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30/01/2011

One Year since the Disappearance of Journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda on 24th January 2010

The following letter is a plea by Sandhya Ekneligoda, for information regarding her husband Prageeth’s whereabouts.

Dear Friends,

I welcome you on behalf of the wives and children, of journalists in Sri Lanka, who have been abducted, killed or forced to flee the country as a result of their work. These journalists have consistently defended the right to think imaginatively and creatively and the right to appear for truth and justice in Sri Lanka. I welcome you, to a country, where thousands of women and children weep silent tears for a nation of innocent civilians who have been killed or disappeared on account of their ethnicity. Welcome to Sri Lanka. I am the wife of Prageeth Ekneligoda, a journalist, cartoonist and human rights defender who was disappeared on 24th January 2010. He was last seen by colleagues at the Lanka E-News office in Rajagiriya, Colombo at around 8.30 pm. Prageeth never reached home. He has not been seen or heard from since.

Prageeth is an outspoken critic of the present Government. He worked ceaselessly to expose the gross human rights abuses committed against Tamil civilians during the war with the LTTE, including the use of chemical weapons against civilian communities by Government forces. On 27th August 2009, Prageeth was abducted for the first time, by a group of men in a white van. He was held overnight in a military torture chamber, and released the following day based on orders from a ‘higher official’. Despite an obvious threat to his life, Prageeth continued to publish scathing attacks against the current regime, including the President and several key Members of Parliament. In the run up to the January 2010 Presidential Election, Prageeth was openly critical of the brutal suppression of dissent and media freedom by the present Government. On 24th January 2010, two days prior to the election, Prageeth was disappeared while on his way home from work. Prageeth has a serious diabetic condition and requires two insulin injections a day. He is also a heart patient and requires daily medication following an open heart, bypass surgery. All attempts to trace him have failed so far.

I have lodged several complaints with the local police and the Inspector General of Police regarding Prageeth’s disappearance. I also complained to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) regarding his disappearance. To date there is no progress by the police or the NHRC which indicates a credible inquiry into Prageeth’s disappearance. A Habeas Corpus Application demanding details of Prageeth’s whereabouts was filed in the Court of Appeal but proceedings have been repeatedly postponed due to non-cooperation by the State.

I have also submitted letters pleading for information on Prageeth to the Attorney General of Sri Lanka, the Presidential Secretariat and key Government and Opposition figures. Details of the case have been sent to the U.N. Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances and the UN Panel of Experts on Sri Lanka. This Government’s consistent refusal to investigate Prageeth’s disappearance or provide information regarding his whereabouts, has led me to believe that the Government or its agents are complicit in my husband’s disappearance. Since I have been unable to obtain any redress or information from the Government, I have been compelled to submit the matter to the U.N. Secretary General through his representative in Sri Lanka, seeking his intervention in this case.

Prageeth is the father of two sons, Sanjaya and Harith, aged 13 and 16 respectively. Both children have been severely traumatized by their father’s disappearance and still live in anticipation of his return, even though one year has passed, with no information of his whereabouts.

My appeal to you is that upon returning to your home country, you take steps through your organizations and networks to persuade your Government, to relentlessly raise questions regarding my husband’s disappearance with the Sri Lankan Government. I appeal also, that you intervene in any manner possible, to help me and my children to obtain information regarding Prageeth’s whereabouts or to secure his release.

My only hope is to hear the voices of my sons calling ‘thatha’ (father) in the presence of a living Prageeth.

Thank you,
Sandhya Ekneligoda

Email - prageethranjan@yahoo.com

29/01/2011

The anniversary of Prageeth's disappearance and the Galle Arts Festival

The following article was written by Basil Fernando - a Sri Lankan Poet, Director of the Asian Human Rights Commission and Adviser to the SLC

Prageeth Eknaligoda's wife and a small group of faithful supporters met representatives of the United Nations yesterday on the occasion of the first anniversary of Prageeth's disappearance. That the family had to meet representatives of the United Nations and not representatives of the Sri Lankan state is symbolic. It is after any hope has been lost of a genuine inquiry into Prageeth's disappearance that the family had to resort to the United Nations to seek its help. The nation itself was little concerned about this disappearance. The people of Sri Lanka have become accustomed to such tragedies. Such is the psychological conditioning of the nation. Powerlessness before cruelty is the condition in which the citizen lives his or her life.

Meanwhile an Arts Festival is being celebrated in Galle. Some may say that the two events, the disappearance and the festival have no connection. And many will treat the situation as having no connection. That too reflects the mentalities that have grown in the midst of repression and violence that affects the nation. In such circumstances life and art are disconnected. The so-called arts try to be oblivious to the actual realities of life and try to create a festival even when the people are facing the funeral of the freedoms. Such disconnectedness is again the condition under which the people live in Sri Lanka.

Under such circumstances the controversy that has arisen about some prominent international writers boycotting the festival is quite interesting. What is there to be surprised about in such a boycott? However, some are irritated about the boycott as if people in other lands are under some kind of obligation to come and participate in this so-called festival. Even the freedom of people to chose as to whether they want to attend or not is little understood. The state ideology supported by some appears to be that the festival must go on and that everyone should come and participate. That kind of mentality is also symbolic of the kind of delinkage between the actual realities and the so-called festivities that are created artificially under the conditions of repression.

Hypocrisy and creativity

The eternal theme of creative art is the contradiction between hypocrisy and the genuine capacity to reflect, to speak out and to depict the human condition. The greatest obstacle to Sri Lankan creativity and the creative arts is the deep seated hypocrisies that prevail within the nation, particularly among the more articulate and sophisticated sections of society. The desire to portray a great civilisation deeply contributes to this hypocrisy. To deal with the sheer cruelties that the state perpetrates on the people which in turn create the cruelties among the people themselves are difficult themes for the local mind to deal with. To those who wish to deal with such themes there is no audience. The hue and cry against exaggeration is made against those who try to depict the actual realities of their fellow beings and this of course, includes themselves.

The romanticised concept of nationalism affects even those who are at times, critical of the circumstances under which they live. There is some kind of religious attachment to the idea of the greatness of the nation and the civilisation. In order to preserve this belief it is necessary to deny the actual realities, the actual experiences of people in the real nation as it has been experienced in the lives of the people. This contradiction reflects itself in the various ways by which the creative mind finds various routes of escapism.

