Monthly Archives: January 2012

Sri Lanka: Viluthu, A Tamil advocacy institution in Colombo attacked and ransacked – NfR

Press release/ 24 January 2012

Main office of Vilithu,( Centre for Human Resource Development) a Tamil civil society organisation engaged in advocacy work was attacked and ransacked on the early hours of Tuesday 24th January 2012. The office was located at No 3, Torrington Avenue, Colombo 07 in the close proximity to Canadian High Commission, Embassies of the Netherlands, Sweden, and highly guarded Sri Lanka Broadcasting Cooperation.  
 
NfR, Sri Lanka condemns this attack unreservedly.

Staff member of the Viluthu told NfR, Sri Lanka they do not have any enemies and they didn’t receive any threats before this incident. According the staff member it is clear that attackers were looking for information. Office files had been checked, and the pen drive of the Ms. Shanthi A Sachithanandam, chief executive officer of Viluthu was found out side the office.  Police has expressed the opinion that this was an act of experienced group.

Informed sources told ‘NfR Sri Lanka’ that it is almost impossible for any group to engage in such an act without the knowledge of security establishments given the importance’s of the area the Viluthu office was located.

 
Last few weeks has seen heightened and serious attacks on media freedom activists, groups campaigning for justice for the disappearances and human rights organisations by government politicians and state media. Harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders and HR organisations by the government and state controlled media are on the increase.  NfR express its fear that this orchestrated campaign of intimidation could be a harbinger of another round of suppression of people’s rights in Sri Lanka.

According to the Viluthu web site –  http://www.viluthu.org –  it aims  to  promote a culture of democracy by facilitating changes in legislations, policies and institutional culture. Viluthu has branch offices in Jaffna, Trincomalee, Puttalam and Batticaloa.

Condemning this dastardly act ‘NfR Sri Lanka’ expresses its solidarity with the organisation Viluthu. NfR demand that immediate and impartial investigation to be held and who ever behind this attack is brought before the law.  NfR calls upon human rights organisations to be vigilant in the face of heightened attacks on Human Rights Defenders in Sri Lanka.

 

 

Sri Lanka: Obstruction of the campaign against disappearances in Jaffna is an indication of the dangerous level of militarisation in Sri Lanka

Press release/ 18th January 2012

NfR Sri Lanka, a network of Sri Lankan journalists and human rights defenders, strongly condemns the obstruction of the protest campaign against the disappearances in Sri Lanka by security forces without any legal ground. This blatant violation of people’s democratic rights shows that in the so-called liberated North of Sri Lanka not the rule of law but the rule of the military prevails. This anti-democratic behaviour of the military personnel stationed in the Northern Province reinforces the recommendation of the LLRC for immediate demilitarisation and re-establishing the civil administration.

Today (Tuesday, 17th January 2012) a joint platform of various peoples’ organisations had organised a protest campaign in Jaffna against the ongoing disappearances and focussed on the disappearance of two human rights defenders, Lalith Kumar Weeraraj and  Kugan Muruganandan, a month ago.

The Organization Collective against Abductions and Disappearance had coordinated this campaign. 17 political parties and organizations, including the Movement for Peoples’ Struggles, United Socialist Party, NSSP, Maoist Lanka Communist Party, Alternative Group of LSSP, Socialist Party, Socialist Organization, People’s March Organization, We Are Sri Lankans, People’s Lawyers Association, Lawyers Associations for Democracy, Students for Human Rights, Inter Company Employees’ Union, All Ceylon Telecom Employees’ Union and All Island Health Employees’ Union, were to take part in today’s protest campaign.

The members of those organisations who were travelling to Jaffna in a convoy of busses were harassed, checked and finally stopped at Pulliyankulam by the military acting on orders from the above.

According to the organisers of the campaign a special police unit first stopped their busses at Punnawa 4 km before Vavuniya and told them they are not permitted to proceed further as Murukandi Bridge had been exploded. Thereafter, they were searched for over one hour at Joseph Camp and the police headquarters 2 km and 1 km before Vavuniya respectively. After that, busses carrying the protesters were stopped at Thaandikulam in Vavuniya and again searched for three hours for the alleged reason that they had received information that bombs were transported in these busses. The busses were again stopped 5 km after Vavuniya and they were told that four bombs in a lorry ahead of them were being neutralized by the Army, hence, protesters could not be permitted to proceed further at the risk of their safety.

