By Jayashika Padmasiri - In the run-up to the presidential election two journalists are no more in their homes. The editor of the Lanka newspaper -Chandana Sirimalwatte was arrested by the Criminal Investigation Department while another journalist working for Lankaenews, Prageeth Ekneligoda was abducted. Though weeks have passed since these incidents took place, nothing about the abducted or the abductors has been revealed, nor the detained editor released. LAKBIMAnEWS spoke to the wives of these two journalists.
Hemali Sirimalwatte is a 37-year-old mother of a four-year-old girl attending kindergarten. She said that it was 14 days since her husband was arrested by the CID.
“My husband was always a person who stood by what was right. He taught our daughter to stand by what is right. That was his only wish for her,” she said.
“His profession is not easy. It’s not the profession to be in today. We are feeling the absence of my husband deeply. It’s been a shock for both my daughter and I -- and we can’t get over him not being with us. We can’t bear it any longer.”
The loss of a husband can affect a family in different ways. Economy-wise how is this affecting your family, i asked? “A lot of people are helping us to get through these hard times. Most of the media organizations are with us and some political parties are also helping us. I do not mind the economic hardships we are faced with. It is only the separation from my husband that is unbearable. ”
Commenting on visiting hours Hemali said, “We only get to see him once a week on the 4th floor. They are keeping him there in a manner similar to detaining a criminal. Don’t we, his family, have a right to go and see him?” When questioned whether she takes their little child with her when she goes to see her husband she said “no” with fair reasoning. “I am scared to take her with me. She might start crying and refuse to leave, because she hates to be separated from her father.”
When asked how this situation was affecting their child, she said, “She is very worried. First I told her that her father is abroad, but when posters were put up and after television channels started covering Chandana’s arrest, though she is still small she understood what had happened and started to question me. She keeps asking me why those ‘uncles’ are keeping him away and what would happen to her if they do not send him home. I haven’t got any answers.It is very difficult for her. She kisses one of his shirts and worships it before going to school. And on the road when she comes across posters of her father and Prageeth Ekneligoda pasted on the walls, she goes close to them and kisses those walls while touching the posters saying, apachi gihin ennum . If we are going by his office, she would put her hand out and wave repeating these same words.”
She said that this was the first time that she was separated from her husband for a long period. Commenting on the recent statement made by the media minister that there are no major issues in the media industry except for the disappearance of a journalist and the interrogating of another, Hemali said, “Those may be very small issues for them, but for us it is our lives, and we have to live with this daily. If my husband has done anything wrong, then they should punish him without keeping him without proper evidence. However, now all I can do is to hide back my tears and wait while trying to be strong for my family and doing everything possible for the welfare of my husband. One must not forget that this is the same fate of many women today.’’
The wife of Prageeth Ekneligoda, Sandya Ekneligoda, harbours the same sentiments. Her family is also going through a tough time. “My brother and sister and a few friends are supporting our family because we don’t have any other income. I used to work as an insurance agent, but now I have stopped because I have to be there for my family. What will happen is that we will eventually become indebted.”
Questioned about the steps the government has taken to find her husband she said that the authorities have said that the final investigation report would be out soon. “My aim is to find my husband. I am getting the help of some media organizations backed by the JVP etc. I have met the Mahanayaka Theras to urge them to find some way to look for my husband. I will continue searching for him till I get to see him again.”
She said that they have two sons who are both schooling. “The little one is in grade eight while the other is doing his O/L’s. The small boy resists going to school because of everything that has been happening.”
Something very unusual about Prageeth Ekneligoda’s abduction happens to be the fact that he has been kidnapped earlier as well (last year) and released the same day after a few hours. When asked whether he informed family members of death threats she answered, “Yes, he told me that he felt as if he was being followed by someone whenever he left the house ... and that our home telephone was also tapped.”
Sandya also claimed that her husband is diabetic and needs to be given insulin treatment twice a day. “I am worried that he is not provided with his medication. It’s now more than 20 days since his abduction,” she concluded.