It is only the type of creative artists like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn that can really reflect and break the intellectual paralysis that has grown up out of the deep seated hypocrisies of the Sri Lankan nation. Such a person will not be welcome by the sophisticated art elite of Sri Lanka. They all want to say that Sri Lanka is no gulag. By denying the existence of our prisons, our death camps our capacity to cause large scale forced disappearances of our fellow beings; the need to deny the torture that goes on in every police station every day of the year; the cruelties that the teachers perpetrate on young children by way of ill treatment; the hypocrisy that we have in relationship to dealing with the freedoms of women and on matters of sexuality, all these act as barriers to the development of the sensitivity towards the deeper problems that the nation is faced with. In the absence of such sensitivity no worthwhile creative achievements can be made.

So we will worship the Lord of the Flies when the lawless nation is unable to deal with its own problems. We will celebrate the festival of the fools when the nation is in such a deep abyss and wants to keep on believing that there are things to celebrate.

The rest of true development of art will the increase of number of persons to stand in support of the family of Prageeth and the like. When the walls of hypocrisy are broken, the walls of repression will also break. Till then a few will have their fun and festivities, when many weep in silence.

It was these contradictions that I reflected in my poem, written in July 1983, which is reproduced below:
Yet another incident in July 1983

Burying the dead
being an art well developed in our times
(Our psychoanalysts having helped us much
to keep balanced minds whatever
that may mean)
there is no reason really
for this matter to remain so vivid
as if some rare occurrence. I assure you

I am not sentimental, never having
had a break down, as they say.
I am as shy of my emotions
as you are. And I attend to my daily
tasks in a very matter-of-fact way.
Being prudent, too, when a government says:

"Forget!" I act accordingly.
My ability to forget
has never been doubted. I’ve never
had any adverse comments
On that score either. Yet I remember
the way they stopped that car,
the mob. There were four
in that car: a girl, a boy
(between four and five it seemed) and their
parents, I guessed, the man and the woman.
It was in the same way they stopped other cars.
I did not notice any marked
Difference. A few questions
in a gay mood, not to make a mistake
I suppose. Then they proceeded to
action. By then a routine. Pouring
petrol and all that stuff.

Then someone, noticing something odd
as it were, opened the two left side
doors; took away the two children,
crying and resisting as they were moved
away from their parents.
Children’s emotions have sometimes
to be ignored for their own good, he must have
thought. Someone practical
was quick, lighting a match
efficiently. An instant
fire followed, adding one more
to many around. Around
the fire they chattered
of some new adventure. A few
Scattered. What the two inside
felt or thought was no matter.
Peace-loving people were hurrying
towards homes as in a procession

Then, suddenly, the man inside,
breaking open the door, was
out, his shirt already on
fire and hair, too. Then, bending,
Took his two children. Not even
looking around, as if executing a calculated
decision, he resolutely
re-entered the car.
Once inside, he closed the door
Himself I heard the noise

distinctly. Still the ruined car
is there, by the roadside
with other such things. Maybe
the Municipality will remove it
One of these days
to the capital’s
garbage pit. The cleanliness of the capital
receives Authority’s top priority.

-- to see more of his work please see www.basilfernando.net

# # #

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.


International Human Rights Day 2010 - Download our pre-print PDF version of the annual reports here.


-----------------------------

Asian Human Rights Commission
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Hongkong S.A.R.
Tel: +(852) - 2698-6339
Fax: +(852) - 2698-6367

URL: humanrights.asia
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24/01/2011

Boycott Galle Literary Festival?

The Galle Literary Festival will open this week amidst a swirl of international controversy. Reporters without Borders (RSF) along with writers such as Arundati Roy and Noam Chomsky have signed an appeal for a boycott of the festival:

http://www.srilankaguardian.org/2011/01/sri-lanka-galle-literary-festival.html

The Galle Literary Festival takes place every January in the fort city of Galle in South West Sri Lanka (http://www.galleliteraryfestival.com/). 2011 will be its fifth year. Past attendees have included writers from across the globe including Germaine Greer, Ian Rankin and Gillian Slovo. This year, authors attending include the well-known Kurdish rights activist and Nobel Laureate Orman Pamuk, Mann-Booker Prize winner Kiran Desai and Candace Bushnell.

Certain activists and campaigners have argued against the boycott call:

http://groundviews.org/2011/01/20/responding-to-a-facile-appeal-galle-literary-festival-and-the-freedom-of-expression/

This is not because they say that the boycott is unfounded and that Sri Lanka has no human rights issues. On the contrary, these campaigners fully acknowledge the horrendous state of freedom of expression in Sri Lanka and the widespread censorship and harassment faced by artists, writers, and cartoonists along with other critics of the current regime. However, it is argued that the festival brings international attention on Sri Lanka and its government and is a forum to discuss the current state of country. It is also argued that the festival is not state-funded and has worked hard to promote the arts in Sri Lanka and internationally. What is at issue is the right approach to improve media freedom. As the Groundviews article argues, 'If it is the case that the freedom of expression within GLF is absent from mainstream media, then the remedy is surely to not boycott the one instance where it is actually present?'

But for those that have signed the boycott call, there are real questions to be asked about whether such a glittering literary festival should be taking place in Sri Lanka given the appalling human rights situation. The boycott appeal states that writers going to Galle give 'legitimacy to the Sri Lankan government's suppression of free speech by attending a conference that does not in any way push for greater freedom of expression inside that country.' It has been argued that the festival rarely acknowledges or discusses Sri Lanka's huge freedom of expression issues or human rights problems. For example during 2010's Festival, Guantanamo Bay was a debate topic with no mention of Sri Lanka's own parallel situation with terrorist suspects killed or detained without trial.

What is noteworthy about the current media storm is that it is happening at all. The festival has taken place without much agitation through the conflict in 2009 and the post-conflict internment of civilians in 2010. These instances would seem far more obvious flashpoints. Whether writers take up the boycott remains to be seen. Whether a boycott is the right approach in this situation will continue to be debated. But the debate has been a long time coming.

23/01/2011

MR's visit to US - more in it than meets the eye

There is some reason to wonder whether the visit of President Mahinda Rajapaksa to the United States, purportedly for medical reasons, was initiated by US in order to discuss matters regarding Chinese inroads into Sri Lanka and the increase in Chinese maritime supremacy in the Indian Ocean. Bargaining over this matter might have happened preliminary to Rajapaksa's visit and a carrot might have been extended to him in the form of a promise to derail all attempts to establish an international war crimes inquiry and possibly even a guarantee to support the Rajapaksa regime irrespective of its authoritarian nature as long as elections are the formal source of his authority. The fact that Foreign Secretary GL Peiris has joined him for what is supposed to be a private, medically-related visit is noteworthy. At the very least, this line of inquiry should be considered and pursued by journalists and members of the US Congress, in order to determine whether the visit is indeed only the medical trip it has been presented as being. For information on the visit, see:

http://www.tamilwin.com/view.php?22GpXbc2BI34es29202jQMdd2Qjv20F922e4ILLcb3pGG2http://www.tamilwin.com/view.php?22GpXbc2BI34es29202jQMdd2Qjv20F922e4ILLcb3pGG2

22/01/2011

SL death squads and IRB's parallel universe

Immigration and Refugee Board issues a “persuasive decision” stating your life is not in danger just because you are a Tamil who has been sent back to Sri Lanka!