All these stories were concocted by higher military officials as a pretext to block the protest against the ongoing disappearances. This illustrates that the Sri Lankan Government is willing to go to any length to stop people getting organised to claim their human rights.
 
Meanwhile, “Thinakural Rest” hotel in Jaffna where the Organization Collective had planned to hold a media briefing was attacked by a mob of thugs at 1.30 pm on the same day and the property of the hotel and three vehicles parked nearby were damaged.

Government ministers were making fear mongering and hysteria creating statements in the last few weeks in order to discourage campaigns against previous and ongoing human rights violations in Sri Lanka.

The right to association and to free speech are inviolable fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution of Sri Lanka. The duty of the state security forces is to protect those rights and not to trample them. In this case, it is evident that these democratic rights are not protected by either the Government of Sri Lanka or the state security forces. Furthermore, this development is an indication of tightening military control of people’s life in the Northern Province resulting in frightening people into silence in the context of a growing demand for an independent and credible investigation into human rights violations related to the last phase of the war.

NfR calls for urgent attention of national and international human rights organisations to respond to this dangerous trend and requests appropriate action be taken in solidarity for the victims of all human rights violations in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka: GOSL should held responsible for the disappearance of two human rights defenders in Jaffna

Press release/ 16th January 2012

NfR Sri Lanka, a network of Sri Lankan journalists and human rights defenders (HRDs) expresses its deep concern over the disappearance of Mr. Lalith Kumar Weeraraj and Mr. Kugan Muruganandan.  Even though more than five weeks have passed since disappearance there has been no information about them to date and all efforts to trace them have been of no avail.   They went missing from Jaffna on 9th December, 2011 while they were active in organizing a press conference to be held in Jaffna on 10th December, on the occasion of the International Human Rights Day.   
They were both human rights defenders and leading members of the ‘We Are Sri Lankans’ (WESL). That is an organization working towards national harmony and reconciliation in Sri Lanka.  Mr. Weeraraj was a tireless HRD and ironically his focus has been the involuntary disappearances that have taken place during the last phase of the war. He played a courageous and inspiring role in setting up committees of Families of the Disappeared in all the districts in the North. He organized protest campaigns with families of the disappeared on number of occasions.  At the time of his disappearance he was the Jaffna Coordinator of the Movement for People’s Struggle (MPS) (Jana Aragala Wiyapaaraya). He was unlawfully arrested on number of occasions and beaten up by pro government thugs in the presence of police. He was abducted twice before, once by the military in uniform in the Killinochchi town and released after questioning. In the face of all these intimidations and obstacles he did not give up his human rights work.  In short, he was an emerging civil and political leader in the war torn Northern districts campaigning for  human rights. 

Mr. Kugan Muruganandan had been his close associate in all these human rights work of Mr. Weeraraj

Related incidents reported since their disappearance points towards the government’s culpability in this heinous crime. 

Close to midnight on the day of their disappearance, 9th December Mr. Weeraraj’s father received a number of threatening phone calls on his mobile phone. The callers threatened to kill Mr. Weeraraja and warned that “either you remove your son from Jaffna or we will do it for you”.

On 14th December, Mr. Muruganandan’s wife found the motor cycle bearing no. NP GT7852, in which Mr. Muruganandan and Mr. Weeraraj were last seen, parked inside the Atchchuveli Police Station. Until she inquired about this motor cycle the police didn’t inform her about the custody of this motor cycle. 

Next day, on 15th December, Cabinet Spokesperson, Minister Keheliya Rambukwella told the media at a Cabinet briefing that ‘Mr. Weeraraj and Mr. Muruganandan have not disappeared, but are there’.

Even though a number of local and international organizations have called for an immediate and impartial investigation into the disappearance of two HRDs, the law enforcement agencies have failed to take any serious action on this matter.  

According to the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances on there are more than 5000 unresolved reported cases of involuntary disappearances in Sri Lanka. In addition local NGOs working on disappearances have reported that they have received around 5000 complaints of disappearances during the recent years.  The media has reported a dozen abductions by unidentified groups during the last few weeks. Politically motivated involuntary disappearances have been part of the Sri Lanka Government’s way of suppressing dissent for decades now.

