Friday, March 12, 2010

SRI LANKA: JDS responds to Attorney General's offer

Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka welcomes the offer made by the Sri Lankan Attorney General, Mohan Peiris, to provide protection for exiled journalists if they return to the island but urges him to take immediate steps to prove he is serious about media freedom.

Inviting exiled journalists back home, the Attorney General told the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) that there must be assurances on the part of the government that those who return won’t come to any harm. He was also quoted as saying that it was not useful to have journalists staying away from the country and ‘attacking the government.’ Discussing the issue of exiled journalists while meeting a CPJ delegation in Colombo on Wednesday 10th March he said “They must come back and work with us and help set up the structures so that we can work together and we can respect each other.”

Over seventy Sri Lankan media workers fled Sri Lanka during the Mahinda Rajapaksa period of government due to intimidation and death threats. They were unable to work in Sri Lanka after being denounced as people who “attack the government”. It is interesting to note the Attorney General now accepts that it is the responsibility of the government to provide protection to these journalists in future; is he also suggesting it was the government threatened the journalists in the first place?

As an initial step to provide assurances to exiled journalists who wish to return, JDS calls upon the Attorney General to prove his good intentions by disclosing the whereabouts of Prageeth Ekneligoda who has been missing since the 24th of January and by advising the courts to repeal the 20 year jail sentence given to J.S.Tissainayagam under anti-terrorist laws. In addition, we would like the Attorney General to expedite investigations into the many unsolved crimes against media workers (listed below) during the Mahinda Rajapaksa period of rule and bring those responsible to book.

Unless the government takes steps to allay the fears of journalists working in Sri Lanka and ends the culture of impunity, the Attorney General's words will be another empty promise and the return of exiled journalists who love their country still a distant dream.

Executive Committee
Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

Media workers killed in Sri Lanka since December 2005 until March 2009


1. K. Navaratnam (45) – 22 December 2005
Media worker (killed for selling “Yarl Thinakkural” in Jaffna)/


2. Subramaniam Suhirtharajan (35) - 24 January 2006
A journalist attached to “Sudar Oli” / assassinated for exposing the killers of 5 students in Trincomalee

3. S. T. Gananathan (64) – 01 February 2006
Owner of the News and Information Centre in Jaffna / shot dead near the Ariyalai Army Camp

4. Bastian George Sagayathas (35) – 03 May 2006
Sales Manager – Jaffna “Uthayan” newspaper / killed inside the newspaper office situated within HighSecurity Zone when Colombo was celebrating International Press Freedom Day / Armed attackers destroyed the computer equipments in the office and after killing two and injuring 3 other media workers.

5. Rajaratnam Ranjith Kumar (28) – 03 May 2006
A media worker attached to Jaffna “Uthayan” newspaper / killed inside the newspaper office situated within the High Security Zone along with its Sales manager

6. Sampath Lakmal de Silva – 02 July 2006
A freelance journalist / abducted from his home in Boralesgamuwa / bullet riddled body was found 3km away from his house.

7. Mariadasan Manojanraj (24) – 01 August 2006
Newspaper seller who sold “Yarl Thinakkural” in Jaffna

8. Sathasivam Baskaran (44) – 15 August 2006
A media worker (a driver) attached to Jaffna “Uthayan” newspaper / Killed while he was returning home after distributing the newspaper

9. Sinnathamby Sivamaharajah (68) – 20 August 2006
The Managing Director of Jaffna based “Namathu Eelanadu” newspaper / He was killed inside his house and the newspaper was closed down immediately after his death.


10. S. Raveendran (38) – 12 February 2007
A media worker / Worked as a machine operator in the print shop which printed “Namthu Eelanadu” newspaper.

11. Subramaniam Ramachandran (37)– 15 February 2007
Worked as a reporter for “Yarl Thinakkural” and “Valampuri” in Jaffna / He was abducted while returning home.

12. Chandrabose Suthakar (32) – 16 April 2007
Editor of a local magazine “The Soil”/ He was a graduate of the College of Journalism, had done a stint at the Virakesari, written for the Tamil journal Sarinihar and functioned as a freelance journalist from Vavuniya.

13. Selvarasah Rajeevarman (25) – 29 April 2007
Worked as a staff Reporter at “Uthayan”/ He was shot dead close to the newspaper office when he was leaving the office.

14. Sahadevan Neelakshan (22) – 01 August 2007
A student at Media Research and Information Institute in Jaffna and editor of the student-run Chaalaram magazine/ shot by gunmen at his home in Kokkuvil, Jaffna, an area heavily guarded by the Sri Lankan military

15. Anthonypillai Sherin Siththiranjan (36) – 05 November 2007
A circulation officer - “Yarl Thinakkural” / Abducted in Eesalai during the early hours while he was distributing the paper

16. Vadivel Nimalarajah (31) – 17 November 2007
A proof reader -“Uthayan” Newspaper / Abducted while returning home.

17. Iasaivili Chempiyan (Subajini) – 27 November 2007
A news presenter -“Pulikalin Kural” Radio Station/ She was killed when the radio station was bombed by Sri Lankan Air Force jets.