A series of killings, robberies and violence over the last few weeks has been inflicted on Jaffna Tamils and it has all the trappings of the state sponsored death squads which has characterised that country’s slide over the last 40 years into a failed state.

Those killed include a Hindu priest and an education official, with the latter having refused to obey an army order for school children to only sing the national anthem in Sinhala.

Requests by the victims’ families for an urgent investigation of these heinous crimes have been met with the Sri Lankan government’s steadfast denial of its complicity and rather, it has suggested the reporting of these incidents is yet another example of the failed Tamil Tiger apologists to discredit Sri Lanka!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/sinhala/news/story/2011/01/110101_jaffnakilling.shtml

http://www.bbc.co.uk/sinhala/news/story/2010/12/101231_jaffna_abductions.shtml

http://wsws.org/articles/2010/dec2010/slwi-d29.shtml

Yet, it appears the Canadian government’s Immigration and Refugee Board exists in a parallel universe! Their “persuasive decision,” a note aimed at maintaining consistency in IRB rulings, said meaningful changes in Sri Lanka suggest Tamils – particularly young males – won’t be persecuted because of their social group or political opinions.

The policy, which could affect refugee claimants who arrived in Canada aboard the Ocean Lady and MV Sun Sea, is being challenged in court by a lawyer who says it is not legally sound. The note was also criticized by activists, who suggested it could put lives in danger.

The case cited in the new IRB policy involved a 25-year-old Tamil male from Sri Lanka. The claimant told the refugee board that “he has been and will be persecuted by the Sri Lankan army, government officials and paramilitary agents associated with the Sri Lankan government if he returns to Sri Lanka.” The IRB, an independent administrative tribunal, rejected his refugee claim in November. This rejection was cited in the persuasive decision four weeks later.

Daniel McLeod, a Vancouver lawyer who has represented many of the recent Tamil migrants, said the decision appeared to be politically motivated. He accused Ottawa of trying to stymie Tamil refugees at a time when the number of claims is high.

David Poopalapillai, a spokesman for the Canadian Tamil Congress, echoed those concerns and called the persuasive decision a “worrisome development.” He wondered how the IRB could argue the situation in Sri Lanka has improved so greatly since the country’s civil war ended in 2009.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/british-columbia/tamils-likely-safe-from-persecution-in-sri-lanka-refugee-board-says/article1864993/

Meanwhile, as we were about to post this blog entry, on January 19, the latest news of white-van abductions has come in:

“Sri Lanka: Seminary student tortured in white-van, terror-campaign takes new form in Mannaar” http://www.allvoices.com/news/7933146-sri-lanka-seminary-student-tortured-in-whitevan-terrorcampaign-takes-new-form-in-mannaar

A Sri Lanka Campaign advisor has secured independent confirmation of the accuracy of this
report.

20/01/2011

Galle literary festival appeal

Reporters Without Borders
19-01-2011

eng : http://en.rsf.org/sri-lanka-galle-literary-festival-appeal-19-01-2011,39355.html

Reporters Without Borders and Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka (JDS), a network of exiled Sri Lankan journalists, announce the launch of an international appeal already signed by Noam Chomsky, Arundathi Roy, Ken Loach, Antony Loewenstein and Tariq Ali, asking writers and intellectuals to endorse a campaign for more freedom of expression in Sri Lanka.

In a few days, the family and colleagues of political cartoonist Prageeth Ekneligoda will be commemorating the first anniversary of his disappearance. He was kidnapped in the heavily-guarded capital, Colombo, on 24 January 2010, a few hours before the most recent presidential elections. The authorities have never given his wife any information about where he might be and the investigation is in limbo.

At the same time, writers from Asia and all over the world are planning to gather in the southern city of Galle for a literary festival co-sponsored by the country’s leading tourism promotion agencies (http://www.galleliteraryfestival.co...). Reporters Without Borders and JDS find it highly disturbing that literature is being celebrated in this manner in a land where cartoonists, journalists, writers and dissident voices are so often victimized by the current government. The signatories of this appeal ask them to consider this grave situation before deciding to go to the Galle Festival.

Full version of the Galle Appeal

We urge you who have been invited to attend the fifth Galle Literary Festival (26-30 January 2011) to consider Sri Lanka’s appalling human rights record and targeting of journalists. Reporters without Borders said this about Sri Lanka in a recent report: “Murders, physical attacks, kidnappings, threats and censorship continue in Sri Lanka despite the end of the civil war. The most senior government officials, including the defence secretary (the President’s brother), are directly implicated in serious press freedom violations affecting both Tamil and Sinhalese journalists.”

We believe this is not the right time for prominent international writers like you to give legitimacy to the Sri Lankan government’s suppression of free speech by attending a conference that does not in any way push for greater freedom of expression inside that country.

The second anniversary of journalist and cartoonist Prageeth Ekneligoda’s disappearance will be on 24 January 2011, just two days before the Galle Literary Festival begins. He went missing in the capital city after writing a column praising the opposition candidate in the presidential election. The police have failed to conduct a credible investigation into his disappearance. Today, because Prageeth chose to do what you do – express an opinion – his two young sons are without a father.

Another renowned journalist, Lasantha Wickremetunga, was gunned down in the capital on 8 January 2009. Although his murder took place in a high-security area where security forces personnel were manning roadblocks, his killers were allowed to escape. In a chilling editorial published posthumously, Mr. Wickremetunga said: “When I am finally killed, it will be the government who killed me.”

Fourteen journalists have been killed since 2006, three have disappeared, and more than 30 have fled the country. Journalists, writers and performers remaining in the country are constantly threatened, physically attacked or cowed by legislation under which they can be jailed them for up to 20 years simply for what they write.

The stifling of free expression has also had a negative impact on other freedoms in Sri Lanka. For instance, it was because journalists were not permitted to cover the war between the government and rebel LTTE that so many atrocities took place, including alleged war crimes. While mounting evidence of Sri Lanka’s war crimes is being shown around the world, journalists inside the country cannot talk about them or even visit the northern areas because they are afraid that they will disappear or be killed.

