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These blog postings do not necessarily represent the views of all members of the Advisory Council.

31/08/2011

10,000 voices for an international investigation

Since we launched our petition, on May the 1st, calling on the UN to honour their report's recommendations and have in independent international investigation into the alleged war crimes committed in Sri Lanka, we have been overwhelmed by the support we have received.Over 9,000 signatures from over 80 different countries, all in barely four months.

Now a new petition has been launched; not by us, but along lines we firmly approve of, asking for the same thing of the British Government.

This petition is on the British Government's e-petition site, meaning if it receives a certain amount of signatures it will have to be debated by parliament.

So if you are in the UK please sign their petition and urge the British Government to support our call and demand an independent international investigation

And wherever you are in the world please make sure you've signed our petition as we will be writing to the British Prime Minister pointing out that we have over 9,000 people from around the world (over 4,000 of them from the UK) supporting the call for an investigation. Lets see if we can make those numbers bigger!

Between us we have 10,000 voices calling for change, so lets unite together and make sure our voices are heard both internationally and nationally.

Kind regards,

The Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice

PS. Tell your friends! That is how our campaign spread so quickly previously. You can forward them this email, or both petitions have "share" buttons (ours are at the bottom of the page) allowing you to quickly tell your friends using facebook or other sharing sites.

Know of a similar petition in another country? Let us know so we can spread the word.

And if there isn't a similar petition in your country but you'd be interested in starting one, get in touch and we can help.

26/08/2011

Thank you


A warm thank you to all those who took part in Wednesday's online action to draw attention to the disappearance of Prageeth Ekneligoda.

The response has been incredible. People tweeted from all over the world. By noon (GMT) people had tweeted the campaign to over twenty four thousand of their followers. Former Beirut hostage Charles Glass used one of his first ever tweets to promote the campaign and organisations such as English PEN, the South Asia Free Media Association, the Committee to Protect Journalists and the Index on Censorship also joined in. The story has now been picked up by the newspapers.

Of course while the anniversary has passed, the campaign will not end. It is not too late to help #findprageeth. For more on our media freedom campaign click here.

Unfortunately this kind of campaigning is not cheap. We need money to pay for web editors, designers, our website hosting, internet connections and interns. Our campaign simply cannot run without the help of people like you.

You can donate here using our secure paypal page.

To continue to hold the Government of Sri Lanka to account, we rely on the generosity of members of the public - people like you. So for a Sri Lanka Campaign which is not in anybody else's pocket - please dip into your own.

Please make a secure donation now - and help us support Sri Lanka's growing free media movement.

23/08/2011

Help find Prageeth Ekneligoda

"Thanks to social media, the world we live in is getting smaller and smaller—and the more interconnected we are, the harder it will be for human rights violations to go unnoticed” Amnesty International

As part of our media freedom campaign, the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice want answers and we want you to use Twitter to help us get them.

We want to know why the Government of Sri Lanka has failed to investigate the disappearance of a Sri Lankan journalist. On Wednesday it will be 19 months to the day since he disappeared. You can tell the world, and the Sri Lankan government, that he hasn't been forgotten.

Sri Lankan journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda has been missing for over a year and a half. Prageeth was abducted on 24 January 2010 and has not been heard from since. Ekneligoda was an outspoken supporter of Gen. Sarath Fonseka, who ran for the opposition against the government in the 2010 elections. There is still no news of his whereabouts or fate and his abductors are still at large. There has been a distinct lack of a thorough and credible investigation into Prageeth’s disappearance. His wife Sandhya has received almost no response to her repeated requests for information about her husband's fate.

The very fact that his case is known to the United Nations would, in most cases around the world, mean that a high profile investigation would take place. But this is Sri Lanka.

Take action by tweeting this message tomorrow, Wednesday 24th August, (exactly 19 months to the day since Prageeth disappeared)

@newsdotlk where is Prageeth Ekneligoda?’ #findprageeth

With a follow-up tweet

Join me & @SLcampaign & message the GoSL to open an investigation into Prageeth’s disappearance #findprageeth http://bit.ly/nPY5KD

@newsdotlk is the portal for the Government of Sri Lanka's propaganda machine. By tweeting to them we might stir the government of Sri Lanka into action, but much more importantly we can keep Prageeth's search alive and make sure they, and the world, know that we have not forgotten him.