18. Suresh Linbio – 27 November 2007
A Technical desk officer - “Pulikalin Kural” Radio Station/ Killed when the radio station was bombed by Sri Lankan Air Force jets.

19. T.Tharmalingam – 27 November 2007
An engineer - “Pulikalin Kural” Radio Station/ Killed when the radio station was bombed by Sri Lankan Air Force jets.


20. Paranirupesingham Devakumar (34) – 28 May 2008
A television reporter - Sirasa and Shakthi TV channels / He was hacked to death as he was returning home. A friend who was with him was also killed in the attack.


21. Lasanntha Wickrematunga - “Sunday Leader” Editor / 08 January 2009
Gunned down in Colombo, while on his way to work.

22. Punniyamurthy Sathyamurthy (37) - 12 February 2009
A journalist from Vanni, who worked for Canadian Tamil Radio, Canadian Multicultural Radio and Tamil Vision International television in Canada, all based in Canada. He was killed during an air raid on 12 February on Thevipuram, Mullaithivu.

23. Sasi Mathan (27) – 05 March 2009
A media worker and worked as the Mullaiththeevu District Distribution Manager of “Eelanaatham Daily”. / Killed in the Aananthapuram area in air raids.

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Friday, March 12, 2010

Family fears for missing Sri Lankan cartoonist

Photo courtesy of

by Mel Gunasekera - Six weeks ago Sri Lankan political writer and cartoonist Prageeth Eknaligoda went missing, and his fate has raised further concerns about the island's culture of violence against the media.

Eknaligoda, who contributed to the pro-opposition website, did not return home after work on January 24, two days before the island's presidential elections.

A police probe into his whereabouts has drawn a blank, and his family and friends believe he was abducted by government authorities who act against critics.

Eknaligoda was briefly detained, roughed up and freed by unknown assailants in August.

The family allege his current situation is linked to his support for defeated opposition presidential candidate General Sarath Fonseka.

"I believe high-ranking people within the government have abducted my husband for his writings and cartoons criticising President Mahinda Rajapakse," Sandhya Eknaligoda, 47, told AFP.

The government has denied the allegations, though the police admit there were problems in investigating Eknaligoda's disappearance as they were busy monitoring the presidential polls.

"There were some delays on our part to record the family's statements, but we are investigating his disappearance. We don't know where he is," police spokesman Prishantha Jayakody said.

For Eknaligoda's family of two teenage boys, the greatest fear is that the 50-year-old journalist has been killed.

"I first thought that he'll be released in a day like the last time," said Eknaligoda's 16-year-old son Harith at the family home in Kottawa, a suburb of Colombo.

"Then we thought he would come home after the election. But it's over a month. I worry whether he is alive."

Eknaligoda was preparing an exhibition of his work this year and his sons proudly showed off dozens of framed cartoons, some of which lampoon ruling party politicians including President Rajapakse.

A few cartoons depict thugs wearing shawls similar to the trade-mark attire of Rajapakse, while one recent article Eknaligoda wrote about an unidentified minister's sexual misconduct is also thought to have contributed to his plight.

Sandhya says her husband actively campaigned for media freedom, taking part in public protests.

Having received verbal death threats and warnings that his telephone was tapped in the run-up to the elections, Prageeth appears to have been a marked man.

"He wrote and drew without fear. He is a multi-talented journalist. I pray he is safe, he is alive and he will be released soon," Sandaruwan Senadheera, editor of the website, told AFP.

Media and human rights groups have appealed for Eknaligoda's release and have criticised the government for persecuting journalists who are critical.

"Any government that subjects its independent news media to violent and arbitrary actions has no right to call itself democratic," said Commonwealth Journalists Association president Hassan Shahriar.

The Austrian-based International Press Institute (IPI) said Sri Lanka was one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists to work with 17 killed in 10 years.

Two were killed in 2009. No one has been brought to justice in connection with the killings, IPI said.


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Friday, March 12, 2010

SRI LANKA: Tourists pour in since end of civil war

The number of tourist arrivals in Sri Lanka went up 67.7 % to 57,300 in the month of February 2010, compared to February 2009 which was only 34,169.

Figures released by the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority showed an increase in the number of arrivals from Western Europe, South Asia, East Asia, Middle East and North America.

Tourists from Western Europe, the traditional tourist generating market, rose 71.7 percent to 26,850 in February 2010. The number of visitors from the UK went up 46.3 percent to 10,700, those from France up 104 percent to 3,440 and from Germany up 122 percent to 5,656.

