Monthly Archives: October 2011

Sri Lanka: Blocking Lanka e News: An Indication of the Regime’s Fear of an Informed Citizenry

 Press release/ 27 Oct 2011

  NfR Sri Lanka, a network of Sri Lankan journalists and human rights defenders views the blocking of the website of Lanka e News in Sri Lanka as clear sign of the present regime’s fear of an informed citizenry. The site has been blocked by the State owned Telecom, its subsidiary Mobitel and the privately owned Dialog internet service providers. No reason has been given to the management of Lanka e News for this unlawful and anti-democratic blocking of   this website.

 The Right to Information is a fundamental right that has to be protected under any circumstances. By blocking Lanka e news the GOSL has violated this fundamental and sacred right of the people of Sri Lanka.

 The immediate provocation for blocking this website seems to be its coverage of the killing of the Presidential Adviser Baratha Lashman Premachandra on 8th Oct 2011. He had been shot dead during an election related scuffle between him and Hon. Duminda Silva, a Member of Parliament and an Adviser to the Defence Ministry, who were two opposing politicians of the ruling coalition at the recent Municipal Elections in Colombo.  The latter happens to be a close associate of the all-powerful Gotabhaya Rajapakse, Secretary to the Ministry of Defence and a brother  of President Mahinda Rajapakse.

 Lanka e News has been in the forefront, reporting on the alleged underworld connections of Duminda Silva, the complicity of the police in the killing of Premachandra and the subsequent covering up of the investigation into the incident.  The website of Lanka e News published very informative stories on the issues concerned including   interviews with politicians of the ruling party regarding the violent behavior of Duminda Silva.

 The scuffle and the  shooting  that took place in broad day light on the day of local government elections has brought to the surface some of the  fault lines of present regime which maintains its power by instilling   fear into its opponents  and practicing  corruption. Leading politicians of the ruling party have directly and indirectly blamed Duminda Silva for various misdeeds such as his dealing in the sale of drugs, gun running and underworld connections while the Defence Secretary openly stood by him.  Politicians of the Opposition also hold Duminda Silva responsible for using violence to break up their peaceful demonstrations. It is also alleged that Duminda Silva had been taking the Defence Secretary around canvassing for support for the Government Party at the election.

 NfR views the blocking of Lanka e News as a high handed action intended to inhibit any informed discussion on the killing of  Premachandra, in particular and on  the upsurge of  political  violence and corrupt practices,  in general.

 The freedom to access information using the internet has been under pressure in Sri Lanka for years.  Last week the GOSL announced that it has sought advice from the Attorney General on banning web sites which publish false news about the President and the country. This development has to be seen as another step towards silencing dissenting voices in the country and not taken on its face value. In Sri Lanka, State controlled media has become a huge political mechanism which churns out fabricated and slanderous news and stories vilifying all those who oppose the regime.

 Meanwhile the head of TNL TV/Radio network Mr. Shan Wikramathunga has made a complaint to the police that a pro-government businessman had threatened him with death over his comments on Duminda Silva and on stock market irregularities.

 It has been reported to the NfR that former Lanka e News correspondent Shantha Wijesuriya had been continuously followed and intimidated by police intelligence operatives without any reason.  On 25th Oct 2011 the Free Media Movement accompanied him to make a complaint to the Police regarding this harassment.

 While unreservedly condemning the blocking of Lanka e News site by the State,  NfR express its fear that a new round of suppression of the media is in the offing.  NfR calls all democratic forces within and outside Sri Lanka to give wide publicity to this dangerous trend and take whatever steps possible to stop it before it is too late. 

  Steering Committee, NfR Sri Lanka

 

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Sri Lanka: Intimidation of dissent continues; Student leader assaulted in Jaffna

Press release/ 17 Oct. 2011

Networking for Rights is deeply concerned that the assault on Jaffna Student Leader, Subramaniam Thevapalasingham is a further erosion of the democratic rights of the people of Sri Lanka. Thavapalasigham is reported to have been attacked with iron rods and is presently receiving treatment at the Jaffna Hospital. Thavapalsingham has sustained injuries to his head.

While his assailants have so far not been identified, former MP Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam has told the BBC that Thavapalsingham suspects the military to be behind the attack as he had been under threat since his election as student leader. According to the Daily Mirror, Thavapalasingham is reported to have claimed that his assailants had asked him whether he wanted a separate state, while assaulting him. Meanwhile the State run Lankapuwath news Agency attributes the assault to a student dispute.

Thavapalasingham has been playing a prominent role in mobilizing students to protest the spate of “grease-devil” incidents that have caused fear amongst the people of late.
According to TamilNet, this is the third such attack; the first two being the attempt on Ramesh, the present chairman of the Valikaamam East Piratheasa Chapai (PS) and the assault on the Udayan Chief Editor Gnanasundaram Kuganathan.
Harassment and intimidation of civilians has become a way of life in Sri Lanka, and in the past several years the numbers of incidents have escalated in all parts of the country. It is the right of all civilians to mobilize and participate in peaceful protests; that is the hallmark of a truly democratic country. However, the opposite is true in Sri Lanka, where any attempt by civilians to voice their concerns, or the media to raise any issue is met with some form of brutality. It is an indication of an administration which resorts to undemocratic methods to suppress freedom of expression and dissent and enables other unruly elements to take the law into their own hands. Merely conducting elections does not ensure democracy; rather it is the respect for the rule of law and rights of citizens to voice their concerns that make a true democracy.
Networking for Rights reiterates its call that while civilians are protected and their right to dissent is upheld, that a genuine and speedy inquiry is held into Thavapalasighams assault and the culprits brought to book.

