists will not feel safe enough to do their job -- which would mean that less and less information would reach the public."

This week’s attack had all the makings of a well laid-out plan rather than a spontaneous outburst of public anger.

The mob appeared in front of the office of Capital Maharaja, the holding company of MTV and Sirasa TV located here in the capital Colombo, without much fanfare. They arrived in two hired buses, alighted and started pelting the building with stones, clubs and anything they could grab hold of.

As stones rained on the glass facade of the Maharaja building, those inside retaliated. Some hurled the stones back at the attackers while others unwound a fire hose and opened the tap on the mob. A while later, police arrived at the scene with riot gear. The attackers dispersed and 16 were taken into custody, according to police. All were released on bail a day later.

The mob may have been doused before it could turn ugly, but it left the staff at Maharaja in shock. Staffers were seen wandering in the compound speaking on their mobile phones, gazing at the crowd that had gathered after the mob attack. They said that no one had the faintest idea of an attack before the stones started banging against the windows .

"Bringing down an artist (Akon) who has no respect for Buddhism cannot be condoned, but so is this act. Going and stoning the office is not the answer," Hegodda Vippassi Thero, a Buddhist monk, told IPS. He had urged organisers to reconsider going ahead with the concert in view of the controversial video.

Whether the mob really wanted to take the anti-Akon sentiment to a violent level will never be known, but it has achieved what was written on the poster it left behind. The Sri Lankan government has said that it would not be issuing a visa to Akon because he was "defaming Buddhism".

In a statement, Akon said: "I would never set out to offend or desecrate anyone's religion or religious beliefs."

All that, however, does not address the worries of the FMM and the Working Journalists’ Association – that being the messenger makes the media very much a target in this country.

© Inter Press Service

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Friday, March 26, 2010

Sri Lanka: Author held in book row

A Bahrain resident has been arrested in Sri Lanka after converting to Islam and writing two books in Sinhalese allegedly offensive to the spiritual leader of Buddhism.

Sarah Malanie Perera, 38, was detained in the capital Colombo on Saturday as she was due to leave her homeland after a three-month holiday.

Discover Islam has now issued an international appeal to human rights groups to help secure her release, after being contacted by one of her sisters.

Relatives in Bahrain also fear she may not be allowed to return here as her residence permit expires today.

Ms Perera came to Manama in 1985 to assist her elder sister Mariam, who owned a gifts and flowers shop called Madhuri in The Palace Hotel, Adliya.

She worked there for two years before staying at home to care her sick old mother Aisha.

Ms Perera later worked as an assistant accountant for the US Navy, before becoming a teacher at the Child Development Centre, Juffair.

Born and brought up in a Buddhist family, she embraced Islam in 1999 after studying religion at Discover Islam.

Her father Norbet Perera, mother Soma and sisters Padma, Rasa, Padmani and Malanie, later also converted to Islam at separate times.

They are now called Mohammed, Aisha, Fatima, Raihana, Fowzia and Sarah respectively.

"Ever since she (Sarah) embraced Islam, she was compiling a book on Islam and comparative religion," said her sister Mariam yesterday.

"In September 2009 she has completed her compilation.

"She has printed it into two beautiful books entitled From Darkness to Light and Questions and Answers.

"During her visit to Sri Lanka, she printed the books and was due to come back to Bahrain on Saturday.

"She was sending some copies of the books through cargo and the owner of the cargo office, who happened to be linked with an extremist racist organisation called Helaurumaya, contacted the police claiming the book was offensive to Lord Buddha."

Mariam claimed the group forced the police to detain her sister beyond the 24-hour limit before a case must be transferred to the courts.

"Sarah went home after taking three months holiday to finish a property issue, as my father died six years ago and no one was there to care for it," she said.

"As we all are married and have families plus jobs, it was impossible to go back earlier and thought she would finalise the matter during her vacation.

"But we didn't know she would be arrested for writing the book."

A Discover Islam official said the arrest of Ms Perera was unfair and demanded Bahrain's authorities take action to ensure her quick release.