The disappearance of the two human rights defenders, Weeraraj amd Kugan,    is not only a violation of their right to life but constitute a larger threat to the freedom of association and freedom of expression in Sri Lanka.  Moreover this incident shows that there are forces within Sri Lanka that will not allow any genuine investigation into crimes against humanity that have taken place during the last phase of the war. 

In this context that NfR holds the government of Sri Lanka responsible for the disappearance of both these HRDs and call for an independent investigation into this incident in particular and the other incidents of disappearances in general.  Failure to do so would inevitably lead to the conclusion that  such incidents have occurred at the hands of agents of the State against whom the government does not wish to take action.

Briefing Document: Sri Lanka: Freedom of Expression issues – November 2011

Freedom of the press remains one of the major issues in post warSri Lanka. During the final phase of the war (2006 – 2009) between the government ofSri Lanka(GoSL) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) themediainSri Lankawas censored and suppressed to an unprecedented level. Although killings and abductions ofmediapersonal have not been reported in the past year there has been no improvement inmediafreedom.  Assaults, threats and other acts of intimidation againstmediainstitutions andmediapersonnel continue, often forcing themediato exercise self-censorship.  Ownership and control of themediais in the hands of the state or in the hands of private owners who are controlled to a large extent by the state through granting or denying advertising and other privileges as well as through intimidation.

 Impunity remains one of the major issues related to press freedom inSri Lanka.

 Since 2OO6 nearly 40 mediaworkers and journalists have been killed. (Free Media Movement publication – Freedom of expression Killings of Sri Lanka 1981- 2010) 5media institutions have been subject to arson attacks Dozens of journalists were assaulted. Up to date none of these crimes have been investigated to a completion. In high profile cases like the killing of ‘Sunday Leader’editor Lasantha Wickrematunge (January 2009) and Tamil neteditor Daramrathman Sivaram (April 2005), the GoSL entrusted a number of police teams with the investigations with promises of bringing the culprits to book. The arson attacks on MTV network (January 2009) and Lanka e Newsoffice (Feb 2011) were attributed to the opposition and underworld by the GoSL but no investigation has been carried out.  The case of abduction and torture of journalist and trade unionist Poddala Jayantha (June 2009) has been closed by the police without any break through.

Media persons still do not have openand free access to re-settled IDPs and former war zone. TheNorthern provinceremains highly militarized, and members of the Tamilmediaand journalists working in those areas face a much more difficult situation. 

 Reported recent incidents of press freedom violations:

 November 2011: Minister threatened journalist to find coffins

Speaking at a public meeting on 20th Nov 2011 Minister Mervyn Silva warned journalists, whom he claimed were insulting the president and other important persons, to book coffins for themselves immediately.  He said that he was finding the addresses of such journalists. Minster Silva is notorious for taking law on to his hands  and he has led number of attacks againstmedia and journalists on number of occasions.

http://www.srilankabrief.org/2011/11/mervyn-warns-journalists-to-book.html    

 

  1. November 2011: Internet censorship – web sites banned

GoSL internet service provider Telecom, which covered more than 80% internet connections in the country,  blocked at least six websites without any prior warning. Secretary to Media Ministry admitted websites have been blocked as they violate laws but did not specified  which news item of what date violated which law, and no charges have been filed for violating of any such laws. The selection of sites to block was arbitrary and the news web site of the opposition United National Party (UNP) was among them. Although some blocked sites have immediately complied with the registration requirements as ordered by the GoSL registration process has not yet finalised.

https://nfrsrilanka.wordpress.com/2011/11/09/sri-lanka-the-internet-remaining-space-for-free-expression-under-attack/

 

  • The web sites blocked by the GoSL used to publish critical news and views to various extents. Pro government and news websites operate feely without any hindrance.

 

  • One of the sites blocked is www.srilankamirror.com  provides a clear example for this arbitrary censorship.  The web site has been operating from 29th October 2010. The Web Site has between 25,000 to 30,000 visits per day according to Google Analytics the website has applied for registration and accreditation in July 2011. But no response was received.

 

  • If this registration rule is going to be applied to all News Websites which have aSri Lankafocus hundreds of Tamil news sites operating from outside the country will not be accessible inSri Lanka.

