Sunday, February 07, 2010

“Being Framed For Lasantha’s Murder” Says Sarath Fonseka

By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema - Former Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka has accused law enforcement officers of trying to force a confession out of Brigadier D. Keppetivalana in a bid to frame him and the Brigadier in an assassination plot that killed The Sunday Leader Founder Editor, Lasantha Wickrematunge.

General Fonseka told The Sunday Leader that Brigadier Keppetivalana was arrested for his alleged involvement in Wickrematunge’s killing. He said Keppetivalana’s wife had told him (Fonseka) that her husband had been arrested on charges of being involved in the murder of Wickrematunge.

“That is what his wife told me. When they arrested him at home, they had told the family that they were taking him in for the suspected killing of Lasantha. After taking him in they are forcing him to say that he got involved in the assassination following my orders,” Fonseka said.

“He is currently being forced to confess to the murder,” Fonseka claimed.

Fonseka explained that Brigadier Keppetivalana had been his Assistant Abbot when he was Commander. Subsequently, the Brigadier was sent as Centre Commandant to the Sinha Regiment. He was a serving officer at the time of his arrest.

He also said Brigadier Keppetivalana was IGP Mahinda Balasuriya’s first cousin.
However, IGP Balasuriya told The Sunday Leader that Brigadier Keppetivalana was not his first cousin, but a distant relative. “I hardly know him,” Balasuriya said.

Pressed on what charges the Brigadier was being held in custody, Balasuriya said Keppetivalana was being questioned on a number of issues and that a press statement would be released once the inquiry was concluded.

Meanwhile Director General, Media Center for National Security (MCNS), Lakshman Hulugalle also said the Brigadier was still in custody and was being questioned, but refused to give details of what he has been charged with.

Military Spokesperson Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said Brigadier Keppetivalana was still in police custody and that the army would take action against him if the police find him guilty and framed charges.

© The Sunday Leader

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Sunday, February 07, 2010

International community should up the pressure on Sri Lanka, experts say

Sabina Casagrande - Human rights organizations have called on the Sri Lankan government to end its crackdown on journalists and political activists. Greater pressure by western countries could help accelerate improvements there.

Sri Lanka's president Mahinda Rajapaksa said on Thursday he acted in his country's best interests by rejecting international accusations of human rights abuses towards the end of the quarter-century civil war with Tamil Tiger separatists. Speaking at the first Independence Day celebrations since the end of the conflict, Rajapaksa said that "relations with foreign countries are smoothening."

Yet Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch this week reported of growing harassment on media representatives and opposition supporters in Sri Lanka following the presidential election on January 26. Rajapaksa secured a landslide victory, defeating his former army chief Sarath Fonseka in the poll, which opponents claim was rigged.

According to Alan Keenan, the Sri Lanka project director at the International Crisis Group, the clampdown comes as no surprise.

"There's a long tradition in Sri Lanka of when there's an election, taking revenge on those who had dared to oppose them," Keenan told Deutsche Welle. "This has been going back for decades."

Charu Lata Hogg, an associate fellow in the Asia program of British think tank Chatham House, said the government moves were also in line with Rajapaksa's rule since he took office in 2005.

"Critics have increasingly come under attack since Rajapaksa was first elected in 2005," Hogg told Deutsche Welle. "What we're seeing is a reemergence of an authoritarian regime."

Empty promises

During the campaign, Rajapaksa had vowed to defend press freedom and speed up the investigations into the assassinations of journalists in the past. There have been many hundreds of attacks on journalists and opposition political campaigners in the past years.

"The fact that President Rajapaksa made populist promises before his election has to be taken with a pinch of salt and any true investigation would point to the culpability of people in very high places," Hogg said. "So it is a bit naive to expect that these investigations will ever come to fruition."

Despite Sri Lanka's history of election-related crackdowns, this time, there wasn't even real reason for it, said Sam Zafiri, Amnesty International's Asia Pacific director. After all, the Tamil Tigers had been defeated and Rajapaksa had a mandate to lead, he said.

"He has an incredible opportunity to bring this country together," Zafiri told Deutsche Welle. "This is the moment where the government should be saying, we're embracing human rights, and instead, Rajapaksa is entrenching his authority even more. It's quite alarming."

Greater international efforts

Though Western nations have scrutinized Sri Lanka in the past for its human rights record, Hogg said there was more leverage that they could exercise.

"The international community has a role to play and could definitely apply pressure on Sri Lanka," Hogg said. "But the point is whether it would have the will and the commitment to do so."

Sri Lanka was looking to re-legitimize its relationship with the West, she said. Both trade-related measures and development aid could help give some pull.