© Lakbima News
Sunday, February 14, 2010
Sunday, February 14, 2010
Sri Lanka plans to issue a new international bond this year with a 10-year maturity to help defray mammoth post-war rebuilding expenses, the central bank said Saturday.
"We need about 2.7 billion dollars for the next three years to build new roads, utility services, hospitals and schools to get the northern economy up to speed," central bank governor, Nivard Cabraal said.
The northern province, which was the stronghold of the separatist Tamil Tiger guerrillas, is picking up the pieces after troops last May crushed the revolt and ended decades of bloodshed.
The province accounts for just 2.9 percent of the island's 40-billion-dollar economy.
Cabraal said the bond will be issued after the next budget, expected in April.
"We are looking at May or just after that," he said. "We think Sri Lanka has now matured and gained the confidence of investors for a longer tenure instrument."
Sri Lanka's 2010 budget has been delayed due to presidential polls in January which were won by incumbent president Mahinda Rajapakse.
The island has been gripped by tension since authorities arrested ex-army chief and defeated presidential candidate Sarath Fonseka earlier in the week.
Parliamentary elections are due on April 08.
Sri Lanka issued a 500-million-dollar bond in 2007 and in 2009.
The bonds are trading well above their issue price as investors hunt for high yields in emerging markets and seek to diversify from low-yielding western markets.
Cabraal forecast economic growth of at least six percent this year for the island nation, up from 3.5 percent in 2009.
"We are looking at six percent plus growth. Areas like tourism, transportation and ports, agriculture and fisheries are picking up," he said.
Sunday, February 14, 2010
By Nadia Fazlulhaq and Damith Wickremasekare - The increasing number of assaults, abductions and arrests of journalists has raised concerns about the freedom of expression and the safety of Sri Lankan journalists among local and foreign media groups and media rights groups.
According to sources from state media institutions some personnel were assaulted a few days after the Presidential election on January 26. Hema Ajith, secretary of the pro-UNP union Jathika Sevaka Sangamaya of the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation was interdicted and several members of the Production Directors Union were sent on compulsory leave while some directors too were interdicted.
The president, vice president and secretary and some members of the Rupavahini Television Programme Producers Union were also interdicted, according to state media sources.
Rupavahini Television Programme Producers’ Union organizer Ravi Abeywickrema was assaulted after he was called into the office of the Chairman of the SLRC, the sources alleged. They said several members including the president and vice president of the SLRC Employees Union were also interdicted.
A member of the pro-government union too was sent on compulsory leave, sources said. One of the employees who was interdicted a few days ago told the Sunday Times that their unions have been continuously pressurizing the top level management to follow the Supreme Court rulings and even staged protests demanding state media to be unbiased as well as to put a stop to the financial loss incurred on advertisements of one of the candidates.
“On the 29th we reported for work only to hear that one of the producers, Ravi Abeywickrema had been assaulted by an assistant transport officer and an additional DG. He had sustained injuries to his right eye.
Then they including the chairman of the SLRC called all of us and verbally abused us using filth,” he charged. He said that they would not hesitate to take the matter up in the Supreme Court.
He said several employees of the Independent Television Network / Lakhanda and members of the Jathika Sevaka Sangamaya were told they were interdicted before being verbally abused in front of other staff members on January 28.
“On February 1, security officials did not allow us to enter the building. We were seated outside till about 3.15 and then the letters of interdiction were handed over,” he alleged.
There were also allegations that employees who supported the presidential opposition candidate at the state print media Lake House were also assaulted.
“A manager, a member of the Jathika Sevaka Sangamaya and secretary of the union were assaulted and later hospitalised,” an employee charged.
He said a letter has been sent to the Inspector General of Police while letters were being drafted to be sent to the Mahanayake Theras and Bishops requesting their intervention to stop this brutality.
“Most of us are in hiding and some have not been to their homes since the 27th”, he said.