It is this environment that you will be legitimizing by your presence.

We ask you in the great tradition of solidarity that binds writers together everywhere, to stand with your brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka who are not allowed to speak out. We ask that by your actions you send a clear message that, unless and until the disappearance of Prageeth is investigated and there is a real improvement in the climate for free expression in Sri Lanka, you cannot celebrate writing and the arts in Galle.

Signatories
Noam Chomsky
Arundathi Roy
Ken Loach
Antony Loewenstein
Tariq Ali
R. Cheran
Dave Rampton


See the campaign "Where is Prageeth?"


Asia-Pacific Desk
Reporters Without Borders
Paris - France
33 1 44 83 84 70
http://en.rsf.org/asia,2.html

19/01/2011

Internet clampdown in Sri Lanka

NfR Press release/ 18 January 2011

Sri Lanka: Websites that criticise the Government to be dealt with

The attention of NfR has been drawn to a conversation that is reported to have taken place at a breakfast meeting hosted by President Mahinda Rajapakse for senior media personnel in Colombo on the 13th of January, 2011.

According to media reports the President has told those who had attended the meeting that a separate unit is investigating the activities of certain websites with a view to ‘take action’ against them.

(http://thenewsmaster.blogspot.com/2011/01/silumina-editor-suggests-president-to.html)

The President's remark was reportedly in response to a suggestion by the Editor of the Silumina Newspaper Mr Karunadasa Sooriyarachchi. Mr Sooriyarachchi is reported to have pointed out to the President that there are websites "attacking the Government, the Country, the President’s family and sometimes his own Institution’ and had asked, “Why measures should not be taken against those websites". Following the President’s response, the Silumina, a State controlled Sinhala weekly, carried a lead story last week titled “Some websites are a threat to national security”.

The President is also reported to have said that the biggest challenge he faces is the media. In a democracy, media is considered to be an asset and not a challenge. Assets are to be cherished and challenges are to be surmounted. The very foundation of democracy hinges on the right to free speech. The publication of news items and articles both favourable and critical of the government, are very much part and parcel of that freedom.

It may be recalled that many government controlled media outlets have on earlier occasions too, labeled some journalists as "traitors". These malicious allegations resulted in many journalists being abducted, assaulted, jailed or murdered as in the case of the editor of the Sunday Leader, Lasantha Wickrematunga.

It is also disconcerting to note that the President is reported to have chosen to malign the Tamil newspapers by alleging that "Tamil newspapers are still partial to the LTTE and are supportive of the LTTE sympathizers and their actions". If this report of the President's allegation is true, then the free hand given to the Sinhala and other media outlets which continue to publish mischievous news items against those whom they see as traitors, needs to be questioned. In fact, to build a united Sri Lanka all media institutions should be treated equally. NfR is deeply concerned of the President's remarks in this regard.

With the conventional print and electronic media in Sri Lanka shackled by various coercive methods, both legal and illegal, websites provide an alternative space for reporting news, critical of the government or otherwise, and is an essential adjunct to free speech in Sri Lanka.

The free exchange of ideas on the internet, is given much importance in many countries other than in the most repressive of regimes such as China and Iran. It is a matter of concern that Sri Lanka too, is now heading in that direction.

Issued by
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)

C/O, 19447, Victory Blvd,#2, Reseda,CA 91335, USA
NfR.SriLanka@gmail.com
visit our site: http://nfrsrilanka.blogspot.com/

15/01/2011

50,000 army deserters, trained to be violent, some with weapons, at large in Sri Lanka

The following article was published in the Sunday Leader - it has been republished below

It is now officially announced by the Military Spokesman, Ubhaya Medawela, the defence establishment has 50,000 army deserters on its hands, to deal with. The amnesty period for voluntary surrender over, they remain to be tracked down, arrested and prosecuted, according to the military spokesman, as quoted by AFP. There is no significant change in the pattern of desertions, even after the war is over, he has further confirmed.

What is 50,000 army men for the military? It is around 25 per cent of the total strength of the military, that fought the war. It means, one quarter of the military has deserted their positions and or stations. It also implies, desertions will not come to an end that fast, or any sooner.

What is 50,000 army men on the prowl, for society? It is 50,000 men trained in using a variety of assault weapons, trained in armed combat, used to a brutal war that saw an abundance of human blood and mutilated bodies. It is 50,000 frustrated men, probably with arms in hand or access to arms, ready to commit any crime for their own personal or group needs and existence.
Proof of it is in the rising crime rate and involvement of army deserters in crimes. A week ago, police had a running battle with an armed gang in Kegalle, that ended with six gangsters killed and four of them identified as army deserters. There had been reports of deserters committing rape, robbery and murder, in the past. There had been reports of suicide as well. With 50,000 such men used to guns and blood on the free, can a regime seeping in corruption and accused of war crimes, afford to track down deserters, arrest and prosecute them as told by the Military Spokesman?

Already there are video clips and photos with gory scenes of crimes committed, running on YouTube that raises more voices for war crime investigations. Some claim the “clips” have been from military persons. Will a crackdown on deserters provoke more “leaks”? Will this regime risk more accusations? That looks too hot and risky, for this regime to handle the deserter issue.
Added, the latest media reports reveal the biggest “rackets” happen with police and political connections in town, and at the top. The Liberty Plaza raid on “Madam G’s” luxury sex service apartment had exposed, according to the media, that it had thrived with patronage from top police personnel and politicians. Reports said, there were understandings that any who interfered, would have transfers to remote stations. That in fact, is an accidental exposure and what goes without any, is far more seriously corrupt and complicated for society to live with.

Corruption and crime are not two different vices in any society. They live and grow together and this regime is ample proof, despite its heavily publicised puritanical statements on tobacco and alcoholism, pornography, child abuse and drugs. Often, high moral publicity is a forerunner to the dirtiest of all vices. Often restrictions and raids lead to and nourish crimes all round. That in fact is what an “Al Capone” regime is about.
It is rather weird though interesting to note that the rise and crowning of Al Capone as the gangster lord of American history has a “Prohibition” law under the most infamous “18th Amendment” to the American Constitution that banned manufacture, transport and sale of alcohol in the US from 1919 to 1933. A law that gave Al Capone an eminently luxury life, Marilyn Bardsley had this to write about.

