Monday, October 24, 2011

Channel 4's Sri Lanka documentary cleared by Ofcom

By Mark Sweney and Jason Deans | The Guardian

Channel 4's controversial documentary Sri Lanka's Killing Fields, which featured graphic footage of alleged war crimes, has been cleared of breaching the broadcasting code.

Ofcom said images featured in the documentary, broadcast in June, "whilst brutal and shocking", did not exceed what the Channel 4 audience would have expected, given the pre-transmission warning about the nature of the content and the programme's scheduling at 11.05pm, well after the 9pm watershed.

The media regulator received 118 complaints about the documentary, about issues including impartiality, offensiveness and the broadcast of misleading material, but concluded it had not breached the broadcasting code on any of these counts.

Sri Lanka's Killing Fields, which focused on a UN investigation into alleged war crimes during the final weeks of the country's civil war, included a number of images of murdered and tortured bodies, and also of partially clothed women who, it was suggested in the documentary, had been sexually abused prior to their death.

The documentary featured mobile phone footage, photographs and eyewitness accounts gathered by programme-maker ITN Productions.

The regulator said: "Channel 4 has a unique public service remit to provide programming that is challenging, diverse and likely to provoke debate. Consequently, the broadcaster has a history of broadcasting very challenging material from war zones (including graphic footage) and seeking out the voices and views of those who may not be represented.

"The images included in this programme, whilst brutal and shocking, would not have exceeded the expectations of the audience for this Channel 4 documentary scheduled well after the watershed with very clear warnings about the nature of the content."

On the question of impartiality, Ofcom noted that Channel 4 had put all the significant allegations included in the documentary to the Sri Lankan government and broadcast the limited statement that was provided.

The documentary also included previous Sri Lankan government statements relating to the final stages of the civil war against the Tamil Tigers, including a clip of an official claiming that the first video of an alleged execution shown in the programme was a fake.

Ofcom also said the documentary was only required to maintain due impartiality on its specific subject – the government offensive against the Tamil Tigers in the final stages of the war – and not the conflict as a whole.

"Ofcom therefore concluded that overall Channel 4 preserved due impartiality in its examination of the Sri Lankan government's actions and policies during its offensive and there was no breach of [the broadcasting code]," Ofcom concluded.

In response to complaints that the programme was misleading, Ofcom said Channel 4 had taken reasonable steps to establish that the material included in Sri Lanka's Killing Fields was not faked or manipulated, and had not materially misled viewers in the way it was presented on air.

Last week Dorothy Byrne, the Channel 4 head of news and current affairs, told the Lords communications committee that programmes such as Sri Lanka's Killing Fields faced PR pressure from the Sri Lankan government.

She said a demonstration held outside the Channel 4 headquarters in London was organised by the Sri Lankan ministry of defence.

• To contact the MediaGuardian news desk email or phone 020 3353 3857. For all other inquiries please call the main Guardian switchboard on 020 3353 2000. If you are writing a comment for publication, please mark clearly "for publication".

© The Guardian

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Monday, October 24, 2011

Sri Lankan President accused in Australian court

By Michael Gordon | Sydney Morning Herald

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa - who was due to arrive in Australia last night - has had a charge laid against him in a Melbourne court accusing him of war crimes in his country's civil war.

Sri Lankan-born Australian Arunachalam Jegatheeswaran filed an indictment against the President yesterday, declaring he was seeking justice for thousands who perished in a series of aerial bombardments and ground attacks on shelters, schools, hospitals, orphanages and community centres.

The court move coincides with this week's Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth, which the Sri Lankan President is attending. ''People are still suffering because of what he did and I think the world should know,'' Mr Jegatheeswaran told The Age.

''I've seen all of these things,'' he said, having been a volunteer aid worker in Sri Lanka from 2007 to 2009. ''I can't bear that the person who is responsible for all of this - who is the commander-in-chief - is coming to my country and getting off scot-free. I'm asking the highest court of justice in Australia to decide whether he is guilty or not guilty.''