P.S Not on twitter? Not to worry - find out how you can support our media freedom campaign here.

Disclaimer – Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice has specified the example tweets and is not responsible for alternative messages sent by users.

If the GoSL responds to individuals, users are recommended to send them a link to our media briefing: http://www.scribd.com/fullscreen/61158268?access_key=key-1e7ewdsxacr3aew2pvvo


Image thanks to English PEN - why not upload it as a profile picture?

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18/08/2011

A breach of faith

Former Sri Lankan Justice Secretary Nihal Jayawickrama recently wrote a scathing article on the corruption and co-option of the Sri Lankan judiciary. You can access the full article here. This is part of a recent trend of retired Sri Lankan judicial officials finally speaking out against the destruction of Sri Lanka's independent judiciary. Former Chief Justice Sarath N. de Silva also criticized the president while launching his "voices against corruption" website.

We have summarised the key points below:

The decision of the Chief Justice to accept employment as an Adviser to the President barely weeks after his retirement from office raises serious questions not only in terms of his own decision but also the probity of his judicial decisions in politically sensitive cases and the spectre of judicial corruption.

Judicial Corruption: A conventional form of corruption arises though the interaction between the Judiciary and the Executive. For example, the political patronage through which a judge acquires his office, a promotion, an extension of service or even if the Executive were to provide employment or other preferential treatment to an immediate family member. Therefore, a high range of decisions in favour of the executive would raise suspicion that the judge is susceptible to undue influence.

Independence and Accountability: Judicial independence, both individual and institutional, is a pre-requisite to the rule of law and a fundamental guarantee of a fair trial. Credible evidence has surfaced that in many jurisdictions, including Sri Lanka, that judicial independence was being traded for personal gratification or benefit. The United Nations had requested all member states to consider the Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct, based on six core judicial values of Independence, Impartiality, Integrity, Propriety, Equality and Competence and Diligence, when
developing rules for professional and ethical conduct of Judges. As to knowledge, apart from the Sri Lankan judiciary, many countries have either done so or are engaged in doing so.

Post Retirement Employment: The Country has not been informed, whether the post-retirement employment was sought by the Chief Justice himself or was offered to him by the Executive or even whether discussions on post-retired employment took place while the Chief Justice was still in office presiding over politically sensitive cases.

A Sense of Futility: Comments made by the President of the Bar Association and a senior lawyer appear to be typical of the feeling of futility or karmic inevitability. Today, failing standards, or no
standards at all are accepted as “fate” which contrasts with previous times, where unlike now, there was a period where there was respect for a clear distinction between the Executive, Judiciary and the Legislature.

A Judge May Serve The Community: It is not to say that the Chief Justice or a Judge of any other superior courts should not serve the country but if and when a judge decides to serve the Executive branch of government, soon after retirement, will definitely give rise to alarm bells. The country is entitled to know the compelling reasons that led to such an unprecedented step to determine whether or not it is valid and legitimate. The appointment of a judge to a diplomatic position three years ago, without any diplomatic skills, knowledge or experience is believed to have bewildered the establishment of a country in which a clear distinction exists between the Judiciary and the Executive. Statues which require the appointment of a retired judge as a member of a board or commission also will surely create and illegitimate expectation in the minds of judges approaching retirement age.

Should the Judge Serve the Executive?: The public’s perspective of a Judge, to embody and pledge to serve the ideals of justice and truth, and the confidence in the judiciary is found not only in competence and diligence but also in their integrity and moral uprightness. Therefore, the relationship with the Executive branch of government is a litmus test. The decision of the Chief Justice raises questions as to whether he thought of public perception and whether his actions would compromise the independence, integrity and credibility of the courts. Was it not a breach of faith?

13/08/2011

President Rajapaska threatens Lal Wickermatunga

President Mahinda Rajapaska has a track record when it comes to making threatening phone calls. In 2006, as we reported in our media freedom briefing, he telephoned Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickermatunga to yell:

”F**k your mother, you son of a bloody whore! I will finish you! I treated you well all this while. Now I will destroy you. You don’t know who Mahinda Rajapaksa is. You watch what I will do to you!” It turned out Mahinda was angry about an article in the Morning Leader about the first lady which simply didn’t exist. Lasantha’s response was to say “Mahinda, just because you are President, do not talk in that threatening way. We don’t get intimidated by threats. Tell us what it is we are supposed to have written.”