Meanwhile, Lanka, a pro-JVP newspaper started its operations this week after the Gangodawila magistrate’s court ordered the CID to allow the newspaper to operate after it was sealed last week.
“Coming back to work was a great victory for us. The CID had asked court to seal the office for a further two weeks but the Gangodawila magistrate stated as there was no evidence against the newspaper to allow us to resume work,” P. Dayaratne, a staff member of Lanka editorial said.
One of the directors of ‘Lanka’ Lal Tennakoon, who was released after questioning this week said they were questioned on the administrative functions, number of employees, sales information and mode of funding.
He said the CID had a collection of anti government articles published in the newspaper. However, editor of the paper Chandana Sirimalwatte is still in CID custody over articles that were published on January 17 and January 26, one regarding Kumaran Pathmanathan (K.P) and the other over alleged mansions owned by the Rajapaksa family.
Anti-government website Lanka e-news staff meanwhile expressed concern over missing journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda, who disappeared on January 24.
Bennett Rupasinghe, editorial staffer of Lanka e-news said when they contacted a senior minister he had assured that Ekneligoda would be released in two to three days time. “The Human Rights Commission has shown reluctance to look into the complaint by the wife of Ekneligoda. They have said that the HRC does not investigate such disappearances,” he charged.Meanwhile media minister, Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena said several state media groups were presently conducting internal disciplinary inquiries over the conduct of employees during the election period.
He said with regard to the arrest of Lanka Editor Chandana Sirimalwatte, the CID investigations were still on and if they did not find evidence they would produce him in court and he would be released on bail.
“He was taken into custody for revealing information of an ongoing investigation. Most probably he would be bailed out,” the minister said. He said that the Ministry has sent a letter to the Police Chief requesting the speeding up of search operations for Lanka e-news journalist Ekneligoda.
Good news yet to reach missing journalist’s family
More than ten days have passed since lankaenews.com journalist Prageeth Ranjan Bandara Ekneligoda disappeared or was possibly abducted, but police have got no good news for his grieving family members, who say they live with the hope that he would be with them soon.
Fifty-year-old Mr. Ekneligoda who was a livewire at the website that carried stories critical of the ruling UPFA disappeared two days before the presidential election. His 47-year-old wife K. M. Sandhya Priyangani said she had gone to several police stations but little or nothing had come out of the inquiries.
On January 24, Mr. Ekneligoda left his Pannipitiya home for office at Delkanda in Nugegoda around 10.30 a.m. Later he went out on an assignment and returned to office around 4 p.m. He had told his colleagues that he wanted to cover common opposition candidate Gen. (retd.) Sarath Fonseka’s pooja at the Kelaniya temple.
He had also told his colleagues that he wanted to meet a “contact” coming from Dambulla to get some information. “On several occasions, my husband told me that he felt he was being followed. He even told me that our home telephone lines are tapped and warned me not to talk any controversial topics over the phone. We even saw a vehicle without number plates near our house,” Ms. Ekneligoda said.
She said that on January 19, her husband looked terrified and when she asked why he said a friend had informed him that his name was on a list of “disloyal journalists”.
“I consoled him saying that he would be safe. I told him that the maximum they could do was to give him a threatening call,” she said.
Ms. Ekneligoda charged that the authorities were not so helpful in entertaining her complaint. She claimed that even officials of the Human Rights Commission accepted her petition only with much reluctance.
“The HRC officials said that although they might accept her complaint, they could not hold any inquiries because disappearances did not come under their purview,” she said. “They accepted the complaint only after the lawyer who accompanied me argued with them and insisted they could pursue the matter.”
Ms. Ekneligoda said she and her two sons were helpless and urged the President or the Media Minister to intervene to help find her husband.
Mr. Ekneligoda’s elder son Sathjith Sanjayabandara, 16, said his father believed in the freedom of expression and that he never showed fear in presenting the truth as it is. The younger son, Dhananjaya Sooriyabandara, a Grade 8 student, was talkative and friendly, but since his father’s disappearance he has become sulky and silent. He refused to speak to us but later added that he wanted his father back.