"It is seeking a deeper relationship with Europe and with the US," Hogg said. "I would think that there's still potential to exploit the dependency that Sri Lanka has on the Western governments to bring about some changes in the human rights situation in the country."

Keenan said there were limits on what Western governments and international organizations such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) could accomplish in Sri Lanka. Nonetheless, the financial assistance - running in the hundreds of millions of dollars each year - was significant.

"I think were there coordinated efforts between both the individual governments and the World Bank and ADB, that combination could have a lot of influence over the behavior of the Sri Lankan government," Keenan said. Ideally, these efforts should take place in coordination with India and Japan, which are both politically and economically influential, he said.

"Unfortunately, those countries and institutions have preferred to address issues bilaterally or directly with the Sri Lankan government and not as part of a coordinated effort to influence the government's policy," Keenan said.

For example, donor nations and international financial institutions could stipulate more precisely how their money was being used.

"They should say, look we're happy to give you money, but we want to give money in a way that really benefits the people in stable and sustainable ways," Keenan said.

Violence to continue

Parliamentary elections are due to take place in March or April. Both Hogg and Keenan agree that the clampdown on the opposition and journalists will intensify over the next months.

"That is the idea: to put enough fear within civil society, within opponents and dissidents within the country to ensure that there is no true challenge," Hogg said. "That has been the kind of authoritarian policy that has been in place for a while now and I would anticipate a worsening of that before the parliamentary elections."

But Keenan said the international community can work against this.

"Governments need to continue to do whatever they can to send strong messages - both publically and privately - that this is not acceptable, that democratic traditions in Sri Lanka are long and deep, but badly damaged and that this behavior by the government is further weakening their claim to be a legitimate member of the world community of democracies," Keenan said.

© Deutsche Welle

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Sunday, February 07, 2010

Police-state watches Facebook

By Namini Wijedasa - The switchboard operator at the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC) refreshingly answered the call on the first ring. But it went downhill from there.

On the back of reports that the government planned to actively monitor Internet use - including activities on Facebook and Twitter - this reporter telephoned the TRC to ask what, specifically, officials were looking for. If the state was tightening its surveillance, surely users have a right to know.

The operator transferred this reporter to one Bandula at the TRC’s public relations division who helpfully suggested that I might have spoken to S. Gunananda had he been in office that day. Unfortunately, he was away in Kandy for the ‘Deyata Kirula’ exhibition. As an alternative he suggested that I speak to M.C.M. Farook who handled the subject. Farook refused to speak, suggesting instead that we make a formal application for information from Nelum Jayaweera, the director of economic affairs.

After obtaining a mobile number from Bandula, this reporter telephoned Jayaweera who said he was in Kandy (and consequently could not answer any questions) and to telephone R.G.H.K. Ranatunga of the TRC. Ranatunga said I should speak to the new Director General, Anusha Pelpita, who was yet to take up his new appointment at the commission.

I had kicked off this marathon of telephone calls earlier that morning by contacting Pelpita, the former director of government information, to afford him the privilege of revealing what he knew about the state’s plans to pounce on Internet users. Pelpita said he didn’t know yet and politely cut off my call by saying the minister was on another line. He promised to call back and I’m still waiting.

Taboo, questionable

Nobody at the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka — which is purportedly staffed with officers suitably versed in their profession - would officially tell this reporter what or how the government would set about monitoring Internet users and which topics or subjects were considered taboo or questionable.

It became clear that their refusal to answer such straightforward questions were more the result of restrictive policies regarding the public’s right to information rather than shortcomings in their respective competencies. They did not speak because they were not required to exercise transparency. Rather, it was considered their legally enforceable duty to keep information on ‘sensitive’ issues out of the public domain, despite the people’s right to know.

This newspaper got more clarity from Lakshman Hulugalle, the director general of the Media Centre for National Security. Asked which Internet activities the government wished to eradicate, he replied: “If you go through the Internet, SMS and emails, a lot of damage was done over the last one month by circulating rumours and unproved allegations.”

About the president? “We are not talking only about the Rajapksa family or about a single political party,” he insisted. “Even if a government official has something bogus circulated about him, he has no way of answering or correcting it. There is a way of criticizing people. Once the damage is done, it is difficult to correct it. We can’t allow these people to do whatever they want. We want to go into these details, find out the people behind this and stop it.”

Last week, LAKBIMAnEWS exclusively reported that the TRC is already monitoring user activities on Facebook. An authoritative source revealed that the government was worried about ‘false notes’ on Facebook criticizing the result of the presidential election and openly doubting its legitimacy. The source said the TRC had already tracked down some IP addresses of users spreading such allegations and that a team from a Chinese company was assisting the commission.


