Friday, February 05, 2010


By Nabeela Hussain - There is no trace yet of missing Lanka E News journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda and foreign missions in Colombo have been notified on the latest developments. Eknaligoda was reported missing on January 24.

“The Police say they have not finished their investigations yet and they recently questioned the family”, the journalist’s wife Sandya Eknaligoda said.

Meanwhile Free Media Movement Secretary Sunil Jayasekara charged that the Police and the government were not doing their best to locate the whereabouts of Mr. Eknaligoda.

“We have asked the international community to pressurize the government about this, but there has been no response”, he said.

However, he said main foreign embassies had been notified and that they were keeping an eye on the issue and are willing to give their support if needed.

Prageeth Eknaligoda, who was last seen on January, 24 , went missing on his way home from work on the same date. When a colleague who called Mr. Eknaligoda last on that day, he had overheard him tell the person he was traveling with that they were going in the wrong direction.

© Daily Mirror

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Friday, February 05, 2010

A watchdog exploited:The way Sri Lanka used Ofcom to curb Channel 4

Jon Snow, Channel 4 News - The scandal of Britain's libel laws and their facility for libel tourism is well known. So too is our cavalier attitude to freedom of speech. But the idea that a country with one of the worst records for press freedom and human rights could use UK broadcast regulations to challenge legitimate reporting of allegations of cold-blooded killings in a brutal civil war surely takes the UK to a new place.

Whatever private individuals and corporations may be able to do, our legal system does at least prevent states, governments and political parties from suing for defamation in our courts. I and my colleagues at Channel 4 News are now emerging from a storm that saw Sri Lanka bypass our libel laws and attempt to use Ofcom, the broadcast regulator, to do what the law would not allow – silence our journalism. Ofcom's job is to protect "people who watch television and listen to radio from harmful or offensive material" and to further the interests of UK citizens in respect of communication matters. It does this well. Ofcom's job is not to protect governments or organisations from criticisms or to further their political or commercial interests.

Last year we broadcast a video showing nine bound and naked men, two of whom were shot, on camera, by soldiers who appeared to be wearing Sri Lankan army uniform. On the night in question I made it clear that while we couldn't authenticate this video, sent to us by a group called Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka, it raised matters of such importance that further investigation was warranted. The Sri Lankan high commission immediately denied the atrocities that the video appeared to show.

Two weeks later, at a news conference in Colombo, Sri Lanka said "independent" analysis had declared the video a "fake". It mounted a high-profile global campaign to discredit the report, protesting outside Channel 4's London headquarters. The Sri Lankan government opened up a second front in the UK, filing a series of complaints with Ofcom – one for accuracy and impartiality, one for fairness and privacy. What had begun as a media campaign to try to destroy the credibility of our news report had become a private battle using the UK's broadcast regulator. It was a battle in which they were initially allowed to hide anonymously behind the confidential nature of the procedures.

Battle was spared by the findings of a UN committee which concluded that the tape did appear authentic, and dismissed Sri Lanka's analysis. Strangely, on the eve of the UN report's publication the government of Sri Lanka dropped its Ofcom complaints.

The Sri Lankan video affair has revealed how Ofcom procedures are potentially open to abuse that threatens to curb not only investigative reporting, but coverage of countries who would rather hide from public scrutiny. Ofcom has come of age in my reporting lifetime and I regard it as a regulatory success. But we need to look to the very real risk of governments hijacking the regulatory process for their own political ends.

In this case, Ofcom was placed at the centre of an international row over Sri Lanka's human rights record, for decisions which could have had a major bearing on the country's attempts to defend its reputation. Before Sri Lanka's complaints were dropped, we were prepared to put these arguments in front of a court. We felt a clear ruling that denied countries access to Ofcom's complaints procedures would be beneficial not just to political debate in the UK, but would also help the regulator to avoid being drawn into major international crises.

In the absence of a legal ruling, only parliament can change the basis on which complaints can be brought. Ofcom needs to ensure that Sri Lanka is the last country to be allowed to attempt to ­pervert the regulator's domestic complaints procedure for its own needs.