Mr. Ekneligoda was no stranger to abductions. On August 27 last year, an armed gang abducted him. He was questioned and released the following day.
He entered journalism during the 1988-89 era of terror and has contributed political articles to a number of newspapers from the alternate media.
© The Sunday Times
Sunday, February 14, 2010
The government through Gazette Extraordinary No. 1640/1 and 1640/2 issued on Monday (8) has declared four detention centers under Emergency Regulations.
The Gazette issued by IGP Mahinda Balasuriya states, “I, Mahinda Balasuriya, Inspector General of Police, do hereby notify that the following will be a place of detention for the purpose of Regulation 19 and 21 of Emergency (Miscellaneous Provisions and Powers) Regulations, No. 1 of 2005, published in Gazette Extraordinary, No. 1405/14 of 13th August 2005.”
The Gazette Extraordinary No. 1640.1 has declared the Sri Lanka Navy Headquarters in Colombo 1, Naval Detention Barracks SLNS-Gemunu in Welisara, Ragama and Sri Lanka Navy Dockyard in Trincomalee as detention centers.
Gazette Extraordinary No. 1640/2 meanwhile has declared the Nelukkulama Technical College Camp in Nelukkulama, Vavuniya (Police area Vavuniya) as a detention center.
Interestingly, Common Presidential Candidate General Sarath Fonseka was arrested by the Military Police also on Monday night (8), the day the two Gazette notifications were issued and is currently being held at Navy Headquarters in Colombo 1.
Meanwhile, JVP Leader Somawansa Amarasinghe said the government has set up eight detention camps in the country that could hold up to 12,000 persons on conspiracy charges.
Amarasinghe, addressing a media briefing of joint opposition party leaders following General Fonseka’s arrest last week, said the alleged detention camps have been set up to arrest people fighting for democracy under various charges, including conspiring against the Head of State and government.
© The Sunday Leader
Sunday, February 14, 2010
by Namini Wijedasa - With a victory margin of seventeen percentage points over his main contender, President Mahinda Rajapaksa ought to be confident of his future. Why then is he swooping down on the same media that he once actively courted in his quest to achieve political supremacy?
Since the election of January 26, the government of President Rajapaksa has become widely noticed. Not for magnanimity or pity towards its handsomely trounced political opponents but for a seemingly single-minded mission to quell its adversaries.
It could have been so different. With an enviable military victory behind him and seven years of power ahead, President Rajapaksa could have initiated his second term with fresh moves to reconcile the fractured polity; with action to translate positive macro-economic statistics into prices the public could afford; with reconstruction and other development activity; with overtures to the international community that would encourage assistance over censure and frustration; with a change in course that pointed to a strengthening of democracy rather than a further diluting of it.
But President Rajapaksa’s stunning victory over Sarath Fonseka was followed by the latter’s detention, the arrest of his supporters and a shakeup in the army. The police are tear-gassing pro-Fonseka demonstrations and there are signs of the media being restrained. The government has warned of internet censorship — even Facebook users are reportedly under scrutiny — employees of the state media with loyalties to the opposition are claiming harassment and President Rajapaksa has just taken over the ministry of mass media and information.
The very freedom that had allowed President Rajapaksa to exploit his true potential as a politician (not for nothing was he called the “reporter” by Chandrika Kumaratunga) is being eroded with undue haste. And the world is taking note, with most editorials and articles focusing on negative post-election developments rather than wagering enthusiastically that the future under Mahinda Rajapaksa would be a bright one.
This would not be the first time that regimes here have attempted to control the media. But as a senior editor commented on condition of anonymity: “Back then there was direct censorship. It was down in black and white. They censored it and editors left blank spaces on their pages with a note ‘mey puwatha ballo kewa’. The reader knew the newspaper had attempted to write something but were not permitted to publish it.”