Questioned about the technicalities of how monitoring - and eventually censorship or regulation - would take place, Hulugalle said it was too early to explain the mechanisms. Asked whether Chinese experts were in Sri Lanka, he replied: “That’s why I said it’s too early to give all the details and the mechanism. We are working on it.”

Several aspects of the government’s intended action remain unclear. For instance, would the Internet activity of members, supporters or campaign directors of the ruling alliance also be scrutinized? Will such persons be penalized for ‘discrediting’ or spreading ‘unsubstantiated allegations’ about opposition members? If it is mudslinging over the Internet that the government is worried about, there was plenty of that on both sides.

Does the state also aim to stamp out legitimate political discussions that are an integral part of a person’s inalienable rights? For instance, would a debate over the election results be taboo? Would it be ‘illegal’ or ‘unacceptable’ to question the margin by which President Rajapaksa won?

Is the move to regulate the Internet the work of a government that is admissibly concerned about scurrilous ‘information’ concocted to achieve certain political ends? Or is this the work of a government which recently recognized the Internet as a power that could shake its supremacy by relaying the truth to its voters?
Would a paranoid government soon treat dissent - a key outlet for which is the Internet - as intolerable? Already Internet sites that cause the state displeasure are blocked while others are interrupted from time to time. Is this regime going the way of China?

How does the govt. do it?

To what extent is the Sri Lanka government monitoring our Internet activity and how do they do it? LAKBIMAnEWS interviewed an expert on the subject.

Dr. Chandana Gamage, senior computer science lecturer at the University of Moratuwa, monitoring said it is “very easy” to monitor the Internet. Individuals do it, companies and organizations do it and governments do it. “We have to always take it for granted that there is monitoring going on,” he maintained. “We just can’t assume that nobody is listening to our conversations. Also, in a period of high political activity, such as what we recently saw with the Internet being used quite widely by everyone involved, I would assume that monitoring also increased.”

“If you want to see if somebody is accessing a particular site,” said Dr. Gamage, “you can do so but the level of tracking depends on the resources you can afford.”
According to Gamage, it is accepted that government should monitor communications for reasons of public security, to nab paedophiles and other criminals or to detect attacks on financial institutions. This is generally done through collaboration with ‘computer emergency teams’ or CERTs. There are two here - Sri Lanka CERT (a government-run venture under the Information and Communication Technology Agency) and the TechCERT, a private sector team.

Governments also scrutinize the net for reasons of national security mainly through cooperation with national intelligence agencies working to stamp out terrorism. For instance, the agency of one country could ask the agency of another country to help nab a suspicious e-mailer living there. Finally, individuals, organizations, companies and governments might also initiate monitoring for ‘special reasons’.
Asked how Facebook could be monitored, Dr. Gamage said you could go through the pages generally to find key words, people’s login names, etc, and thereafter monitor local Internet traffic to see if such the key words are present.

“All content on the Internet is relayed in IP packets and you can find the key words in those packets,” he explained. “Powerful computers scan the traffic for the key words. There are computer programmes that can filter messages and emails, narrowing down the traffic even further. Nevertheless, the volume of information is huge and although computers are doing the scanning and monitoring, it must ultimately pass through a human to be processed.”

The cooperation of the ISP is necessary. The service providers are bound by local laws and must divulge information on a court order. But according to the Computer Crimes Act of 2007, it is possible for police to request information from ISPs pending a court order.

Dr. Gamage said that the users can protect their communication by using encrypted email. For a state to crack these, they would have to request the ISP to provide the text. Even Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo are prone to hacking. Google recently complained of an attack originating from China.

© Lakbima News

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Sunday, February 07, 2010

Sri Lanka under fire after extends emergency rule

Sri Lanka faced criticism Saturday for extending a state of emergency giving sweeping powers to security forces to detain suspects ahead of parliamentary elections due by April.

A private poll-monitoring body, the People's Action for Free and Fair Elections, said continuation of emergency rule could undermine the vote slated to be held after last month's presidential election, won by Mahinda Rajapakse.

"The use of emergency laws could seriously affect the campaign and there is no guarantee that the government will not use it against political opponents," the group's executive director, Rohana Hettiarachchi, said.

On Friday, Sri Lanka's parliament voted heavily in favour of extending the state of emergency for one month despite international calls to revert to normal laws. The extension must be approved by parliament every month.