© Guardian

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Friday, February 05, 2010

Sri Lanka's post-election crackdown : How not to celebrate a victory

Optimists hoped that, after Mahinda Rajapaksa’s stunning victory in Sri Lanka’s presidential election on January 26th, he might be magnanimous to his opponents and reassure citizens worried about the erosion of their civil liberties. He defeated his main opponent, Sarath Fonseka, the former commander of his army by the huge margin of 17 percentage points. With the war against the Tamil Tigers behind him, and seven more years of presidency ahead, Mr Rajapaksa could afford to be generous. But instead, his government has launched a sweeping crackdown, suggesting it remains paranoid about dissent, and fretful about a possible military coup.

At least 20 former members of an elite army commando unit and ten army deserters, all supporters of Mr Fonseka, have been arrested. Accusing the defeated candidate of a plot to assassinate Mr Rajapaksa and his family, the police also raided Mr Fonseka’s office in Colombo and detained some of his staff. A brigadier who served as military assistant to Mr Fonseka when he was army commander was arrested, and several other officers transferred within the army. Twelve senior officers, including three major-generals, were then asked to retire at once, accused of having engaged in political work.

Mr Fonseka, who says he will continue in politics, has appealed for international help to uphold democracy in Sri Lanka. He protests that his supporters have been harassed, his computers and some motor cycles seized, that the police will not take complaints from him and that he has constantly been followed. At a press conference this week he also denied speculation that he was planning a coup.

The post-election crackdown has also hit the press, prompting the country’s six main journalists’ unions to urge Mr Rajapaksa to stop what they said was a deterioration of media freedom and “dangerous trends” faced by reporters. The visa of Karin Wenger, a Delhi-based Swiss radio-correspondent, was cancelled after she asked a “sensitive” question at a press conference. The decision was later revoked by Mr Rajapaksa. The government’s media minister, Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, has denied that there is any threat to the press, and said that no news organisation had complained to him.

However, the government shut down the printing press of Lanka, a newspaper, and detained its editor. The press was unsealed on the order of a magistrate but the editor, Chandana Sirimalwatte, was still held under emergency regulations imposed during the war with the Tigers. Lanka is the organ of the Marxist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, or JVP, one of the three main parties that backed Mr Fonseka.

Chulawansa Sirilal, convener of the Free Media Movement, an NGO, says the government is accusing journalists of taking part in a conspiracy to defeat it, and is waging a concerted campaign against the press. Mr Sirilal says Prageeth Eknaligoda, a contributor to, a website that carries dissenting views, has been missing since two days before the election.

Workers at state-owned media, including television and radio, have been assaulted, threatened, suspended or sacked. This week a correspondent for a private television station was beaten up and his equipment destroyed in Anuradhapura district, as he tried to film opposition supporters, who had themselves allegedly been assaulted.

The behaviour of Mr Rajapaksa’s new government is already attracting criticism abroad. Amnesty, a human-rights watchdog, urged it to deal with the violations that have plagued Sri Lanka. It noted that, instead, “we have seen a serious clampdown on freedom of expression.”

© The Economist

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Friday, February 05, 2010

Behind Sri Lanka’s political infighting: US-China rivalry

Peter Symonds - In the wake of Tuesday’s presidential election in Sri Lanka, Colombo has become a hotbed of rumour and intrigue as the two factions of the ruling elite backing the winner, Mahinda Rajapakse, and the loser, General Sarath Fonseka, manoeuvre and position themselves for open political warfare. Far from putting an end to the campaign brawling, the election has set the stage for deepening instability.

The extraordinary events of the past three days have included: the surrounding of Fonseka’s hotel by heavily-armed troops, government accusations that he was planning a coup, counter-accusations by Fonseka that the government was about to arrest or assassinate him, a demand that the election be annulled and threats of legal action from both sides.

What is behind this bitter rivalry? The two men have essentially the same domestic program. General Fonseka was part of President Rajapakse’s inner cabal as it ruthlessly prosecuted the communal war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) that ended in the LTTE’s defeat last May. Fonseka now pledges to renew Sri Lankan democracy, but like Rajapakse, he is responsible for war crimes and gross abuses of democratic rights. If he fears assassination, it is because he is intimately acquainted with the operations of the pro-government death squads that murdered hundreds of politicians, journalists and ordinary people over the past four years.

