Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Twenty-two IFEX members demands investigation into disappearance of Prageeth Ekneligoda

International Freedom of Expression exchange

Marking 200 days since the disappearance of Prageeth Eknaligoda, members of the International Freedom of Expression exchange (IFEX) have expressed their concern in an open letter written to the Sri Lankan authorities.

Conveying their dismay regarding "the apparent lack of transparency surrounding the investigation into the disappearance of Eknaligoda" IFEX has urged the Sri Lankan government "to demonstrate much greater purpose in the investigation of the case".

The full text of the IFEX letter follows:

"His Excellency President Mahinda Rajapaksa
President of Sri Lanka
'Temple Trees'
Colombo 3
Sri Lanka

Hon. Athauda Seneviratne
Minister of Justice
Superior Courts Complex
Colombo 12
Sri Lanka

We, the undersigned members of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), are writing to express our grave concern about the state of press freedom in Sri Lanka, and in particular about the disappearance of Sri Lankan journalist Prageeth Eknalidoga.

Today marks 200 days since Eknalidoga went missing. He was last seen on 24 January, just less than 36 hours before the polls opened in the Sri Lankan presidential elections.

Eknaligoda is well known for his work as an outspoken cartoonist and columnist. He worked for many years at the state-owned Lake House group of newspapers, but resigned in 1996, reportedly because he came under pressure after defying a request from then-President Chandrika Kumaratunga to create a cartoon ridiculing the leader of the opposition. More recently, he contributed to the Lanka-e-News portal - where many of his colleagues subsequently suffered harassment and intimidation - as well as "Colombo", a Sinhala-language newspaper.

This is not the first time Eknaligoda's outspoken views as a journalist in Sri Lanka led to his disappearance. In August 2009 he was abducted late in the evening on his way home. Fortunately, he was returned to his family unharmed the next morning.

Eknalidoga's wife Sandhya recently filed a habeas corpus petition, which is pending in the Colombo High Court. Six hearings have been held thus far, but they have failed to achieve substantial results. During the fifth hearing, police assured the court that they would make information related to the case available by the sixth hearing that was to take place on July 21. However, the police failed to show up at the sixth hearing, so no information was provided. The judge ordered the police to appear at the next hearing scheduled for September.

We are extremely concerned by the apparent lack of transparency surrounding the investigation into the disappearance of Eknaligoda, and we call upon the Sri Lankan government and its authorities to conduct a full and transparent investigation into the whereabouts and the circumstances of Eknaligoda's disappearance.

We also ask the Government of Sri Lanka and judiciary to demonstrate much greater purpose in the investigation of the case, and ensure that police summoned to appear before the nation's courts in relation to this matter fulfill their duty to do so.

We respectfully request that the Government of Sri Lanka commit every reasonable effort to resolve this matter and consider the welfare of Prageeth Eknaligoda and his family a priority.

Yours sincerely,

ARTICLE 19: Global Campaign for Free Expression
Associação Brasileira de Jornalismo Investigativo
Association of Caribbean Media Workers
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Cartoonists Rights Network International
Ethiopian Freepress Journalists' Association
Globe International
Institute of Mass Information
Instituto Prensa y Sociedad de Venezuela - INTERIM MEMBER
International PEN Writers in Prison Committee
Media Foundation for West Africa
Media Rights Agenda
Media Watch
National Union of Somali Journalists
Observatoire pour la liberté de presse, d'édition et de création
Pacific Freedom Forum
Pakistan Press Foundation
Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms
Public Association "Journalists"
Southeast Asian Press Alliance
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters "


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Tuesday, August 10, 2010


International Federation of Journalists

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) extends its support to the protest planned for August 10 by the Alliance of Media Organisations in Sri Lanka, to mark 200 days since the disappearance of cartoonist and columnist Prageeth Eknaligoda.

The protest (or satyagraha) and a seminar will be held in Colombo to urge the authorities fully investigate the whereabouts of Eknaligoda.

The IFJ calls upon its affiliates worldwide to show solidarity by contacting their local Sri Lankan missions to express their concerns at the police and security agencies’ failure to trace the missing journalist.

“The IFJ calls upon authorities in Sri Lanka to show a greater sense of purpose over this case,” IFJ General Secretary Aidan White said.