This did not calm the irate President who continued,

“You are not scared! I will show you what it is to be scared. I will rest only once I have destroyed you. You wait and see. You don’t know who Mahinda Rajapaksa is.”

Three years later Lasantha Wickermatunga was tragically murdered on his way to work. His self-penned obituary rates as one of the finest pieces of human rights writing of all time.

Now Rajapaska is at it again. According to this report from the Sri Lanka Guardian:

"According to Sunday Leader, on 19 July 2011 President Mahinda Rajapaksha had called the chairman of The Sunday Leader, Lal Wickrematunge and yelled at him. The president threatened the chairman by 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.”

The reason for the threatening phone call was an exposure by the Sunday Leader that China had given the president and his son, parliamentarian Namal Rajapaksha, US dollars 9 million to be used “at their discretion'' . Within days after the threatening telephone call, posters appeared around the newspaper office with slogans, “Do not lie!” and “The gods will punish you”"

You can read the full story here:
http://www.srilankaguardian.org/2011/08/media-owner-threatened-editor-severely.html

09/08/2011

How to campaign for a free press in Sri Lanka

Dear Friend,

Sri Lanka's media is in crisis. Since 2005, 34 journalists have been murdered, not a single murderer has been sent to prison, and up to 25 journalists a year are fleeing the country. However, our recent media freedom briefing, and action plan give us the opportunity to do something about this terrible state of affairs.

We spoke to many Sri Lankan, (and some non Sri Lankan), media workers, journalists and experts; some of them in Sri Lanka, and some in exile. Together we came up with our action plan, a road map to a freer and more effective Sri Lankan media. Given the Government of Sri Lanka's clear distaste for free speech, the action plan concentrates on things that foreign governments can do to improve the situation.

But foreign governments, including your government, won't help unless they feel that that is what the public want them to do. So we need your help to persuade them that they need to act.

Please help us help Sri Lankan journalists by writing to your local MP or Representative.

We have included a suggested letter or email for you to send them.Some countries have helpful websites like Fax your MP (UK), Write to your Representative (USA), or Find your MP (Canada) so you can easily work out who to write to. Other countries list their MPs on their Parliamentary website, like India. If all else fails, virtually every country has a Presidential website with contact details: here is Tajikistan's. No matter what country you are in these should be someone it is possible for you to lobby on this issue - and we need a global coalition to make a difference. If you are having trouble finding out who to email just ask us and we will let you know.

If you get any responses, please do email them to us at info@srilankacampaign.org. We will be keen to read them and can advise you on a further response should you wish to send one.

So please do send this letter to your local representative today. Our campaign is gaining momentum, with Radio Netherlands covering it yesterday. Media professionals risk their lives on a daily basis to get the truth out of Sri Lanka It is time to give them a helping hand.

Kind regards,

The Sri Lanka Campaign team

PS. Running this kind of campaign is expensive. To help us continue to campaign for Sri Lanka, please donate to our campaign here

Download the letter template here

07/08/2011

Two sides of news reporting from Sri Lanka

Last week saw two contrasting stories, illustrating very different examples of news reporting in Sri Lanka.

Few non- Sri Lankan reporters have ventured into Jaffna in the North of the country, the scene of the bloody 2009 conflict. Two Radio Netherlands investigative journalists visited Jaffna undercover and in July and were threatened and intimated into leaving.

They entered the territory on tourist visas - official journalist visas are not issued without months of government vetting. The journalists, one male and one female, wanted to get a better sense of the reality facing those refugees returning to the war-torn region. Whilst speaking to locals in a restaurant, they were overheard and reported to the police. At midnight of the same evening, ten policemen including the Chief of Police burst into their hotel and interrogated them, intimidating the journalists into abandoning their investigation.