“There had never been an outlaw quite like Al Capone. He was elegant, high-class, the berries. He was remarkably brazen, continuing to live among the swells in Miami and to proclaim love for his family. Nor did he project the image of a misfit or a loner, he played the part of a self-made millionaire who could show those Wall Street big shots a thing or two about doing business in America. No one was indifferent to Capone; everyone had an opinion about him…” (Al Capone / p – 18)
Life in Chicago that gave Al Capone his self made millionaire life was all about bootlegging, gambling, prostitution and contract killing during the “Prohibition” period. That life was also about recruiting police officers, judges, legislators and politicians for all things illegal. That was most evident at funerals, as written by Laurence Bergreen, the biographer and historian of repute. [quote]…..the last rites became a gaudy demonstration more appropriate to…a powerful political figure or popular entertainer…an event that priests and police captains alike attended to pay their last respects to the sort of man they were supposed to condemn. Colosimo was universally recognised as Chicago’s premier pimp, yet his honorary pall bearers included three judges, a congressman, an assistant state attorney, and no less than nine Chicago aldermen.[unquote]

This society we live in, is no less different. Its an Al Capone society. Puritanical at its best in political rhetoric and vulgar to the core, in corrupt existence. With that, will the deserters be brought to book, or will they become part of the system that would keep them safer and richer? It would be both, for sure. There will be cases of arrests and legal proceedings initiated. That would feed the public palate, with well garnished news by the media. That’s also the puritanical side of Rajapaksa politics. The fuel on which they keep the regime running.

From what the military spokesman had said, punishment would be decided on their past record. The records of deserters. There would thus be pardons given and re inductions possible. There would certainly be many unknown and unheard of cases of deserter “absorption” for personal security of especially Sinhala Al Capones, also. Those needed to run the system as an arms twisting, muscled regime that silences all critical and dissenting voices. That would be “prohibition” politics of the regime.
Will such politics be challenged any where? In parliament? Seriously never. The parliament, the “left” and the “right” sides of the Speaker have enough corrupt members, who are accused of even selling their duty free vehicle permits to dealers. There are enough rough and rowdy members, who only know to twist and squeeze the opposition members physically, but never to debate and discuss. The Chief Government Whip proved he is only a Mariyakadey product, even in parliamentary debate.
The opposition would take another 120 days to have their leadership selected, after agreeing on a reformed party constitution, at the convention just held. They are never serious and would not know what they would do, even after they decide on the leadership as declared at media briefings.

Will there be any escape from this politics? That seems the only unanswerable question, for now. Although the in-flight SriLankan Airlines magazine Serendib is all glamour and glory about a regime that’s racing with development projects towards an Asian Wonder, official numbers say 300 of the 600 odd projects are well behind schedule. Only 54 per cent has been disbursed till the end of the third quarter of year 2010. What these projects are and how effective they are in terms of necessary development, is better left without questions.

This certainly is not real life in Sri Lanka. This certainly is not unknown beyond our shores. I met a World Bank consultant on a flight to Colombo a few days ago, who was to meet Sri Lankan officials on development projects. The talk obviously shifted to this regime’s corruption and lapses in implementation. “Why does the World Bank assist corrupt regimes? Does not the WB take up governance issues ?” was a pointed question I posed. And pat came the response. “You choose a decent regime and we would appreciate very much….This is what you chose for us to work, for now.” Thus the merry-go-round goes, complicity, chaos, corruption and all. Where do WE desert to, now?

12/01/2011

Two years after the assassination of Lasantha Wickrematunge

An Article by the Asian Human Rights Commission

Two years after the assassination of Lasantha Wickrematunge -- the failure to investigate caused by the police/political nexus

Basil Fernando

Two years have passed since one of the most infamous assassinations in Sri Lanka in recent times. The editor of the Sunday Leader and an internationally known journalist, Lasantha Wickrematunge, was killed in an attack that occurred in broad daylight. It is reported that the police have submitted around 50 reports at various court hearings regarding this murder but that they have been unable to bring any credible evidence against any of the perpetrators of this murder.

Two questions arise: is this due to the incapacity of the police investigators? Or is it due to the pressures brought on the investigators and those who are in charge of such investigations not to condult credible investigations into this murder? The possibility that the failure is in the capacities of the investigators is a difficult hypothesis to maintain as in the past much more mysterious and intricate crimes have been solved in Sri Lanka. Furthermore, if the question was one of incapacities in terms of expertise or technical difficulties, it is the obligation of the policing department and the police to seek assistance from international agencies as they have done in the past. No attempt was made to get the advice of professional investigators or forensic experts to assist in the investigation of this case. Therefore the possibility of the failure of the investigation on the basis of incapacity can be easily dismissed.

However, the argument for the other alterative, that it was due to political pressure that the investigation does not happen, is very much more plausible. First of all the open allegation by the family members and those who were close to the assassinated Lasantha Wickrematunge is that the assassins were those associated with the political leadership of the government. Lasantha Wickrematunge himself predicted the possibility of his assassination on political grounds. There had been previous attacks on him and his newspaper, which too have never been properly investigated. The previous attacks were indicative of the possibility that the final attack was also made the same persons. The public enemies of Lasantha Wickrematunge on record are also prominent politicians.

It is under these circumstances that the state owed a greater responsibility for providing all resources for to make a proper investigation into this crime. This has not been done and this points a finger at the government.

Today, the fact of the control of the police by the political authorities is no longer a matter of controversy. The collapse of the public authorities in general and the police in particular has been observed and commented upon by almost everyone. Vast documentation exists on this issue.

What sharply comes through this murder is that when the government does not want investigations to be done, the police investigation units no longer have the capacity to carry out any investigations. What happens by way of submitting reports to the courts is mere compliance with the legal obligations. However, the legal obligations relating to carrying out the obligations is not accompanied with the filing of the reports. Filing reports has become an empty exercise and, in fact, an exercise in hypocrisy. The police officers in charge of the investigation have to submit such reports to the courts and, if they are not submitted, then the judges have the right to take such officers to task. To overcome this problem, more reports are submitted claiming that the investigations are being conducted without giving any details of what is actually being done by way of continuing investigations.

In Sri Lanka the judiciary has not adequately challenged the police practice of the submitting of reports being simply a formality and that it is being engaged in compliance with the legal rules in purely hypocritical way. The question of the duty to investigate and the obligations of those engaged in this need to be more clearly spelled out by the judiciary itself, who ultimately have the obligation of conducting the judicial process.

Judicial process relating to murder becomes a pointless exercise if serious and credible investigations are not done. This is not a matter only on this particular case but about the whole issue of serious crimes. If political or other purposes could stand against the officers who conduct investigations into serious crimes, then the system of investigations into murder cannot effectively function.