The indictment had been filed under the Australian criminal code with the Melbourne Magistrates Court yesterday and set for hearing on November 29, his lawyer, Rob Stary, said.

For the case to proceed, the AFP would have to conclude there is enough material to compile a brief of evidence of criminality, which it would then refer to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions for consideration. If a decision to prosecute is made, the Attorney-General's consent would be sought.

Mr Rajapaksa, who strenuously denies any wrongdoing, has already been cited in a brief of evidence compiled by the International Commission of Jurists' Australian section and handed to the AFP.

The brief recommends that the President be investigated for alleged war crimes, along with Sri Lanka's high commissioner to Australia, Thisara Samarasinghe, and other military and

political figures. Mr Samarasinghe has also denied committing war crimes and, in an interview with The Age last week, cast himself as a unifier of the Sinhalese and Tamil communities in Australia.

Mr Jegatheeswaran, 63, who arrived in Australia in 1987 and became an Australian citizen three years later, says he is still haunted by the killings and injuries he saw. ''I am living testimony to what happened. I'm trying to forget, but I just can't,'' he said.

Mr Stary said he had written to federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland last Thursday to alert him to the move and urge him to take up the case. He had also written to the Australian Federal Police yesterday asking them to serve the indictment on Mr Rajapaksa.

''The government will need to show a bit of backbone to investigate it, but there is absolutely no reason on the face of it why they should not pursue it. It's incontrovertible in our view that war crimes have been committed,'' Mr Stary said.

A spokesman for Mr McClelland said he had not been told about any criminal matter or charges relating to Mr Rajapaksa.

In a seven-page statement, Mr Jegatheeswaran describes how he returned to Sri Lanka early in 2007 to work as a volunteer and initially stayed with relatives in the Tamil stronghold of Kilinochchi.

When aid work was disrupted by the war, he volunteered to work in a camp for displaced people, before being forced to move and eventually becoming displaced himself. ''I saw Sri Lankan planes directing bombs into towns and open areas where displaced people were congregated, including areas declared as no-fire zones. I saw many hundreds of civilians killed and injured by these attacks.

''I also witnessed many civilian buildings and public facilities damaged or destroyed by aerial bombardments. I saw houses, shelters for displaced people, schools, hospitals, religious temples, orphanages and community centres shelled and bombed.''

© The Sydney Morning Herald

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Monday, October 24, 2011

Mystery death of sole suspect in Lasantha’s murder

By Nirmala Kannangara | The Sunday Leader

The sudden demise of 40 year old Pitchai Jesudasan, the main suspect in The Sunday Leader Editor-in-Chief Lasantha Wickrematunge murder case has raised many questions.

Jesudasan was arrested by the Terrorist Investigation Department (TID) on February 26, 2010 at his residence No. 31, Magastota Estate, Ruwan Eliya, Nuwara Eliya for the alleged involvement in terrorist activities.

Jesudasan has been later sent to Boossa Camp after interrogation at the Secretariat Building, Colombo 1. He had then been transferred to Welikada Magazine Prison and was an inmate there till his death on Saturday October 15.

According to the B Report submitted by the TID dated March 30, 2010, P. Jesudasan of 31, Magastota Estate, Nuwara Eliya and Kandegedara Piyawansa of 42/ 28 Katuwana, Nuwara Eliya were arrested for the murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge and attempted murder of the then Editor of the Rivira newspaper Upali Tennakoon and previous attack on Deputy Editor for the Nation newspaper Keith Noyahr.

With relation to the murder of Wickrematunge police charged that Jesudasan’s national ID had been used by Kandegedera Piyawansa to obtain five SIM cards which were later believed to have been used by a five man hit squad who trailed and murdered Wickrematunge on January 8, 2009. However, Jesudason as far back as August 23, 2008, had reported the loss of his National ID to S.M.P.S. Samarakoon, Grama Sevaka Ruwan Eliya.