Now, this editor said, it’s not like that. “It is a more insidious thing,” he noted. “They appear to be slowly moving towards management (of the media). I think state media is irredeemable. They are all doing exactly what the government wants them to do. Where private media is concerned, there are some subtle pressures and many seem to be caving in. For instance, it is hard for a newspaper proprietor to say ‘no’ when a govt. higher up calls him regarding a particular story.”
On Tuesday, Sirasa TV did not report the arrest of Sarath Fonseka in their 6.30am news bulletin. The station’s widely-watched morning news usually carries the most important stories of the previous day or those that broke during the night. Fonseka was sensationally detained shortly before 10pm Monday. Sirasa used that story as part of its late night bulletin but did not say a word about Fonseka the following morning. Asked why this was, an employee said on condition of anonymity “maybe they were being extra careful”.
Tell your management
The question is... careful of what? The threat to media freedom today seems to come from unseen or less obvious quarters than it did in the past. This is no longer just about a criminal defamation suit or an idle threat to “tell your management”.
Now, journalists could die like Lasantha Wickrematunge, disappear like Prageeth Ekneligoda or be assaulted like many others. This is not to accuse the president of having these crimes committed — but only to point out that they happened on his watch and, rightly or wrongly, history will remember it that way.
Meanwhile, newspapers could be sealed, web sites shut down, editors and journalists could be detained under Emergency Regulations, television stations could be ordered to wind up or dismissed publicly as untrustworthy. Proprietors could be given direct instructions to withhold certain information or to angle their publications a certain way. Journalists also face the danger of being personally discredited, of being accused of taking money from foreign governments or NGOs or from other sources to conspire against the country. State media is exclusively reserved for supporters of the government or those who don’t oppose it.
There is a perceptible intolerance of dissenting views and an almost tangible move to keep information from the public that is unfavourable towards the ruling regime. There are also efforts to swamp the public with a relentless stream of propaganda disseminated through the state media. It would seem that the government unreasonably fears its downfall would be brought about by those in media that don’t tow its line.
On the one hand, you have a Justice Minister summoning all sorts to his office to gather input about a Freedom of Information Bill which he seems eager to have passed. On the other hand, you have a govt intent on making sure that all news is news that portrays his actions and his government in a positive light. The “either you are with us or against us” mentality is manifest.
But democracy doesn’t work this way. Democracy can’t work this way. President Rajapaksa must know this, having been, for the most part of his life, a man who respects democracy in the highest terms.
Democracy needs a variety of views to flourish, whether these are expressed by journalists who brazenly back the opposition or by others who equally unashamedly support the government. Neutral journalism is rare now and even this is regarded with suspicion bordering on paranoia.
President Rajapaksa would do so much better in his second term to accept that a vibrant, liberated media would only be a threat if his regime had an ugly side to hide. If there is no “ugly side”, the open exchange of information or the freedom of thought, expression and choice could pose no danger to a strong regime headed by a popular leader that follows the accepted norms of governance.
Media related incidents since Jan 1st
The Free Media Movement compiled a list of media-related incidents since January 1:
1. January 12th: Government reportedly “bans” Shakthi TV in Jaffna.
2. January 13th: Armed police search Sunday Leader press.
3. January 16th: Polonnaruwa reporter for BBC Sinhala service, Thakshila Dilrukshi, assaulted allegedly by agriculture minister’s supporters while she was covering an incident.
4. January 21st: Rupavahini trade unions protest against misuse of government media.
5. January 24th: Lankaenews Journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda goes missing.
6. January 25th: Colombo magistrate refuses to issue the CID with a warrant to search Wijeya Newspapers printing press at Biyagma.
7. January 26th: Lankaenews website temporarily blocked.
8. January 28th: Defence secretary allegedly threatens JVP leader on some reporting of Irida Lanka, the JVP newspaper.
9. Rupavahini chairman allegedly assaults producer Ravi Abeywickrama and threatens three other union leaders. The website www.nidahasa.com is blocked for Sri Lanka Telecom users.