If investigations into serious murder become a farce it threatens the security of the public. Throughout civilization one of the major concerns has been about how the murders of persons could be stopped. What has been inbuilt in the laws relating to murder and the investigations are the rules that have been developed over centuries in order to stop people killing each other.

If the rule made to stop people killing each other can no longer be implemented in Sri Lanka, that is a societal crisis of the highest nature. It is, in fact, as bad as can be.

Many look into the absence of an investigation into the murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge in a more cynical way, saying that such murders will never be investigated. What the cynics do not realise is that this is not about one man's death but about social obligation to investigate murder.

Can Sri Lanka remain a stable society if the rules relating to murder are so flagrantly abused? This is a question that needs to be reflected upon on the second anniversary of the assassination of Lasantha Wickrematunge, who was an opinion-maker in Sri Lanka.

There is some paralysis in the opinion making process in Sri Lanka, perhaps due to fears generated by murders of similar sort that were not investigated. This has led to the opinion-makers themselves remaining silent on great issues that affect society itself, including in terms of rules relating to murder and other serious crimes.

Added to this is the nationalist sentiment that the investigations into this murder may cause political rifts which may be dangerous to the idea of the nation as it stands now. If one murder were to be properly investigated, then what would happen to many others that are not investigated, which may be of those who were terrorists? The fear that a proper investigation into one murder may lead to others seems to lurk very high as a concern of many persons who don't want such investigations.

Nationalism that does not care about murders of citizens is a serious contradiction in itself. Nationalism is about citizens and their lives. If the lives of the citizens do not matter then how does a nation stand together? The nation is a gathering of individuals. If the death of an individual does not matter then there cannot be a deeper cause for internal divisiveness than that. One individual does not trust that another individual will intervene on his behalf if a catastrophe were to befall him, that they will not defend his right to life. What then is this so-called idea of the nation, a nation that does not care for the lives of the individuals? These are serious questions that arise on this occasion and not to reflect on such issues but merely make some kind of ritual celebration of the second anniversary is itself a farce. If death memorials become a farce, then what else is there in society to create basic societal meanings?

That is the kind of societal crisis that Sri Lanka is facing today. Rule of law is now been reduced to a noon day dream.

# # #

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.



International Human Rights Day 2010 - Download our pre-print PDF version of the annual reports here.


-----------------------------

Asian Human Rights Commission
19/F, Go-Up Commercial Building,
998 Canton Road, Kowloon,
Hongkong S.A.R.
Tel: +(852) - 2698-6339
Fax: +(852) - 2698-6367

URL: http://humanrights.asia/
twitter/youtube/facebook: humanrightsasia

08/01/2011

Appeal for support: Sri Lankan law student's life in danger for whistle-blowing about law college exams:

It is a sad state of affairs when the corruption and repression of state institutions reach all the way down into educational institutions preparing citizens to become lawyers, but such appears to be the case in Sri Lanka. We link below to two items from the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) on the case of a law student at the Sri Lanka Law College. The Law College is a professional school in the English tradition that completes the training of prospective lawyers after they have graduated from university; the Sri Lanka Law College functions under the Council of Legal Education of Sri Lanka (for information on the Sri Lankan professional legal education system, see Sri Lanka Law College. In the case at hand, a law student, Thushara Jayarathne, blew the whistle on a leaked exam, only to be ignored by the University and then threatened by the state. As noted in the first item (a Notice of December 29, 2010, from the AHRC), the student has now gone into hiding: see “SRI LANKA: A whistle-blower who exposed the leakage of a question paper at Sri Lanka Law College forced into hiding”. Matters have, if anything, now worsened and the AHRC is so concerned that it is now treating the matter as an urgent appeal for global solidarity and expressions of concern: see “SRI LANKA: Police refuse to conduct investigation into malpractice during the Sri Lanka Law College exam and threaten the life of the complainant.”

This incident is a microcosm of the state of fear in Sri Lanka as well as both a metaphor for, and an example of, the breakdown of the rule of law in that country: for background, see a paper prepared for the Sri Lanka Campaign entitled “The Breakdown of the Rule of Law in Sri Lanka: An Overview”

The Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice joins with the Asian Human Rights Commission in encouraging individuals and governments to take urgent action. A form for doing so, with a list of addresses for individual letters, can be found on the AHRC appeal page. A sample letter is also found at the foregoing link.

The Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice further encourages administrations and student governments of law schools around the world (whether university-based faculties of law or professional state-run law schools), professional law societies, and associations of law schools to make clear to the Sri Lankan government and the university administration that the act of principle taken by this whistleblower should be welcomed and rewarded rather than serving as a basis for a threat to his security and even very life. Letters of concern and support can be sent to the following:

<<>>

Dr. H J F Silva, Principal,
Sri Lanka Law College,
244 Hulftdorp Street,
Colombo 12, P O Box 1501,
Colombo, Sri Lanka
Email: local@slt.lk

<<>>

Mr. Mahinda Balasuriya
Inspector General of Police
New Secretariat
Colombo 1
SRI LANKA
Fax: +94 11 2 440440 / 327877
E-mail: igp@police.lk

<<>>


Mr. Mohan Peiris
Attorney General
Attorney General's Department
Colombo 12
SRI LANKA
Fax: +94 11 2 436421
E-mail: ag@attorneygeneral.gov.lk

<<>>

Secretary
National Police Commission
3rd Floor, Rotunda Towers
109 Galle Road
Colombo 03
SRI LANKA
Tel: +94 11 2 395310
Fax: +94 11 2 395867
E-mail: npcgen@sltnet.lk or polcom@sltnet.lk

<<>>

Secretary
Human Rights Commission
No. 36, Kynsey Road
Colombo 8
SRI LANKA
Tel: +94 11 2 694 925 / 673 806
Fax: +94 11 2 694 924 / 696 470
E-mail: sechrc@sltnet.lk

<<>>

Mahinda Rajapaksa
President of Sri Lanka
'Temple Trees'
Colombo 3
Sri Lanka

Please then alert the Asian Human Rights Commission of the nature of the action you have taken in support by using the web email form at http://www.humanrights.asia/contact-us

06/01/2011

Senior judge speaks out about how the constitution now blocks peace and reconciliation

" My submission to him was that Presidential power under the proposed constitution was so great as to place democratic principles in danger. I also submitted that even if he himself would not misuse his powers, he had created a dangerous concentration of Presidential power with serious implications for the future. I was not successful in convincing Mr. Jayewardene that he should desist from this course "

These are the words of Judge Weeramantry formerly a Justice of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka from 1967 to 1972. He was also a Judge of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) from 1991 to 2000 and was Vice-President there from 1997 to 2000. Judge Weeramantry serves on the Legal and Human Rights Advisory Board of the Genetics Policy Institute. He is currently Emeritus Professor at Monash University and the president of the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms.