South Asian visitors rose to 66.6 percent. The number of visitors from this region comprised of 11,869 with tourists from India up by 94.9 percent to 8,383, from Maldives up 20 percent to 2,500 and from Pakistan up 34 percent to 609.

Arrivals from Australasia went up 32 percent to 2,067 and from East Asia up by 93.7 percent to 6,104. Japanese visitors increased 50.6 percent to 1,306, visitors from Malaysia rose 420 percent to 1,191. Visitors from Singapore rose 112 percent to 829.

Sri Lanka was recently ranked as the number one tourist destination by the ‘New York Times’ in its list of “31 Places to go in 2010″.

Tourist arrivals in the country increased sharply from May 2009 after defeating terrorism, ending Sri Lanka’s 30-year war.

© Brunei FM

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Friday, March 12, 2010

Dictators in National Clothing

By Basil Fernando - The late Gunadasa Liyanage was a senior lawyer in Mount Lavinia who practiced mostly civil law. In the mid-1970’s, he was also the leader of the United National Party (UNP) supporters in the Ratmalana area. He was the choice of the local UNPers for the 1977 elections. In the days when the nominations were being prepared, he received an invitation from JR Jayawardene, the leader of the UNP, to come and visit him. When he did, JR Jayawardene requested Gunadasa Liyanage to nominate Lalith Athulalthmudali for the same seat that the people had chosen Gunadasa for. Gunadasa replied that the people’s choice was him and therefore he was not in a position to accede to the request of Jayawardene. And then Gunadasa proceeded to tell his leader, “I see inside you a dictator.” Jayawardene’s cynical retort, according to Gunadasa, was “Well, in that case, I will be the first dictator in the Sinhala national clothing.”

This story was told by Gunadasa himself to many people. Gunadasa bitterly left the UNP and later even contested on behalf of a leftist party, just to demonstrate his bitterness against the authoritarian trend in the UNP. Later, despite the tragic death of one of his brothers in the hands of the JVP, Gunadasa remained steadfastly opposed to Jayawardene and defended liberal democratic values and was particularly outspoken in defense of the independence of judiciary against attacks from the ruling regime.

Jayawardene’s reference to the dictator in national clothing is quite significant. All dictators defend their position on the basis that they should not blindly follow external practices which may prove unsuitable for their country and try to develop what they call indigenous systems suitable for the particular circumstances. What this in essence means is to develop a system that suits the dictator. They may of course talk about the peculiar terms that are suited to the needs of particular circumstances. That was the way the military dictators in Pakistan justified their positions, as did Suharto his position in Indonesia. That is the way Li Kuan Yu also justified his own tight control of the entire system under single party and, in fact, under the thumb of a single man.

The essential problems of democracy are about the participation of the people in governance. The problem is not about the powers of the head of the state. The primary issue is about the way people express themselves through their political system. This, first of all, means the way they express themselves through media and through their own associations. These associations include the trade unions and all other free associations through which people gather together to be strong enough to resist the absolute power of the state. What the executive presidential system in Sri Lanka destroyed was this capacity of the Sri Lankan people to express themselves and organize themselves.

In this whole process of organizing society against absolute power, law plays an important function. The principle that no one is above the law is the most important principle of rule of law that prevents dictatorship. If the head of the state is above the law, then the whole scheme is one that stands against the basic foundation of rule of law and democracy.

The system that JR Jayawardene introduced is one in which, under the guise of having a unique system, the age old system of absolute power was introduced to Sri Lanka. Giving the power to the President to destroy the capacity of people to express themselves freely through the media and through their associations, the natural consequence was the virtual displacement the power of the judiciary. One-time liberals are now declaring their loyalties to continue with the executive presidential system, meaning that system in which the president is above the law, where the freedom of expression and association is suppressed, where law is relegated into an unimportant position to be replaced by executive orders made through national security laws, and where judiciary has no real role to play on matters relating to people’s basic rights.

The dictators in national clothing may have recruited a few former liberals to be their apologists. And these apologists may want to be silent about forced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, torture, illegal arrest and illegal detentions that the agents of the dictators cause. These apologists will also defend the killings and harassments of journalists. These apologists also even go to the extent that when the agents of the dictator fabricate charges against innocent people, they implicate these innocents in the crimes that were carried out on behalf of the dictator. To these apologists, there is no difference between the truth and falsehood when it comes to the defense of the practices of the regime. Jayawardene may appear today in Rajapaksha’s clothing. However, the basic contradiction between dictatorship and democracy is not erased.

© Sri Lanka Guardian

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Friday, March 12, 2010

Sri Lanka's ex-army chief charged for politics in uniform

By Mel Gunasekera - Sri Lanka's military Thursday announced court martial proceedings against its former chief Sarath Fonseka for engaging in politics while in uniform and violating military procurement laws.