 

  1. November, 2011:Death threat

Editor Sunday Leader Federica Janz was threatened with death over her evidence against former army commander in the ‘ White flag’ case in a hand written letter send to her.

http://en.rsf.org/sri-lanka-death-threats-against-newspaper-02-11-2011,41321.html

 

  1. 08 November, 2011: Web site banned by court order

The Nugegoda court Magistrate issued a directive to the Telecommunication Regulatory Commission Chairman ordering him  to block the website critical towards GoSL, the www.lankaenews.com  until further notice.

https://nfrsrilanka.wordpress.com/2011/10/27/sri-lanka-blocking-lanka-e-news-an-indication-of-the-regime%e2%80%99s-fear-of-an-informed-citizenry/

 

 

  1. 5.       November 2011: Sri Lankan delegation’s misleading of the UN Committee Against Torture through falsehoods against serious cases involving media personnel

Former Attorney General and presently legal senior adviser to the Cabinet Mr. Mohan Peiris told members of the UN Committee against Torture on 9th Nov 2011 (1.43.48 @  http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/18408192 ) that the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) hasinformation that disappeared journalist Eknaligoda has taken asylum in a foreign country and the GoSL is reasonably certain of thisinformation. However, the Government had failed to provide thisinformation to the Police, National Human Rights Commission which are investigating the case and neither has been thisinformation submitted to the High Court orMagistrate Court, where there are ongoing cases re. the disappearance of Ekneligoda. The Government has todate not providedinformation about this to Ekneligoda’s wife who has been appealing to the government on numerous occasions to provide updates on the progress of the investigations. In written response to list of issues raised by the CAT, the government claimed that the investigation to serious assault on journalist Poddala Jayantha in 2009 was stopped based on statement given by Mr. Jayantha (page 44, response to question 27 section (b). Mr. Jayantha had denied that he ever made a statement requesting investigations to be stopped and demands that investigations continue and pledges his full cooperation towards investigations. The Sri Lankan government also claimed that senior journalist J. S. Tissainayagam had expressed remorse for what he did and that his complicity in what he did was confirmed by a letter to the President.

(http://www.unog.ch/80256EDD006B9C2E/%28httpNewsByYear_en%29/1F966E56167CB176C1257943004E8147?OpenDocument ) Tissainayagam had subsequently denied this and published the alleged letter which clearly shows that he had not expressed remorse for any crime. (http://www.thesundayleader.lk/2011/11/20/tissa-denies-mohan%E2%80%99s-claims/)

 

  1. October 2011; Assault of students

TwoJaffnaUniversitystudents, S. Thavapalasingam and R. Kavidas were assaulted by unidentified assailants. It is widely believed that they we assaulted because of their critical opinions regarding  GoSL behavior towards Tamil people. No investigation has been carried on both assaults.

https://nfrsrilanka.wordpress.com/2011/10/17/sri-lanka-intimidation-of-dissent-continues-student-leader-assaulted-in-jaffna/

 

  1. October, 2011:Death threat to media owner

President, TNL TV/Radio net work Sahan Wickremasinghe was threatened with death over his remark on the links between ‘black’ money and politics.

https://sunandadeshapriya.wordpress.com/2011/10/30/network-chairman-general-manager-receive-death-threats-fmm/

 

 

  1. September 2011: Use of state media attack journalists and HRDs

Media owned, controlled and sympathetic to the government is being constantly used to attack HRDs and independent journalists. In September 2011, a number of print and web mediamade totally false allegations against the former Convener of the Free Media Movement and well know mediaactivist and HRD Sunanda Deshapriya, falsely claiming that the Maldivian President had asked Mr. Deshapriya not to act against the country during a panel discussion organized by the Government of Sri Lanka in Geneva. http://www.srilankabrief.org/2011/10/ifj-writes-to-president-nasheed-on.html 

In September – October 2011, “Rivira” a Sinhalese language weekend paper sympathetic to the Government ran a series of articles against the NGO “Companions on a Journey” which promotes equal rights for people with all sexual orientations, projecting homosexuality and homosexuals as despicable and saying that “we are repelled at not only gay relationships, but even at talking to a gay person” and saying “Yes, we loath homosexuals. We cannot tolerate those Thuppahi (a derogatory Sinhalese term) communities. We despise such despicable sexual habits. We stand strongly against them”