“Statements from official agencies, including the police and the Ministry for Information, have been far from reassuring, since they have invariably failed to deliver on promises that information about Eknaligoda’s whereabouts would be made available.

“Further, there have been suggestions from official agencies dismissing Eknaligoda’s disappearance as possibly self-staged.”

A habeas corpus petition filed by Eknaligoda’s family is pending in the Colombo High Court. Six hearings have been held, most recently on July 21. Early hearings were adjourned because the bench was purportedly not up to full strength to hear a case of this nature. It was only after the third hearing that the bench of two judges began to deal substantively with the case.

At the fifth hearing, police assured the court that they would have some information available by the sixth hearing. But the police failed to turn up at the hearing on July 21. The judge ordered that notice be sent to them again. The next hearing is scheduled for September.

Reportedly, Eknaligoda was last seen by the staff of Lanka-e-News (www.lankaenews.com), the news portal where he worked on a freelance basis, as he left the office about 8.30 pm on January 24.

Polls were scheduled to open in Sri Lanka’s presidential elections less than 36 hours later.

As he left, Eknaligoda reportedly had phone contact with a friend. He expressed his inability to meet the friend since he had already taken a three-wheeler taxi towards meeting another friend. The identity of the person he was going to meet remains unknown.

The police have not revealed the call records from Eknaligoda’s phone or managed to trace his cell phone.

Eknaligoda was a cartoonist with the state-owned Lake House group of newspapers for long and resigned in 1996, reportedly because he came under pressure after defying a request from the then President to do a cartoon ridiculing the leader of the opposition.

In recent times, he has been a contributor to the Lanka-e-News portal and a Sinhala language paper, Colombo.

He has been involved in left-wing politics since the 1970s and in November 2009 took up an active role in the presidential election campaign for the former Sri Lankan army commander, Sarath Fonseka. He addressed a number of public meetings in support of Fonseka in Colombo and elsewhere.

Sandhya Eknaligoda, his wife, has since been battling alone and against great odds. Their two sons aged 16 and 13 are suffering psychological stress and have barely been able to attend regular school.

Prageeth Eknaligoda is an insulin-dependent diabetic who underwent open-heart surgery in 2005.

In August 2009, Eknaligoda was abducted late one evening while on his way home and held till the early hours next morning. He was reportedly kept blindfolded and heard nothing from his captors to reveal their motives. All the currency that he carried was taken away, as too was an ATM cash card. The family however did not detect any illicit withdrawals from Eknaligoda’s bank accounts after this episode.

As part of an international coalition working for press freedom and journalists’ rights in Sri Lanka, the IFJ commits itself to supporting Eknaligoda’s family through this moment of trial.

The August 10 protest in Colombo will be held at 3pm in Viharamahadevi Park, followed by a seminar at the Public Library.


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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

SRI LANKA: Attack on mass media continues

Photo courtesy: Daily Mirror

South Asia Forum for Human Rights

In Sri Lanka, the war against "terrorism" was over in May 2009 yet, Sri Lanka’s defence expenditure continues to rise at an astronomical rate. A host of repressive legislations are still in place and the humiliatingly discriminatory practice of registering Tamils has resumed – in the name of security. And yet, deputy ministers tie public officials to trees in the West; mysterious attackers bulldoze temples and dispossess Sinhala villagers in the East, to make way for tourist hotels and displaced Northern Tamils returning to their ancestral lands are expelled, to build cantonments. Behind a façade of democracy, impunity is ravaging post-war Sri Lanka.

Cartoonist and Columnist Prageeth Eknaligoda was kidnapped from his house 200 days ago by a group of armed people. On August 10, 2010A silent protest (sathyagraha) and seminar will be held to protest against the failure of the authorities to find him. The protest has been organized by the Alliance of Media Organizations, comprising the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA), Free Media Movement (FMM), South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA), Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum (SLMMF), Sri LankaTamil Journalists Association (SLTJA), Journalists Against Suppression (JAS), Federation of Media Employees Trade Union (FMETU).