"We want all the international authorities and human rights organisations to help sister Sarah," they said.

Relatives say Ms Perera's books were not abusive to Lord Buddha and merely explained the original teachings of Buddha according to the Buddhist scriptures.

They said she wrote it to explain why she chose to convert to Islam and it was an attempt to bring people of all faiths closer by recognising their similarities.

Ms Perera is being held in Mirihana Police Station, Colombo, while investigations continue.

© Gulf Daily News

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Friday, March 26, 2010

National Sangha Council accepts responsibility for the protest: MCNS Director

Jathika Sangha Sammelanaya has accepted responsibility for the protest demonstration held against MTV media 02 days ago for sponsoring the performance of a foreign artiste named Ikon who allegedly had blasphemed Lord Buddha. While the protest was continuing, a confrontation had taken place between the protestors and the staff of the MTV institute. In the ensuing fracas, the property belonging to the MTV institution had been damaged. The Police are conducting investigations said Mr. Lakshman Hulugalle Director General MCNS addressing a media briefing held at MCNS today(24).

Several suspects for the attack have been interrogated and released on police bail, Mr. Hulugalle added. Answering a question he said the government totally denies any involvement and this is purely a confrontation between an organization and the media institute.

© Media Centre for National Security

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Friday, March 26, 2010

Tamil politicians highlight Sinhalese influx into North Lanka

PK Balachandran - In the intense competition for the ethnic Tamil vote in the run up to the April 8 Sri Lankan parliamentary elections, parties touting Tamil nationalism are highlighting the “dangers” arising from the post-war influx of Sinhalese into the predominently Tamil Jaffna peninsula and the Wanni.

Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which is the strongest of the Tamil nationalist parties, is drawing attention to the construction of permament Sri Lankan army camps in the Wanni. Suresh Premachandran, who is contesting from Jaffna district, told Express that the construction of permament camps meant the transformation of the existing camps into family stations, which in turn, would mean a great increase in the population of the Sinhalese. This fear stems from the fact that the Sri Lankan army is almost exclusively Sinhalese.

“The army has about 40,000 troops now in the Wanni.Very soon, the troops’ families will join them. Once a permanent settlement comes up, infrastructural facilities like Sinhalese schools and Buddhist temples will come up, and the ethno-cultural character of the Wanni will change,” Premachandran said.

Tamil nationalists point out that the predominantly Tamil Wanni has been substantially denuded of Tamils by the war, which had gone on for 30 years. The existing Tamil population has been impoverished by the war, especially in the last two years of it.

C.Sridharan, another TNA candidate in Jaffna, is quoted by Sudar Oli daily as saying that the army is constructing 4,000 family quarters at Kokkavil. There would soon be at least 8000 school going Sinhalese children, for whom Sinhalese schools would have to be opened, he said.

“Similar family stations will come up in Iyakkachchi, Palai and Jaffna,” he warned.


A lawyer, who did not want to be named, said that Buddhist temples (most Buddhists are Sinhalese in Sri Lanka) were mushrooming in Jaffna. He said that a Buddhist temple had come up recently near the ancient Thiruketheeswaram temple in Mantottam in Mannar district in west Wanni.

Visiting Sinhalese traders have put up temporary shops all over Jaffna. “ Very soon, these shops will be regularised and we can do nothing about it because the municipality is not under our control,” the activist said. “ Sinhalese shops have come up even around the Nallur Kandaswamy temple, when our custom does not allow it. Traditionally, shops are allowed only temporarily, during temples festivals. But who has the power to question these things?” he asked.


The Sri Lankan government’s view is that just as there are Tamils living amicably among Sinhalese in south Sri Lanka, Sinhalese should be able to live among Tamils in the north, because the country belongs to all ethnic groups. There were Sinhalese in the north before the Tamil movement became militant, it is recalled.

On the charge that army camps were mushrooming in the Wanni, Military Spokesman Maj.Gen.Prasad Samarsinghe said that these were not new camps. “And they are there to protect the Tamils from the LTTE,” he added.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa had only recently told Straits Times that there still were “sleeping cadres” of the LTTE, who could be activated by interested parties both at home and abroad. There were still people in the north who believed in Tamil Eelam, he pointed out.