Army spokesman Prasad Samarasinghe made no mention of the more serious conspiracy and assassination plot charges that some in the ruling party had levelled at Fonseka after his defeat in presidential elections in January.

The highly decorated ex-army commander will be charged on seven counts of breaking army rules, Samarasinghe said, adding that a court martial would start hearing the case on Tuesday at the navy headquarters in Colombo.

"There is no time frame to end the court martial proceedings," Samarasinghe said, adding that Fonseka, who is under military custody at a naval detention centre, could appeal to a civilian court after the military verdict.

Supporters of Fonseka say the court martial is an attempt to stop the 59-year-old campaigning in parliamentary elections due next month.

President Mahinda Rajapakse has been accused by rights groups and other critics of cracking down on the opposition and dissent since he defeated Fonseka, a former ally and now bitter enemy, in a poll in January.

Fonseka was arrested by the military on February 8, two weeks after he lost the presidential election.

Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse, who is the president's younger brother, had said that the government had clear evidence of Fonseka plotting a coup and planning to assassinate the president.

The defence secretary had speculated that the hearing against Fonseka could go on for at least six months and on conviction he could be sentenced to five years in prison.

Ruling party politicians had also accused Fonseka of planning to overthrow the government and had labelled him a "traitor" for standing against his former commander-in-chief at the presidential polls.

Spokesman Samarasinghe said he was unaware of "conspiracy charges" against Fonseka, but said an investigation was being carried out by the police Criminal Investigations Department too.

"The CID is doing a separate investigation on General Fonseka," Samarasinghe said. "It might be related to charges to overthrow the government. That is a civil matter. The military will limit itself to violations of the Army Act."

Samarsinghe said Fonseka said the seven counts related to two charges -- engaging in politics and wrongdoing in military procurements.

Fonseka is accused of "conduct unbecoming" an officer, as well as maintaining contacts with opposition politicians while being head of the army and unfairly granting an arms contract to a company run by his son-in-law.

The police have already mounted a search for Fonseka's son-in-law, whose bank accounts have been frozen by the authorities.

Fonseka has challenged his arrest in the Supreme Court, which has fixed a hearing for April 26.

Fonseka and Rajapakse were allies in the crushing of Tamil Tiger separatist rebels last May, which ended their 37-year struggle that left up to 100,000 people dead according to a UN estimate.

Fonseka later fell out with Rajapakse over who should claim credit for the victory.

Despite his detention, he still intends to contest the April 8 parliamentary elections, which Rajapakse is expected to win.


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Friday, March 12, 2010

Sri Lanka: Fear of arrest of human rights defender Mr J.C. Weliamuna and Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu

Human rights defender Mr J.C. Weliamuna, the chairperson of Transparency International in Sri Lanka (TISL), faces arrest on fabricated charges in the near future.

J.C. Weliamuna and Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, the Executive Director of the Center for Policy Alternatives (CPA), have also reportedly been named on a State Intelligence Services list together with several other human rights defenders and journalists.

While the veracity of this list has not been confirmed and the purpose of any such list remains unclear, concern is expressed for those mentioned on it, as many of them have previously been subjected to physical violence, death threats and defamation campaigns.

Over the last few weeks several media outlets have published inaccurate information, allegedly on government orders, in relation to TISL's alleged misuse of funds, and have accused J.C. Weliamuna of being a “a thief who is engaged in one of the most sinister money laundering operations, collecting millions of dollars from foreign intelligence agencies, through their ‘aid’ agencies and INGO arms, under the guise of corruption fighting".

Furthermore, government media channels have aired reports accusing national and international non-governmental organisations of trying to destabilise the country and announcing that the government will carry out a campaign against these organisations.

A recent government report also insinuated that J.C. Weliamuna was responsible for a grenade attack on his own home on 27 September 2008, in an attempt to create publicity for himself. The grenade attack, in which no-one was injured, was the subject of huge public outcry at the time. However, no serious investigation took place into the incident.

On 3 March 2010, a Lanka News Web report revealed that State Intelligence Services have devised a list of 35 people who they perceive to be supportive of the opposition. J.C. Weliamuna and Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu have reportedly been placed at the top of this list. Other CPA staff members are also listed.

Those identified have reportedly been categorised in accordance with the work they do and on the basis of an unspecified point system, with those at the top of the list with the highest points. According to the Lanka News Web report a brief description of each individual is included on the list.

Front Line believes that the possible arrest of J.C. Weliamuna and the media harassment campaign against TISL could be an attempt to delegitimise the organisation's work in the defence of human rights in Sri Lanka, and in particular its attempts to combat corruption in the country. Front Line is concerned for the security of J.C. Weliamuna and Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu as well as all other human rights defenders who have reportedly been identified on the purported State Intelligence Services list.

© Front Line

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