While Prageeth Eknaligoda remains untraced, the attacks on media persons and media institutions continue. On July 30, 2010 the news room of Siyatha TV and radio station, which is located just a few hundred metres from the Temple Trees, the official residence of President Rajapaksa was attacked by a mob. The attackers threw bombs and had the employees kneel down and beat them. As the offices of the TV and the radio station continued to burn, the fire brigade arrived nearly three hours later as they were "busy elsewhere" The attackers got away. It is strange that in a heavily guarded city like Colombo, teeming with checkpoints and military and police personnel, this could happen in broad day light. According to eyewitnesses, six unidentified armed persons had arrived in two cars and mounted the attack with no resistance from the unarmed security guards.

The police are reported to have launched an investigation. Many media persons in Colombo feel that this investigation is a sham. They point out that such police probes into attacks on the media invariably fail to apprehend the culprits. According to the journalists, in the aftermath of incident of 'mob' violence against media organisation or journalists, the police claim to deploy 'special teams', hold press conferences about the progress of the investigation and thereafter the matter is forgotten as some other issue crops up to distract the public.

The record shows that those who were responsible for the attacks on The Sunday Leader, the MTV studio, the Sudar Oli office in Colombo and the Uthayan head office in Jaffna have not even been arrested till date in spite of the much advertised deployment of 'special police teams'. The Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickrematunge was roughed up on several occasions and then assassinated in broad daylight but his killers are still at large. Many other attacks on journalists and media houses have remained un-investigated

On August 8, The Prime Minister of Sri Lanka told the parliament that. "We need to maintain emergency laws to ensure the safety and security of the nation," The PM also announced that more than 1,500 Tiger suspects were arrested after the conclusion of the war. In a country which accords absolute primacy to security and is spectacularly successful in apprehending Tigers, one wonders how a media office in close proximity to the presidential abode could be attacked.

On Friday August 6, Sri Lanka’s Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella told the Sunday Times that the government intends to bring in legislation for broadcast media. Mr. Rambukwella said, "There are 52 channels in this country. We need a platform for them." When asked to what extent the draft bill would adhere to the current laws concerning media autonomy and whether the proposed bill was being developed in line with the regulatory model of other countries, the minister said, "We have our own understanding of the issue but we may also borrow a few ideas from laws of other developing countries," He said that the bill be called "Broadcasting Development Authority Bill."

According to news reports the government was looking closely at Singapore’s Media Development Authority Act 2003. In July it was reported in a section of the press that the government was inspired in particular by such legislation which is considered draconian by several international media organisations. Mr Rambukwella however denied this and also claimed that the draft bill was not going to resurrect the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Authority Bill, which was drafted in 1997 by the Chandrika Kumaratunga government, and sought to create a government-controlled body to regulate even privately-owned media.

The Sri Lanka's Supreme Court in March 1997 had ruled that Chandrika Kumaratunga government’s "Sri Lanka Broadcasting Authority Bill" was discriminatory in that it established different regulatory authority schemes for public and private broadcasters.

The post-war outlook of internet freedom in Sri Lanka is rather bleak according to Joseph Thavaraja of Muslim Guardian. While Tamilnet.com is already blocked, Human Rights Watch (HRW), TamilCanadian.com, Lankanewsweb.com, Nidahasa.com, and Lankaenews.com sites have also either been blocked fully or are often not available. The Sri Lanka Telecommunications Act No. 25 of 1991 (As Amended) (Sri Lanka) and the Computer Crimes Act No 24 of 2007 (Sri Lanka) provide limited protection to Internet users from surveillance and other forms of intercepting communications. However both the Acts have provisions that allow law enforcement agencies and relevant Ministers to intercept communications without any apparent restrictions or guidelines on their general power to do so the report adds

Impunity like malignant cells causes cancer and ultimately kills its host. It is invasive and pervasive and victimises even its one-time practitioner-beneficiaries, as the fate of Gen. Fonseka demonstrates. The rulers of Sri Lanka profited from impunity during the war. Their appetite for it remains undiminished. The attacks on media is a clear warning to every dissenter in Sri Lank, be it General Fonseka, a political opponent or a critical journalist- no one will escape the wrath of the Rajapaksa regime.


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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Sri Lanka "war panel" to start

The Straits Times | AFP

Sri Lanka announced the government-appointed panel looking into the island's civil war that ended last year would hold its first public hearings on Wednesday.