The report had further charged the two suspects of attempting to topple a legitimate government and bring discredit to the government.
However given the sudden and unexpected demise of Jesudasan, his family in Nuwara Eliya is seeking justice to find out what had happened to him as he was in the best of health when seen last.

“We went to the Magazine prison on August 11 to see him and he was in perfect health. According to the General Hospital my brother had died of a blood clot in the brain. This is hard to believe as he was a healthy person,” his elder brother Albert told The Sunday Leader.

Lourthusamy, the younger brother meanwhile queries as to why the prison guards failed to tell him that his brother had been sent to the General Hospital for treatment when he and his younger sister Mary visited the Magazine prison on Saturday, October 15.

“It was with the greatest difficulty that we always collected money to visit our brother as it cost us at least Rs.3,500 for our journey. When we went to the Magazine prison on Saturday October 15 to see our brother we were told that he was admitted to the prison hospital (PH). We then went to the PH and after about two hours we were told that he was not there and that he was at the Magazine prison. We then went back to the Magazine prison. When we informed the prison guards of this, they confirmed that our brother was not there but at the PH. Since it was late, we left Welikada to get back to Nuwara Eliya as we did not have money to spend for our food if we had stayed that night at the Fort railway station. We went to the prison at 8 a.m and were there till 2.30 p.m. Had they told us that our brother was in the General Hospital we would have gone and seen him before he died,” said Lourthusamy.
Meanwhile a reliable source at the Welikada Prison on conditions of anonymity told The Sunday Leader that Jesudasan was brought to the prison without being taken to the General Hospital even though the Mt. Lavinia Magistrate had asked the prison guards to take him to the hospital immediately after he collapsed at the Mt. Lavinia Magistrate Court house on October 13.

“Jesudasan was taken to the Mt. Lavinia Magistrate court for the Wickrematunge murder trial on October 13. It was then that he had collapsed due to a fit. Although the Magistrate had asked the prison guards to take him to the hospital immediately he was brought back to the prison later that afternoon and was admitted to the prisons hospital. Since his condition was serious he was then transferred to the general hospital later in the evening and was admitted to Ward No. 44,” said the source.

When asked whether Jesudasan was an epileptic patient, the source said that he was not aware of his medical condition, but according to some prison guards he had complained of severe headaches often.

When The Sunday Leader visited Jesudasan’s family in Nuwara Eliya not only the neighbours and villagers but also a police constable stationed at a road block closer to the garage where he had worked were grieving at the untimely death of Jesudasan. “He was the most sincere person I have ever met. I have never seen him asking money after repairing a vehicle. He accepted whatever he was given. Always with a smile he was ready to help anyone that came to him even at midnight,” the police officer said.

For them it was a puzzle as to why Jesudasan was taken into custody for a crime he had never dreamt of committing.

The Jesudasan family live at Ruwan Eliya. Their humble home sits perched on a high elevation 3 km away from Nuwara Eliya town. His 78 year old mother and an elder brother are bed-ridden and it was Jesudasan who was the breadwinner. He was the seventh in the family of nine siblings, was unmarried and looked after his ailing mother and brother and the younger sister.

According to the Jesudasan family, they were not aware as to what had happened to their brother since he was taken away on February 27, 2010, until a lawyer from Colombo came forward to appear on his behalf to get him released.
“He was first arrested on February 26 early morning at 3.30 a.m. while he was fast asleep. When we asked the police officers as to why they were taking our brother we were told that he will be sent back after interrogation about a murder. Then again he was brought home by these same officers the following day to conduct a search of our house. When he requested the police officers to allow him to see the mother who was fast asleep, the heartless police officers did not allow and took him away,” said Albert.

When asked whether the family knew about his connections with an army intelligence officer who too had been taken into custody, Albert said his brother was good with anyone whom he met.