© Express Buzz

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Sri Lanka journalist still missing


A media rights group appealed on Wednesday to Sri Lanka's president to reveal the results of a police investigation into the disappearance of a pro-opposition journalist.

Reporters Without Borders said police had "shown no interest" in finding Prageeth Ekneligoda alive, while "government ministers have made contradictory statements that have spread confusion about the circumstances of his disappearance" two months ago.

The Paris-based rights group asked President Mahinda Rajapaksa to order the release of the results of the investigation into the whereabouts of Ekneligoda, who backed opposition candidate Gen. Sarath Fonseka in January's presidential election.

Police spokesman Prishantha Jayakody told The Associated Press that police investigations were still continuing.

The journalist, a political columnist and cartoonist with, is believed to have been abducted while on his way home from work.

The Web site has said that Ekneligoda's critical comments about Rajapaksa may have been the reason for his alleged abduction. Some government officials have claimed the journalist staged his disappearance to embarrass the government before the Jan 26 election.

Media rights groups say Sri Lanka is among the most dangerous places for journalists. Amnesty International says at least 14 Sri Lankan media workers have been killed since the beginning of 2006.


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Wednesday, March 24, 2010


A Sri Lankan Tamil has been named foreign journalist of the year at the British Press Awards in London.

JS Tissainayagam was arrested in 2008 and sentenced to 20 years in jail for inciting religious disharmony in his magazine. He was bailed in January.

US President Barack Obama mentioned Mr Tissainagayam last year as an example of reporters jailed for their work.

Mr Tissainayagam denies supporting violence. International human rights groups had campaigned for his release.

Last September, Mr Tissainayagam was given an award for courageous and ethical journalism by the Paris-based group Reporters Without Borders.

On Tuesday, Reporters Without Borders appealed to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa to publicise the results of investigations into the disappearance of another journalist who vanished two months ago.

It notes that senior officials are still implying that Prageeth Eknaligoda staged his own disappearance and alleges that the police have shown "no interest" in finding him alive.

"We urge the president to provide credible information about what happened to him," Reporters Without Borders said.

Media rights groups say Sri Lanka is one of the most dangerous places for journalists to work.

They accuse the authorities of intimidating and harassing journalists critical of the government's policies.

Official figures show that nine journalists have been killed and more than 25 assaulted in the past four years in Sri Lanka.

The government says it has nothing to do with either the killings or the attacks on journalists.

© BBC News

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

RSF : Cartoonist kidnapped two months ago still missing


Reporters Without Borders appeals to President Mahinda Rajapaksa to order the release of the results of the police investigation into leading cartoonist and political reporter Prageeth Eknaligoda’s disappearance two months ago. The police have shown no interest in finding this opposition journalist alive, while government ministers have made contradictory statements that have spread confusion about the circumstances of his disappearance.

“With some senior officials such as defence minister Gotabhaya Rajpaksa still suggesting that Eknaligoda staged his own disappearance, we urge the president to provide credible information about happened to him,” Reporters Without Borders said.

Eknaligoda’s wife and two children have had no news of him since 24 January, when he was abducted as he left the office of the Lanka-e-News website, his place of work. The police have provided no convincing information about the case.

In an interview for the Colombo-based Daily Mirror at the end of February, defence minister Rajpaksa (who is the president’s brother) said: “Eknaligoda had himself disappeared (...) We don’t even know who this Eknaligoda is, what had he done? Anyone can claim that he is missing.”

A few days after Eknaligoda’s abduction, his wife was assured by a presidential adviser that he would “resurface.” But two months have since gone by and Eknaligoda, a diabetic since the age of 15, is still missing.

Reporters Without Borders also urges President Rajapaksa to guarantee the safety of journalists during the campaign for the legislative elections scheduled for 8 April.

The latest act of violence against the news media occurred yesterday when supporters of a government official, some of them armed, attacked the headquarters of privately-owned television station MTV/MBC on Colombo’s Braybrooke Place, throwing stones and trying to ransack it. The station was previously attacked by gunmen in January 2009.