The economic agenda of the two men is identical. Both campaigned on the basis of fanciful promises that they knew could not be kept. Rajapakse pledged to turn the island into the “wonder of Asia” and to double per capita GDP within six years. Fonseka demagogically declared he could solve all the country’s problems by eliminating “waste and corruption”—as if the impact of 26 years of civil war and the current global economic turmoil could be overcome simply by ending the corrupt practices of the Rajapakse brothers. In reality, Rajapakse and Fonseka are committed to imposing the full burden of the worsening economic crisis onto working people and using the police-state apparatus built up during the war to suppress any opposition.

The main reason for the political feuding is not to be found in Colombo. Since the LTTE’s defeat, the country has been drawn into the vortex of great power rivalry. Sri Lanka’s strategic position in South Asia and astride the key sea routes from the Middle East and Africa to North East Asia and across the Pacific has made it the focus of growing attention by the major powers. China, which is seeking to protect its maritime trade, used the war to bolster its position in Colombo—providing arms, aid and diplomatic backing in return for economic and strategic concessions, in particular a major new southern port at Hambantota. India and Pakistan, along with the European powers, are also vying for position in Sri Lanka.

The major destabilising factor, however, has been the US, which is determined to counter China’s growing influence in Asia and internationally, including Sri Lanka. Following the LTTE’s defeat, the Obama administration, which had backed Rajapakse’s war, cynically played the “human rights” card. Together with the Europeans, Washington sponsored a resolution in the UN Human Rights Council calling for a limited war crimes investigation as a means of pressuring the Rajapakse government. China, however, flexed its diplomatic muscle, blocked the US/European move and supported the Sri Lankan government’s own resolution hailing its victory in the “war on terror”.

By early December, the US had shifted tack. A major report entitled “Sri Lanka: Recharting US Strategy After the War”, issued by the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, highlighted the danger to US strategic interests of China’s growing influence in Colombo and bluntly declared that the US “cannot afford to ‘lose’ Sri Lanka”. It advised “a new approach that increases US leverage vis-à-vis Sri Lanka” using economic, trade and security incentives. As for “human rights”, while they remained important, the report stated, “US policy towards Sri Lanka cannot be dominated by a single agenda. It is not effective at delivering real reform, and it shortchanges US geostrategic interests in the region”.

Rajapakse is acutely aware that he can ill-afford to alienate the US. In the course of the presidential election, he boasted that he had opposed the “international conspiracy” to save the LTTE and smear the army with war crimes charges. But his anti-Western posturing and defence of “little Sri Lanka” always had its limits. While pointing to Washington’s war crimes in Afghanistan, he only did so to justify his own. He was always careful never to name names and now shows every sign of wanting improved ties with the “conspirators”—the US and the EU.

Fonseka’s own relations with Washington are extremely murky. He arrived in the US in late October, purportedly to renew his Green Card and visit relatives, and was asked to attend a voluntary interview with the Department of Homeland Security, reportedly to answer questions over war crimes related to Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse. Colombo furiously opposed the interview, which eventually did not take place. While the nature of discussions between US officials and Fonseka is shrouded in secrecy, he announced his resignation from the army just days after returning to Colombo and actively campaigned against Rajapakse’s anti-Western stance.

The nature of future relations between Washington and the Rajapakse regime is by no means clear. What is certain is that this great power rivalry, especially between the US and China, is adding an explosive new factor to the volatile and unstable mix of Sri Lankan politics. Whatever the immediate outcome, the factional warfare in the ruling elites will only compound the economic crisis facing the island, and therefore the determination of whoever comes out on top to launch a savage onslaught on the social position of the working class.

© World Socialist Web Site

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Friday, February 05, 2010

Nine SL migrant workers die over last three days

The Foreign Employment Bureau says that nine Sri Lankan migrant workers have died over the last three days owing to various accidents.

These deaths have been reported from a number of countries including Jordan and Bahrain.

Incidentally, the majority of these reports have come in from Jordan.

According to Additional General Manager of the Foreign Employment Bureau L. K. Ruhunuge, a 19 year-old girl was among the victims and died while bathing.

Information has come to light that the victim died after inhaling a certain toxic fume.


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