“The police said that my brother had bought five SIM cards and had given them to Wickrematunge’s killers. Why did they say that? Would a person who has not even killed an ant get involved in killing a fellow human being? To be honest it was only after this incident that we came to know who Lasantha Wickrematunge was. We are not educated enough to read his articles or even to see him on TV. Please give our sympathies to the family and tell them that my brother was not involved in killing him. Once I wanted to go to The Sunday Leader office and meet the family and to tell them how innocent we are but I could not do so as I did not have the money for the journey,” said Albert.

Since the breadwinner of the family was arrested, 27 year old Mary had no other options but to leave her bedridden mother and brother alone at home and to find a job. “My other siblings are married and I could not depend on them. I got a job at the diamond factory to keep the hearth burning,” dejected Mary said.

She has postponed her marriage until her brother was released and had taken a loan from the office to buy medicine for her ailing mother and brother. Despite all her mental suffering and financial difficulties she has still managed to provide food and medicine for her mother and brother.

“Only my stomach knows about how many days I have survived with only a cup of tea. I have pawned my jewellery to give money for bus fare to go to Welikada. Now I do not want a marriage and will continue to look after my mother and brother forever,” she said.

According to Albert, Jesudasan had lost his national identity card (NIC) and had obtained a letter from the Grama Sevaka in 2008 to obtain a new NIC.

“He went to the police station on many occasions but they had failed to record his statement and sent him back empty handed. Had the police recorded his statement and a copy given to my brother, he would have obtained a new NIC and that would have saved his life. We are suspicious as to why the police did not record his statement,” said the family.

According to the family, Jesudasan had told the police about this but to no avail.
“Even the Grama Sevaka’s letter was taken away by the police. Now we do not have any document to prove that he had lost his NIC and was trying to obtain a new one,” they said.

It was late in the evening of October 15 that the Jesudasan family has come to know about their brother’s death.

“One of our neighbours had heard the news over the radio and when we told the ‘watte mahattaya’ (A. J. Vithanage) gave us Rs.10, 000 for three of us to go to Colombo. On Sunday October 16 (morning) we reached Colombo and went straight to the hospital.

When we went to the mortuary to see Thambi’s (younger brother) body, we were told that they cannot allow us to see the body but to come with the Borella police. Then we asked what the cause of death was and we were told that it was due to a blood clot in his brain,” said Albert.

It was around 2.30 p.m. when the Borella police came to the hospital and the body was released at around 3 p.m. on Monday, October 17. By this time Vithanage’s brother had came and handed the body over to Kelanipura Florists in Punchi Borella. All expenses were met by Vithanage totaling approximately Rs.50,000. The body was brought to Nuwara Eliya early Tuesday morning.

A. J. Vithanage told The Sunday Leader that it was a crime for the TID to arrest such an innocent person for an offense he has not committed. “People in Ruwan Eliya knew who Jesudasan was. He was an innocent man who looked after the family with his little income,” said Vithanage.

The police failed to inform the family where Jesudasan was – Kaushalya Wijesinghe Attorney-at-Law

Speaking to The Sunday Leader, Attorney-at-Law Kaushalya Wijesinghe who appeared for Jesudasan said that the police had failed to inform Jesudasan’s family of his whereabouts, till she first appeared for him.

“I saw this story in a national newspaper and decided to help this innocent family. If I had not came forward to appear for him last year this helpless family would have not known what his fate was till he died,” Wijesinghe said.

Was a postmortem conducted on Jesudasan?
Speaking on condition of anonymity a leading Consultant Specialist queried as to how the hospital came to the conclusion that the alleged suspect in an important murder case had died of a blood clot in the brain.

“This is extremely suspicious. On the one hand he was an alleged suspect in one of the most important murder cases in the whole country and on the other hand is the question of how the hospital authorities could confirm to the bereaved family that their brother had died of a blood clot in the brain or generally known as a stroke, before the postmortem was held.

It is only after a pathological postmortem that the Judicial Medical Officer (JMO) can come to a conclusion as to what the cause of death was. Otherwise no Medical Specialist even with many years of experience can arrive at a conclusion on the cause of death without conducting a postmortem,” the Medical Specialist told The Sunday Leader.

© The Sunday Leader

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