Monday, March 29, 2010

Sri Lanka: Tamils on probation

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

We went to meet these refugees who have lost everything.

© France 24

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Monday, March 29, 2010

Brigadier 'involved' in Lasantha murder

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

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

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

Editor assaulted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© BBC Sinhala

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Monday, March 29, 2010

The media ‘Konvicted’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Groundviews

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Monday, March 29, 2010

Sri Lanka: Arrest of Muslim author 'illegal'

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

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

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

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

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

Religious harassment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© BBC Sinhala

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Monday, March 29, 2010

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

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

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

Postal voting

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

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

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

Access to Counting Centres

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

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

© Lakbima News

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Monday, March 29, 2010

Police Protect Sirasa Attackers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© The Sunday Leader

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