An MTV representative said: “The motive is not immediately clear to us, but we think this attack was political, above all because of next month’s parliamentary elections.” It may also have been linked to R&B singer Akon’s forthcoming visit to Colombo, which MTV is sponsoring, as local Buddhist groups took offence at an Akon video that showed skimpily dressed women dancing with a Buddha statue in the background. The police arrested 16 people during the attack but all were released on bail today.

The most recent arrest of an opposition journalist was that of Ruwan Weerakoon in Colombo on 15 March, a few days after he was hospitalised as a result of heart attack ( “I under arrest in hospital,” he managed to say in SMS message.

Dozens of state media employees have meanwhile been fired, suspended or threatened for protesting against the government’s control of coverage during the campaign for last January’s presidential election. Monitoring by Reporters Without Borders established that 96.7 per cent of the news programme air-time on the two main state TV stations favoured the president

© Reporters sans frontières

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

MTV Attack: Police ordered to present report

The Colombo Fort Magistrate today ordered the Slave Island police to conduct investigations into the attack on the MBC/MTV head office at Braybrooke place and present a report on the probe to the Court.

The Magistrate also instructed the police to present to Court the police bail bonds obtained from the 16 suspects who were earlier arrested over the mob attack on the media institution and later released. The President has also ordered a probe.

© Daily Mirror

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Jailed Tissa named for British award

A Sri Lankan journalist serving a twenty year prison sentence is nominated for an international award.

JS Tissainayagam, who is currently on bail, is among 16 international journalists nominated by British Press Awards under International Journalist of the Year.

Journalists from Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Eritrea, Azerbaijan and Burma are among the other nominees.

"Winning a British Press Award is justly seen as the crowning achievement of any journalist's career - and just being shortlisted is to be set among the elite of the profession," a statement issued by the organisers said.

'No life'

The award ceremony is due to held in London on Tuesday.

Tissaianyagam was charged under terrorist laws, of causing disharmony among ethnic communities, and of raising money to fund 'terrorist' activities.

He was given the longest ever jail sentence on a journalist by courts in Sri Lanka who found him guilty.

"Although released on bail, Tissa remains afraid for his life and lives in isolation from his family and friends because of this fear," says one of his colleagues.

"He cannot practice his trade and simply has no life," he added.

© BBC Sinhala

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Bell Pottinger and Sri Lanka: Millions spent for what?

by Groundviews - "Bell Pottinger hired Qorvis Communications as a subcontractor for its work with the government of Sri Lanka, starting December 1, according to a filing with the US Department of Justice. Qorvis is providing media relations and monitoring, crisis communications planning, and stakeholder representation in the US. The budget is approximately $483,000."

Though freely available on the web since January this year, this information to the best of our knowledge has not been prominently featured or robustly questioned in mainstream media to date.

Bell Pottinger is one of the UK’s largest public relations firms, spin doctors par excellence for those who can afford them, including amongst many others, the Government of Iran, members of the government of Saudi Arabia and in the past, General Augusto Pinochet. The British oil company Trafigura was also a key client, yet despite this was named and shamed in the media for uncontrolled dumping of hundreds of tonnes of highly toxic oil waste around Abidjan, the capital of Ivory Coast, in August 2006. Though contested, there are media reports that suggest Bell Pottinger is also involved in lobbying the EU on behalf of the Sri Lankan government, perhaps primarily on the issue of the GSP+ extension.

As the news report above indicates, they do not come cheap. The sum of $483,000 noted in this report is for a sub-contract, and comes to around 55 million rupees today. Details of the original contract awarded by our government to Bell Pottinger remain undisclosed, and involve expenses probably much higher than this figure.

Can Sri Lanka spare this money? How was the process of selecting and awarding the tender to Bell Pottinger arrived at? Who was involved? Given that these are public expenses, have they been tabled in Parliament to date? If not, why not?