The following article details Judge Weeramantry's submission to the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation 29th November 2010. The original article can be accessed here.

Trust and Confidence Building

There are many factors to which we should give our attention in this connection, for without confidence and trust that their rights will be upheld and guaranteed without fear or favour, there cannot be contentment and harmony, especially among minorities whose confidence in law and order needs to be built on firm foundations.

To achieve this there are some essential prerequisites among which are:

- A Constitution which shields all citizens from abuse of power and authority and guarantees them against any denial or erosion of their rights;
- The freedom of information and complete transparency, if achieved, can bring stable peace and create a united Sri Lanka which will be a model to the rest of the world;

It goes without saying that the Constitution of a country is the bedrock on which citizens build their sense of security. To build up trust and confidence among the citizens of a country, especially one which is emerging from a long and bitter conflict, it is essential that their rights and liberties be securely guaranteed by the Constitution. That is an essential prerequisite to nation building in the aftermath of conflict.

It so happens that this is a legal topic on which I have worked for over thirty years, especially in the context of countries of the developing world.

My first study of the impact of constitutional structures on equality and freedom was made in 1976 when, on the occasion of the American Bicentennial, the World Congress of Legal Philosophy held a world wide conference on the causes impairing equality and freedom in the three worlds of the time: the Western World, the Communist World and the Third World. I was asked to make the presentation for the Third World and for this purpose I needed to study the constitutional structures in many Third World countries. What emerged was that in many of these countries their constitutional structures were such as to permit the growth of authoritarianism with a resulting denigration of basic rights and liberties. Among the countries whose constitutions I studied, for the purpose of examining the reasons for the growth of authoritarianism, were Ghana, Lesotho, Tanzania, Kenya, Chile, Venezuela, Indonesia, Pakistan and the Philippines;

This study necessitated an examination of the weaknesses and gaps in constitutional structures through which authoritarian power denigrating human rights, equality and freedom could grow, free of restraints, checks and balances, which the constitution should impose. In 1976 I expanded on those studies in ‘Equality and Freedom: Some Third World Perspectives’, giving details of weaknesses in the constitutional structures of many countries. This necessitated a wide ranging inquiry at both the theoretical and practical level into the- principles, concepts and structures, essential to a Constitution if it is to guarantee the equality and freedom of every citizen. In 1978 when President Jayewardene sought to introduce the Presidential system, I realized, in the light of these studies, that the proposed constitutional structure opened up possibilities for authoritarian rule through a violation of the principle of separation of powers and a departure from the basic tenets which had thus far protected the liberty of the subject in Sri Lanka. I was then in Australia and I requested a meeting with him to discuss this matter, which he kindly granted me. I came from Australia for this meeting and in a long interview sought to persuade him not to pursue this course. My submission to him was that Presidential power under the proposed constitution was so great as to place democratic principles in danger. I also submitted that even if he himself would not misuse his powers, he had created a dangerous concentration of Presidential power with serious implications for the future. I was not successful in convincing Mr. Jayewardene that he should desist from this course.

In light of my study of the growth of authoritarian power in many other countries, I had my fears that this could lead to an erosion of the rule of law in contradiction of the principles we had been accustomed to since independence. I believe many instances of this surfaced from time to time, especially through the weakening of the traditional independence of the administrative service. In February 1984 when I was a Visiting Professor at the University of Florida, when the separatist problem had reached acute proportions, I wrote from Florida to President Jayewardene suggesting the implementation of a number of principles, among which were that:

- No denial of fundamental human rights is to be without appropriate and easily accessible remedies under the law;
- For this purpose, an entire range of human rights procedures and instrumentalities will be set up, in light of the latest international knowledge and experience;
- All personnel administering the human rights machinery of the state will be completely independent in the discharge of their duties.

I believe it was the Presidential system that stood in the way of the proper implementation of these proposals. Since these steps did not take place, Presidential power continued to be exercised for 5 years on the basis of the Presidential Constitution. Without the checks and balances that would have resulted from the implementation of the proposals referred to I believe that many denials of justice and violations of human rights occurred thereafter, which were a direct result of the continuation of the Presidential system.

In 2005 on the eve of the Presidential Elections I saw the need for a candid assessment of our national weaknesses and national institutions and wrote A Call for National Reawakening, listing a number of these. Among the institutional reforms which I urged was the abolition of the Presidential system, giving a number of reasons why this needed to be done. Among the reasons given were the lack of adequate checks and balances, the possibility of abuse of power and the possibility of personality clashes if the Prime Minister and President came from opposite parties. Around the same time I was greatly reassured to note that the Mahinda Chintana of 2005 promised the drafting of a new Constitution with a promise also of the appointment of a Constitution Redrafting Commission, a Referendum on its proposals and immediate steps to implement such new Constitution.

The excessive use of power, in denial of democratic rights, which I anticipated even in 1976 when I first studied this question received strong confirmation in the Mahinda Chinthana of 2010 which said that while the present President had been particular1y careful when exercising the powers of the “Executive Presidency”, the Executive Presidency had in the past been used “to postpone elections, to topple elected governments, to disrupt the judiciary, to ban political parties, to suppress demonstrations and lead the country towards a violent culture, to sell state institutions at under-valued prices, to defend criminals and to grant concessions to unscrupulous businessmen. Agreements that betrayed the country were entered into using the powers of the Executive Presidency’.”

This categorical statement was a very strong indictment of the Presidential system, coming as it did from the President himself, with access to all the sources of information. Indeed this Presidential statement confirmed the worst fears I had entertained, when the Presidential system was conceived, of possible abuses of Presidential power. If Presidential power was capable of being used to disrupt the judiciary, to ban political parties and to betray the country, the fundamental principles of democracy were in danger and this was the strongest possible reason for subjecting it to the necessary checks and balances.

It is true President Rajapaksa gave a categorical assurance that he himself would convert the Executive Presidency into a Trusteeship, which honours the mandate given to Parliament by being accountable to Parliament, establishing equality before the law, being accountable to the judiciary and not being in conflict with the judiciary. Trusteeship is indeed a noble concept and such an assurance by His Excellency’ the President is most honourable and welcome. Yet it still is personal to him and does not have the force of law, however noble the intention behind it. Nor does it bind any future holder of the office.