 

  1. July 2011: Threat to Chairman, media institute

On 19 July 2011 President Mahinda Rajapaksha had called the chairman of The Sunday Leader, Lal Wickrematunge and yelled at him. The President threatened him saying, “You are writing lies, outrageous lies! You can attack me politically, but if you attack me personally, I will know how to attack you personally too.

https://nfrsrilanka.wordpress.com/2011/08/06/sri-lanka-media-owner-threatened-editor-severely-assaulted-correspondents-harassed/

 

  1. July 2011: Assault of Jaffna editor

Mr. Gnanasundaram Kuganathan, News editorof Jaffnabased Tamil dailyUthayan was assaulted mercilessly on 29th July 2011 on his way to home after work. His survival was a miracle according to him as the attackers intended to kill him. He said that he can identify the attackers. The President of GoSL immediately ordered Inspector General of Police to submit an investigation report with which the IGP duly complied.  The report has not been made public so far. Instead GoSL announced that the assault was a personal vendetta and arrests have been made.  So far no case has been filed. Mr. Kuganathan, who literally lived in the news paperoffice to save his life during the war time, has now left he country for the fear of more attacks.

https://nfrsrilanka.wordpress.com/2011/08/06/sri-lanka-media-owner-threatened-editor-severely-assaulted-correspondents-harassed/

 

 

 

Major drawbacks on full implementation of people’s right toinformation/freedom of expression rights follows:

 

  • There is no Right to Information. GoSL has stated that there is no need for a Right to Information Act inSri Lanka.

 

  • There is no public servicesmedia. The governing party keeps a iron grip on state owned TV networks, Radio networks and print and webmedia. Media monitoring reports have systematically  shown that the State controlledmediais the most biased massmediainSri Lanka.

 

  • There is no openand transparent mechanism for obtaining TV/Radio licenses and this situation has led to cronyism in electronicmedialandscape.  

 

  • Private sectormediaowners do not respect the trade union rights ofmediaemployees.

 

  • Journalists inSri Lankaare the most poorly paid, and there is no recognized professional training available at the university level.

 

Measures needed to improve the press freedom situation in Sri Lanka:

 

Short term:

  • End impunity; Investigate killings and attacks on journalists/mediaworkers
  • End intimidations and harassment on dissenting voices in themediafield.
  • Remove all censorship mechanisms including Press Council Act
  • Allowmediaaccess to whole country including resettled areas

 

Long term:

  • Legalize the Right to Information Act (which was approved by the cabinet in December 2004)
  • Transform Statemediain to public servicesmedia
  • Recognize journalists andmediaworkers right to organize in Trade Unions
  • Initiate discussions withmediaorganizations in order to implementmedialaw reform programme set out in the Colombo Declaration on Media Freedom and Social           Responsibility (1998 and 2008)

Sri Lanka: Assault of Editor Rajpal Abeynayake is an indication of erosion of common decency and lack of respect for free speech

Press release/ 13 Dec 2011

Networking for Rights considers the recent assault of lawyer and Editor of Lakbimanews, Rajpal Abeynayake and the incidents that led to this unpleasant situation as a further indication of the erosion of common decency and a growing lack of respect for free speech even amongst the professional classes of Sri Lanka.

Abeyanayake has made a statement that he was assaulted by a fellow lawyer at the annual Voetlights dinner of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka on December 3rd. The assault occurred allegedly owing to his comments about former Chief Justice Sarath Nanda Silva, who, while in office was accused of bending the rules, and has of late, become one of the leading lights in calling for democracy and the rule of law in the country.

Abeynayake alleges that his assailant had threatened him with more violence if he spoke again. Organisers of the Voetlights dinner says that Mr Abeynayake had entered the venue without purchasing a ticket and that he had created a disturbance and an unpleasant situation for those who attended the event.

 It is indeed a sad manifestation of a total demise of civil discourse that even at private gatherings society descends to the incivility as also displayed in parliament recently. One would except that professionals would at least respect one another and the freedom to express opinions. Resorting to violence is not permissible in these situations and should not be condoned.

Networking for Rights calls upon all professionals to band together and to arrest this trend, where violence is used to curb dissent and where free speech is no longer valued.

Issued by the Steering Committee, NfR Sri Lanka