The eight-member panel will hear testimony for five days in the capital Colombo and two days in Vavuniya, near the former war zone, an official statement said on Tuesday.

The probe is expected to focus on why a 2002 truce between the government and separatist Tamil Tiger rebels collapsed and led to more fighting.

The president's office said in a statement that the panel was also tasked with recommending measures to ensure that Sri Lanka did not return to conflict. Sri Lanka has rejected a separate United Nations probe into alleged rights abuses during the final stages of the war.

The UN has previously reported that at least 7,000 ethnic Tamil civilians were killed in the last four months of fighting before government troops finally defeated the Tigers in May.

Sri Lanka says that no civilians were killed while battling the rebels and that it would not allow the UN or any other independent body to probe war crimes allegations.

© The Straits Times

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

"Galle Dialogue 2010, a tremendous success" says SL Navy

The Island

The two-day maritime conference, ‘Galle Dialogue 2010’, hosted by the Ministry of Defence in the Port city of Galle recently was a tremendous success, the Navy said yesterday.

The conference held last Friday and Saturday was attended by local and foreign scholars and experts in maritime and naval affairs, who shared their views on enhancing maritime cooperation.

On the initiative of the Secretary Ministry of Defence, the Sri Lanka Navy organised the maritime conference under the theme ‘Charting the Course for Sustainable Maritime Security Cooperation’. Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa delivered the inaugural address. The welcome remarks were made by the Commander of the Sri Lanka Navy Vice Admiral Thisara Samarasinghe. Senior Research Fellow for South Asia, National Defence University, USA and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for Asia Pacific Security Affairs 2007 – 2009, Professor James Clad delivered the keynote address. Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga, Secretaries of Ministries of External Affairs, Ports and Aviation and Highways and Road Development, Service Commanders, Director General Sri Lanka Coast Guard, Ambassadors, High Commissioners, Defence Attaches, Government Officials and Sri Lankan scholars in the maritime field attended the dialogue. The web site www.galledialogue.com was also launched. The local and foreign scholars and experts shared their views at the two-day dialogue. They were impressed with the fruitful conclusion of the event. External Affairs Minister Professor G. L. Peiris graced the conference banquet held on Friday as the chief guest.

Making the concluding remarks, with his views "all onboard to collaborate for secure seas" the Commander of the Sri Lanka Navy Vice Admiral Thisara Samarasinghe stated that that gathering of brilliant and penetrating Naval and maritime minds under one roof was one giant step forward towards a continuous dialogue to reach consensus for a common end. The exchange of ideas and sharing of experience, the Commander emphasised, would enhance the knowledge, trust, confidence and friendship to chart the courses of success to keep the strategic sea routes safe and secure for the economic development and betterment of mankind. On behalf of the Secretary of Defence, Admiral Samarasinghe expressed his profound gratitude to the participants for their presence and thanked all who helped in numerous ways to make the inaugural dialogue a success.

Twenty-two (22) delegates specialised in maritime strategy from ten (10) countries namely, Australia, Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Oman, Pakistan, Republic of Korea, Singapore, South Africa and USA, attended the conference. Participating scholars and experts who presented papers at the maritime conference were Admiral (retd) Arun Prakash, Chairman, National Maritime Foundation, New Delhi and former Chief of Naval Staff of the Indian Navy, Dr. Rohan Gunarathna, Professor of Security Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, D. R. Thomas - Deputy Chief of Royal Australian Navy, Commodore Jamil Akhtar, Pakistan Navy, Brigadier General Stanley Osterman, Director J-5, US Pacific Command, Hawaii, Admiral (retd) WKJ Karannagoda, the Secretary to Ministry of Highways and Road Development and former Commander of the Sri Lanka Navy, Dr. W. Lawrence S. Prabhakar, Associate Professor, Madras Christian College, Chennai , India, Chris Dharmakirthi, Director, Strategic Enterprise Management Agency (SEMA), Sri Lanka, Captain Chris Chambers, US Navy, Chief of Staff, Combined Maritime Forces, Rear Admiral JSK Colombage, Commander Eastern Naval Area, Sri Lanka Navy.

© The Island

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