Steering Committee, NfR Sri Lanka
Steering committee : Kshama Ranawana ( Canada) Lionel Bopage ( Australia), Nadarasa Sarawanan (Norway), Nadarajah Kuruparan(UK) Padmi Liyanage (Germany), Raveendran Pradeepan (France), Rudhramoorthy Cheran (Canada), Saman Wagaarachchi ( USA), Sunanda Deshapriya ( Switzerland)

Sri Lanka: Ruling party politicians in a shooting spree

Press release/ 10 Oct. 2011

Two prominent politicians of the ruling United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA) fought a gun battle on 8th October 2011 in the Colombo suburbs. A ruling party politician Mr. Baratha Lakshman, a leading figure in the Sri Lanka Mahajana Party, a constitution party of the ruling alliance was killed along with his two body guards. He was one of the senior advisors to president Rajapaksha on Trade Union matters. The other politician involved was Mr Duminda Silva, Member of parliament is in a state of coma at the Jayawardenepura government hospital. He is an advisor to the Defense ministry and considered to be a close associate of the Secretary of defense Mr. Gotabhaya Rajapaksha. The gun battle between the groups occurred before the   voting comes to an end  in the local government election held on 8th October.

NfR would like to draw the attention to this incident which happened in broad day light in a close proximity to the capital city of Colombo on an election day when increased security arrangements were in place. It clearly shows the high degree of militarisation of politics in Sri Lanka. M.P. Duminda Silva has been accused of leading violent crowds to disrupt peaceful demonstrations on number of occasions by affected parties. Few months ago, the Attorney General withdrew a case against him. He was accused of sexual violence and rape in several on going cases.

It was common knowledge that a number of ruling party politicians run their own armed gangs to intimidate and attack opposition campaigns and parties as well as opponents within their own ranks. At the same time these ruling party politicians use police and sections of the armed forces to further their campaign of intimidation. Suppression of dissent in any form has become the hallmark of these mafia like politicians in Sri Lanka, backed by the highest authorities in the country.

This unfortunate incident is a clear indication of the militarisation of politics in Sri Lanka and the inability of the police to police the unruly violent politicians.

A genuine non militaristic and democratization of politics and civil society is the fundamental necessity in the current Sri Lankan context. The present regime is incapable of addressing these issues. On the contrary, the current regime is the actual culprit. We call upon the international community not to appease the current regime and strengthen civil society movements.

 

Steering Committee, NfR Sri Lanka

Steering committee : Kshama Ranawana ( Canada) Lionel Bopage ( Australia), Nadarasa Sarawanan (Norway), Nadarajah Kuruparan(UK) Padmi Liyanage (Germany), Raveendran Pradeepan (France), Rudhramoorthy Cheran (Canada), Saman Wagaarachchi ( USA), Sunanda Deshapriya ( Switzerland)

 

 

Sri Lanka: State media distort a UN HRC event and drag a head of a state to intimidate dissent

Press release/ 15 September 2011

  NfR Sri Lanka, a network of Sri Lankan journalists and human rights defenders living outside the country, condemns the falsification of the proceedings of a side event organized by Sri Lankan Mission in Geneva, to intimidate Sri Lankan press freedom and human rights campaigner Sunanda Deshapriya. He has been a leading activist and a former convenor of the Free Media Movement. Sunanda Deshapriya is a founder member and a steering committee member of the Networking for Rights in Sri Lanka. He is associated with number of other national and international human rights organizations.

On 12th September 2011 Sri Lanka Embassy in Geneva organized a side event at the Palais des Nations to show the film ‘ Lies Agreed Upon’ which is a response to the film ‘Sri Lanka Killing Fields’ produced by the Channel 4. This was a parallel event held during the 18th Session of the UN HRC now being held in Geneva, Switzerland. Sunanda Deshapriya was the only former FMM convener who participated at the side event.

Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation which is a radio station controlled by the Government, carried the news item set out below during its 6.45 a.m. news broadcast on 15th September, 2011.

 ”The President of the Maldives, Mr. Mohammad Nasheed has told the former head of the Free Media Movement that it is a disgrace to work against ones own country. The former had questioned the right of the President to speak about Sri Lanka after the screening of the film ‘Lies Agreed Upon’. Responding to that question the Maldivian President had said that he emphasized fully aware of the situation of Sri Lanka. When the Maldivian president asked him whether he is form a NGO he has accepted it. Then the Maldivian president has been able to silence the former FMM head.”

This news item is a complete fabrication by the government of Sri Lanka. No such exchange took place between the president Nasheed and Deshapriya. The SLBC is an institution that is under the political control of the Media Ministry and Presidential Secretariat. In fact, instead of discrediting Sunanda Deshapriya this false report discredits the President of Maldives who spoke with great restraint and moderation at the side event. Sunanda Deshapriya didn’t ask any questions and President Mohamed Nasheed didn’t say a single word to the SLBC. This shows that in their attempt to intimidate human rights defenders, the GOSL controlled media outlets go to the extent of involving foreign dignitaries to add credibility to their fabrications.
 
Reprisals against human rights defenders for participation in the UN system are considered as a serious human right violation. In this instance state controlled media and there by the Sri Lankan state itself has become a violator of that right.

 NfR views this fabrication as a continuation of the suppression of dissent and freedom of expression in Sri Lanka. It is ironical that this kind of intimidatory tactics are being used even while GOSL delegation to the 18th Session of UN HRC is emphasizing that Sri Lanka has restored all freedoms and the rule of law in the country.
 
Condemning this false propaganda of GOSL, NfR calls for an immediate correction to the said news item and give it the same degree of publicity.

 Issued by
Steering Committee, NfR Sri Lanka