Each of the preceding items can be elaborated on at length and I only point out here that this is an aspect which assumes prime importance in the context of reconciliation and rehabilitation.

A constitution entrenching power that can be abused by other office holders in the manner described in the Mahinda Chinthana 2010 is not an institutional measure promoting confidence and reconciliation.

Since this is an institutional, administrative and legislative field which has such deep implications for the future of a united Sri Lanka living in harmony, peace and equality under the protect of the law, I trust the Commission will give it careful and considered attention.

04/01/2011

Jaffna faces para-military death squads AND military occupation

A Statement from Networking for Rights Sri Lanka forwarded by the Asian Human Rights Commission

SRI LANKA: The re-immergence of fear psychosis the Jaffna District

NfR expresses its serious concern about the deterioration of the law and order situation in the Northern Districts of Sri Lanka. The series of killings that have taken place during the last few weeks in the Jaffna Peninsula raises the question whether death squads have been reactivated in the Jaffna Peninsula. The latest in the series of killings is the cold blooded murder of 28 year old Ketheeswaran Thevarajah of Jaffna on 31st December 2010. This is the fifth such killing that has taken place in Jaffna within last two weeks. None of these killings have been seriously investigated or resolved, so far.

According to reports appearing in the news media Thevarajah, who was a postal worker in Vadamaraadchi, Jaffna, had been shot by armed men who entered the house where he was staying that night. He had later succumbed to the gun shot injuries.

There has been no other apparent reason for this killing of a civic conscious activist. Some news media has reported that the killers had asked him to open his page on the face book and shot him at point blank range.

Mr. Thevarajah, had posted photographs on his face book on the environmental damage caused by sand excavation in his village. According to news reports, he had provided reports to Jaffna media on the same issue. Looking at this matter in that context, it is obvious that this killing is also another in the series of killings to restrict the 'freedom of expression' in Sri Lanka.

Excavation of sand illegally from sand dunes in the Jaffna district by politically powerful persons had become a public issue recently. A few months ago there had been public protests over this matter. People alleged that a pro-government para military force of a political party is responsible for the illegal excavation of sand in the area.

Whatever the reason may be, it is clear that the killers were from an organized gang and were able to get away without any problems, after the shooting. The killing of Mr. Thevarajah, taken together with the other recent murders in that region, raises the question whether the much feared death squads are being reactivated in Jaffna to stifle dissenting civil voices and tightening the government's control of the population of that area. Putting the blame on unknown persons as being responsible for such incidents cannot be accepted taking into consideration the fact that the Jaffna Peninsular is strictly under the control of the military. It appears that Jaffna is already engulfed in an evolving fear psychosis similar to what was in vogue during the infamous 'period of terror' (the beeshana samaya) in the South from about the middle of 1985 to 1995, when thousands Sinhala youth were abducted, killed or had disappeared under identical circumstances. This raises the second questi on, whether the creation of a fear psychosis has become the government's strategy to keep the Tamil people under tight political control?

NfR would like to emphasize that such a strategy is bound to fail. We urge the government of Sri Lanka which has the Northern and Eastern Provinces firmly under its control, to take immediate steps to reassure the safety and security of the people living in those areas and restore the rule of law.

Issued by
Steering Committee, NfR Sri Lanka


# # #

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

01/01/2011

With media self censorship now effective, govt sponsored violence against journalists decreases

RSF have released a new statement on censorship in Sri Lanka. The full article has been republished below.

http://en.rsf.org/sri-lanka-less-anti-media-violence-in-2010-30-12-2010,39197.html

Reporters Without Borders condemns the new forms of censorship and obstruction being used by government to prevent diverse and freely-reported media coverage of the situation in Sri Lanka. The fall in the number of physical attacks, threats and cases of imprisonment is to be welcomed, but it is worrying that the authorities are blocking the return of real editorial freedom.

At the same time, the flight of at least 55 Sri Lankan journalists, including many press freedom activists, into exile during the past three years has left a void in the country's media.

We hope the authorities will create the conditions for a lasting improvement in press freedom in 2011. This must include solving the murder of The Sunday Leader's well-known editor, Lasantha Wickrematunge, nearly two years ago (http://en.rsf.org/sri-lanka-shock-a…) and political cartoonist Prageeth Ekneligoda's disappearance nearly a year ago (http://en.rsf.org/sri-lanka-where-i…).

The latest incident was today's ban on a visit by 10 Sri Lankan and foreign journalists, including the BBC's correspondent, to a detention camp in Boosa to attend a meeting between prisoners and the government-created Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC). The reporters had previously received permission from the LLRC and the Media Centre for National Security.

Human rights groups say there have been cases of torture and extrajudicial disappearances in the camp, which houses more than 700 suspected former members of the Tamil Tiger rebels.

BBC journalists were already prevented from attended several LLRC interview sessions with the Tamil population in September in Killinochchi, Mullaitivu and elsewhere. The BBC's journalists were, on the other hand, able to cover the commission's work in the north of the island in August. At this time, the Tamil daily Thinakural and the Colombo-based English-language Sunday Times published devastating accounts of cases of forced disappearances of Tamils at the end of the civil war.

As a general rule, the authorities are providing the media with no precise information about the problem of Tamil Tiger prisoners of war. The figures vary from ministry to ministry. And the press has had no access to some detainee camps. Journalists are afraid to cover the issue of war crimes or their editors do not let them.

A Colombo-based media freedom activist said: Several journalists from English and Sinhalese-language media have been allowed to follow the LLRC's work, but their reports do not include the most disturbing accounts of the end of the war. They have to censor themselves on the issue of war crimes.

In another example of self-censorship, few Sri Lankan media reported the recent murder in Jaffna of an education official who had criticised the government's decision to force Tamil children to sing the national anthem in Sinhalese.

One of the few newspapers to cover these stories, The Sunday Leader, is being subjected to various forms of harassment. Its editor, Frederica Jansz, is currently being sued by Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, one of the president's brothers.

In 2010, the main telephone operator, Dialog, refused to transmit critical content of the government by SMS. A Colombo-based journalist said this decision forced several news websites to censor themselves in order to continue having their reports relayed by Dialog. The situation was denounced by JNW News, which provides mobile phone operators with news content.

Cases of violence have not ended altogether. Reporters for the MTV / Sirasa television station and the Lanka-e-News website were recently attacked by ruling party supporters while at Colombo airport to cover the return of the leader of the far-left NSSP party. And four journalists, including a Daily Mirror photographer, were hit by police while covering a student demonstration in the capital in mid-October.