This is not the first President or government Bell Pottinger has served. In 2001, the media reported very serious differences of opinion between the late Lakshman Kadirgamar, then serving as Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister, and President Chandrika Kumaratunge over Bell Pottinger’s involvement in planning an official, three day visit to England. As the Sunday Times reports in December 2001, the contract at the time made individuals working at or associated with Bell Pottinger quite rich. The exact sum of money involved is not clear. In November 2001, the Sunday Leader reported that the contract awarded to Bell Pottinger totalled 97 million rupees. A month later, the Sunday Times reported a figure of 290,581.73 Sterling Pounds or Rs. 39,228,533.35 at the time.

Whereas on the books of Bell Pottinger these may be relatively small sums of money, these are huge sums of public finances spent under successive governments, with little or no accountability and transparency. Though individuals, both in Sri Lanka and in England, have clearly benefitted from these outrageous contracts, the country today is subject to a global scrutiny influenced by factors that as Foreign Policy noted recently, cannot be swept under the rug.

As the Sunday Times noted in February 2010 noting that Sri Lanka’s foreign policy was not outsourced to public relations companies,

"The conduct of Sri Lanka’s foreign policy nowadays is more expensive. Not only are the diplomats posted abroad for this purpose having to be paid for. There are other newcomers too. That is in the form of public relations companies.

"One such company, Patton Boggs, made its debut in the United States. Some of its staff not only sat through conferences at the Sri Lanka Embassy in the US, but did most of the public relations, lobbying and legal work. Of course, the company collected a neat packet in dollars.

"There is now an addition in Britain. They have hired Bell Pottinger. It went to work this week marketing President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s address to the nation at Thursday’s Independence Day ceremonies in Kandy. The company will now collect a packet in Pounds Sterling."

The question is, do voters care enough to hold government accountable?

© Groundviews

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Sri Lanka refuses singer Akon visa after protests

By Ranga Sirilal - Sri Lanka said on Tuesday it would deny a visa to the Senegalese-American R&B singer and rapper Akon, whose plan to hold a concert there in April infuriated Buddhists offended by one of his videos.

On Monday, hundreds of people stormed the head offices of the Maharaja Broadcasting and Television (MBC/MTV) Network, the media sponsor of the concert. Four employees were injured and windows and parked cars were smashed.

Akon's video for the song "Sexy Bitch" features scantily clad women dancing in front of a statue of the Buddha. Sri Lanka's ethnic majority Sinhalese are primarily Buddhists.

"Taking into consideration the allegations levelled against the singer Akon, the government has decided not to issue him a visa to conduct the concert in Sri Lanka," said Anusha Palpita, director-general of the government's Information Department.

Palpita said the main allegation against Akon was that he was "defaming Buddhism in his music videos".

Representatives for Akon could not immediately be reached for comment.

Sri Lanka's Buddhist clergy are hugely influential in ordinary life and politics, and in the past hardline Sinhalese nationalists have used violence against those they see as offending Buddhism.

The attack by an estimated 200 people on the pro-opposition network, which runs three television and four radio stations from its headquarters in central Colombo, came as the campaign heats up for parliamentary elections on April 8.

In December 2004, a hand grenade attack at a concert by Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan killed two people and wounded 19. The attack was blamed on Sinhalese nationalists who were angry that the concert was being staged on the first anniversary of the death of a renowned Buddhist monk.

© Reuters

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

MTV attack: Police take their time

by Shamindra Ferdinando - A group of men yesterday (March 22) afternoon pelted stones at the head office of the Sirasa TV and Radio at Braybrooke Place, Colombo causing damages to some vehicles parked in the premises.

A section of the employees retaliated by throwing back the stones at the attackers before the police intervened. The television interrupted its regular programme to telecast the attack in the presence of the police and the arrest of some of the attackers.

Director of Information Anusha Palpita told The Island that about 100 to 200 persons had launched a protest outside Sirasa premises before some of them launched the attack.

The Braybrook Place office had been targeted earlier. During yesterday’s incident several Sirasa employees received injuries.

A heavily armed gang caused heavy damage in a raid on Sirasa studios at Pannipitiya in January 2008. The police are yet to arrest the culprits, who carried out the attack.