10. January 29th: CID arrests Irida Lanka newspaper editor, Chandana Sirimalwatte. 11. Lankaenews locked and sealed.
12. January 29th: Rupavahini sacks a producer and interdicts four other producers and media workers.
13. Swiss Public Radio journalist Karin Wenger’s visa withdrawn after she asks a “sensitive” question at a government press conference. The decision is reversed on a presidential directive.
14. January 30th: Irida Lanka newspaper office sealed by CID acting on a court order.
15. January 31st: Rupavahini interdicts another five workers - a director, three producers and a media worker.
16. February 2nd: Court orders the unsealing of Lanka press but Sirimalwatte still under detention.
17. Sirasa Anuradhapura correspondent assaulted and his camera and mobile phone destroyed.
18. February 3rd: Shakthi TV journalist J. Sri Ranga assaulted in Hatton.
19. February 11th: Anura Priyadharshana Yapa announces that president will take over his mass media and information portfolio.
© Lakbima News
Sunday, February 14, 2010
International and local rights groups, media organisations and media rights groups have all come out strongly against the continuing media suppression in Sri lanka.
A joint statement by the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA), Federation of Media Employees Trade Union (FMETU), Free Media Movement (FMM), Sri Lanka Tamil Media Alliance (SLTMA) and Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum (SLMMF) has called on the government to stop immediately the repressive acts against media that carry content critical of the government.
“It is clear that the sole reason behind the repression of the Lanka newspaper and its editor Chandana Sirimalwatte is the role played by the newspaper during the recently concluded presidential election,” the statement said.
It stated that the promises made during the presidential campaign to defend press freedom and speed up investigations on the assassination of journalists have evaporated within days. Instead repression against journalists and media that do not obey government orders and express dissent have now culminated in acts unleashed against Lanka newspaper.
Meanwhile, Paris based Reporters sans frontiere’s (Reporters without borders) said: “It is quite normal for journalists and privately-owned media to side with a candidate before and during a democratic election but it is unacceptable for them to be the victims of reprisals once the elections are over.”
The organization cited several incidents that took place during the last two weeks and finally urged President Rajapaksa to assign more police officers to track down political reporter and cartoonist Prageeth Ekneligoda, who has been missing since January 24.
The Commonwealth Journalists Association (CJA) stated that it is deeply concerned at the disappearance of Sri Lankan journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda.
“We stand together with Sri Lankan media groups that have justifiably condemned the forced suspension of a pro-opposition newspaper, Lanka, and the arrest of its editor and the apparent shutting down – however temporarily -- of lankaenews.com, the website to which Prageeth contributes”, CJA President Hassan Shahriar said.
Human Rights Watch has reported that since the Jan. 26, presidential election, authorities have detained and questioned several journalists, blocked news web sites and expelled a Swiss journalist. At least one journalist has been assaulted and several have been threatened.
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) stated that it has received information regarding the disappearance of journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda shortly after he wrote articles supporting the opposition presidential candidate.
“His office was ransacked shortly after, the website he writes for was blocked during the election, and there have been delays and flaws in the police investigation. The journalist was also a victim of an unresolved organized abduction last year. It should be noted that his disappearance fits the strong pattern of harassment of journalists in the country by government agencies.
“Sri Lanka remains one of the most dangerous environments in the region for journalists, and other public opinion makers, largely due to the lack of accountability faced by those who harass or attack them,” AHRC stated.
Meanwhile Amnesty International called on the Sri Lankan government to end its crackdown on journalists, political activists and human rights defenders following last week’s presidential election.
Sri Lankan journalists have given Amnesty International a list of 56 of their colleagues who face serious threats, including some working for the government-owned Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation, as well as the Independent Television Network, Lak Handa and the Lake House Group.
“Threats, beatings and arrests mean that Sri Lankan human rights activists live in fear of the consequences of expressing their political opinions,” Madhu Malhotra, Amnesty International's Asia- Pacific Deputy Director said.
© The Sunday Times
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