"The emergency is needed because enemies of the state are trying to regroup and unite," Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake told parliament. Emergency rule allows suspects to be kept in custody for prolonged periods without trial.

Official sources said the national assembly could be dissolved next week, two months before its six-year term ends in mid-April, and elections scheduled for early April.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch has been pressing for the emergency laws to be lifted and a halt to violence targeting opponents of the government.

"We fear that this (violence targeting the opposition) is just the beginning of a campaign to get rid of critical voices before the parliamentary elections," HRW director Brad Adams said in a statement last week.

"Sri Lanka's friends should tell the government that any crackdown on civil society will harm future relations." Dozens of opposition workers have been held under emergency laws.

Wickremanayake said although troops crushed separatist Tamil guerrillas last year, rebel remnants were trying to make a comeback, a claim rejected by the opposition, which says the government is using the emergency to suppress dissent.


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Sunday, February 07, 2010

Eight Media organizations write to President

Eight media institutions. including the Free Media Movement, the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association, the Newspaper Society of Sri Lanka, the Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum, the Sri Lanka Tamil Media Alliance, the Editors Guild of Sri Lanka, the South Asian Free Media Association and the Federation of Media Trade Unions, have written to President Mahinda Rajapaksa over the recent attacks on media personnel and related issues.

The letter states: “As someone who has repeatedly expressed commitment to upholding the values of a free media as an essential component of democratic society, we wish to bring to your attention the grave situation that has arisen with regard to media freedom in the country. We have already pointed out incidents that took place during the Presidential Election campaign where the media faced suppression and was prevented from expressing diverse and opposing views. We observe that the situation has deteriorated further after the conclusion of the presidential elections. The following incidents provide evidence of this trend.

1.The whereabouts of well-known political commentator Prageeth Eknaligoda remain unknown since his disappearance at midnight on January 24 ,2010. A regular contributor to the Lankaenews website and a father of two children, Eknaligoda suffers from a diabetic condition and has undergone open heart, bypass surgery for which he requires daily medication. His wife has lodged a complaint with the Police and has been informed that investigations are on -going. At a media conference on January 25, 2010, Minister of Information Lakshman Yapa Abeywardene stated that the Government has information regarding his disappearance. Media organizations have called for any information relating to his disappearance and for his early release but have not received a favourable response so far.

2. The Lankaenews website was blocked on the eve of the presidential elections. After complaining to the elections commissioner about it, and following his order to Sri Lanka Telecom not to prevent access to the website, the editor and staff of Lankaenews received threatening phone calls. The continued presence of unknown persons in the vicinity of the Lankaenews office has also been noted and the Welikada Police have been duly informed.

3. On January 28, Programme Producer Ravi Abeywickreme of the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation was assaulted by the Transport Co-ordinator, in the presence of the Chairman and the Director General. Other programme producers Kanchana Marasinghe, Herbert Kumara Alagiyawanna, Gamini Pushpakumara and Daya Mahinda Gunatilake were verbally abused. Subsequently, Herbert Kumara Alaguyawanna has been dismissed and the others have been interdicted. They have been informed of this decision by their SLRC Employees Union. They are officers and member of the SLRC Producers’ Association and Free Media Movement.


4. On January 30, Chandana Sirimalwatte editor of Lanka, a weekly newspaper was asked to call over at the CID to make a statement. Following questioning he was detained by the CID. The office of the newspaper was sealed thereafter, but was subsequently removed following a court order.

5. Among the reports of post election violence in various parts of the country is the attack on the residence of provincial reporter from Kurunegala, Gunaratne Liyanarchchi, by an unidentified group on the night of January 28.

6. On February 01, an unruly crowd attacked a group of media employees from Lake House. Reports indicate that two people have been hospitalized.

7. We would like to remind you of the behaviour of the state media during the lead up to the presidential election. The elections commissioner has also expressed his displeasure on the manner in which the state media behaved. Even after the election concluded the state media continues to harass certain media institutions and organizations by publicizing false statements using abusive language. The state media has also broadcast reports saying that in the event of the Opposition candidate winning the election, he would assassinate you and others, and that he would use journalists and resources of the state media to create a state of confusion in the country.

Your Excellency, all these incidents taken as a whole are creating a sense of terror within the media industry in the country due to the intimidation and suppression taking place in different parts of the country by unruly groups targeting members of the Opposition. We believe that if this escalating situation is not brought under control immediately there will be unforeseen repercussions.

If your election victory is to be celebrated in a democratic manner it should not be only limited to your voters, and should not include the suppression of selected media institutions and journalists. We believe that if this situation continues it would not bring you repute but disrepute instead.”

© Lakbima News

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