A senior spokesperson for Sirasa told The Island that they had thwarted an attempt by the attackers to storm the premises. He said that the attackers had caused heavy damage before the police responded to their pleas for help. Had they intervened immediately, the attack could have been averted, he said.

Justice and Law Reforms Minister Milinda Moragoda and Asath Sally, both UPFA candidates contesting from Colombo, visited the Sirasa offices, where they condemned the attack. They said that the perpetrators of this attack should be arrested. UNP Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya and JVP frontliner Sunil Handunetti, too, visited the scene.

Police headquarters spokesman SSP Prishantha Jayakody told The Island that persons engaged in the protest had shouted slogans and carried placards against a live performance in Colombo by top US artiste, Akon. He said that the police had baton charged the unruly crowd and arrested several attackers. The TV footage included scenes of senior police officers kicking some of the attackers and pushing them into police vehicles.

Akon performed in India about a week ago at the invitation of Shah Ruk Khan. Akon’s performance in Colombo at the SSC grounds on April 24 is arranged by Platinum Entertainment (Pvt) Ltd, and MTV/MBC. Sources said that there had been protests against an Akon hit showing scantily clad women dancing near a Buddha statue.

Sirasa showed some of the attackers arriving at the scene in an SLTB bus, which the station claimed was attached to the Kelaniya SLTB depot. Sirasa sources told The Island that the police could have seized the bus, though they allowed it to leave with the majority of attackers. Sources said that a section of the attackers had come in vehicles.

© The Island

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

MTV attack: The Akon factor

By Dinidu de Alwis - A soaked poster lying on a bush gave a hint to where and why the stones would have come from. It read “Don’t bring down Akon to Sri Lanka”. Another, lying mere inches away said “Chase away Sirasa who are trying to disrupt the Sangha Saasana”. Nearby on the ground a flowerpot lay shattered. The culprit, a half-brick lay where its base once was.

Capital Maharaja, the head office of MTV/MBC was attacked yesterday afternoon by protesters who arrived at the office suddenly. Eyewitness accounts put the number at two busloads, arriving at the scene in Sri Lanka Transport Service (SLTB) buses. One such bus was seen parked near the Viharamahadevi Park and a group of about 50 men gathered around it soon after the stone throwing was subdued by police riot squads.

“We heard a noise coming from the front of the building, and we saw large crowds gathering in front of our office” a spokesperson for MTV said. The slow moving crowd started pelting stones at the Capital Maharaja Building, and “as an act of self defence” the staff returned the same stones which were thrown at them back to the protesting crowd. MTV staffers also used a firehose to good effect to thwart the mob. the hose lay curled on the side of the building, with shattered glass and stones all around it. It lay like giant snake that had done its job and wanted no more action.

Video footage recorded by the private TV station shows crowds pelting stones at the building, and then making a hasty retreat when Police arrived at the scene. Reports indicate that sixteen protesters were arrested.

The attack, which eyewitness accounts suggest was spurred as a result of opposition to the proposed performance by Senegalese rapper Akon, comes a year after the MTV transmission station in Depanama was besieged by unidentified persons and set on fire.

Sri Lanka previously saw a violent act related to a musical performance in 2004, when a hand grenade that was lobbed at a concert led by Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan killed two including a pregnant woman. The event was attributed to Buddhist fundamentalists, as the performance fell on the one year death anniversary of popular religious figure Ven. Gangodavila Soma Thero.

Perambara previously reported on the growing opposition and the potential for violence against the performance by Akon. The two facebook groups which have grown by more than two thousand members since then, alleged that Akon’s music videos were insulting to Buddhism and that the artist should not be allowed to perform in Sri Lanka.

MTV spokespersons did not link the Akon concert to the attack. Some even suggested that the concert could have been used as a ruse by those who wanted to get back at the station. “There have been threats on the station for some time,” Susil Kidelepitiya, a former Sirasa news director, now candidate for the opposition UNP said.

MTV however is not the only promoter of the Akon concert. Repeated attempts to contact Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau, a key partner in organizing the performance has failed.


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