The next morning, as they made their way out of the North, they were followed and robbed at gunpoint by a gang in a white van. The white van has an especially ominous significance in Sri Lanka as a common means of state-sponsored intimidation. Such intimidation has been long been a fact of life for Sri Lankan journalists, but the targeting of Western journalists is a brazen move by the authorities.

Contrasted with this incident was last Tuesday’s BBC report by Charles Hallivand from Jaffna. This was a curious report, focusing on limited rehabilitation in the North. The report did go into some details about the hardships faced by returning refugees, but made little mention of the government’s role. The report only implicitly alluded to the continuing heavy miitarisation of the region.

The BBC was apparently ‘given unconfined, though temporary, access to Killinochi district.’ Given the BBC’s clout and the seismic events that have occurred in the last few months around the alleged war crimes committed by the government, it felt like a real omission that issues around the government’s activity around aid, huge wealth inequality, intimidation and extensive militarization were not discussed. Whether this is because the BBC was there in an official capacity is unclear. The BBC did not report the Radio Netherlands story, despite it making headlines around the world.

The tone of the report, especially the quotation picked for its conclusion, was oddly passive:

‘A refugee is asked if she wants punishment for those responsible for her brother's death."We don't need another war or fight," she says. "We've lost a lot because of the war and it mustn't happen again...” ‘

The only way to ensure that the terrible events of 2009 do not repeat themselves is to seek justice in a genuine war crimes investigation. The foreign media have a real role to play in keeping up the pressure on the Sri Lankan government. They should not be cowed by the government.

05/08/2011

Sri Lanka Campaign launches a media action plan

A week after the launch of our briefing on media freedom the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice has launched an action plan designed to combat the threats to and restrictions on the media in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka Media Freedom Action Plan

The action plan could not be more timely after three recent developments threw the issue into sharp focus:

  1. Last Friday (29 July) a senior Sri Lankan journalist, Gnanasundaram Kuhanathan, the editor of the Jaffna-based 'Uthayan' newspaper was assaulted and beaten with iron bars by a gang of unidentified youths. He is still in a critical condition in hospital.
  2. Last Thursday (28 July) the body of the human rights defender Pattani Razeek was discovered. He had been missing for over 500 days. UN records show 5,653 outstanding "enforced and involuntary disappearances" in Sri Lanka.
  3. The previous Thursday (21 July) Radio Netherlands reported upon how their journalists were subjected to a "white van abduction" during their time in Sri Lanka. The white van has an especially ominous significance in Sri Lanka, as a common means of state sponsored intimidation. There have been 1,700 "white van abductions" in the last two years.

Launching the action plan Edward Mortimer, chair of the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice, said, "34 media workers have been killed in Sri Lanka since 2004, and not one killer has been brought to justice. Our action plan provides a clear strategy for combating this impunity and the systemic intimidation and abuse of journalists in Sri Lanka, and for removing Sri Lanka's climate of fear."

"Many of our suggestions require the Sri Lankan government to act very differently. But, since the government clearly revels in the fact it has successfully cowed most of Sri Lanka’s civil society and media into silence, this will not happen without strong pressure from the international community."

"Therefore, in response to the Government of Sri Lanka's intransigence, the action plan concentrates on things that independent media, foreign governments, and international media organisations can do to improve the situation."

"This action plan was created with the input of Sri Lankan, and some non Sri Lankan, media workers, journalists and experts; some of them in Sri Lanka, some in exile. It represents a road map to a freer and more effective Sri Lankan media. Media professionals risk their lives on a daily basis to get the truth out of Sri Lanka It is time to give them a helping hand.”

The action plan (pdf)

04/08/2011

Sad news from Sri Lanka

We have some sad news from Sri Lanka. You may remember previous blogs about the human rights' defender Pattani Razeek: "Update on the the disappearance of Pattani Razeek" and "500 days since the disappearance of Mr Pattani Razeek".

Now unfortunately friends in Sri Lanka have sent us this update.

Dear friends,

With great sadness, we share that this morning, the police exhumed the remains of the body suspected to be of disappeared friend and colleague, Pattani Razeek, who was the Managing Trustee of Community Trust Fund (CTF) and Executive Committee member of FORUM-ASIA, and disappeared on 11th February 2011.

Based on information provided by one of the arrested suspects, Mr. Ismail Mohamed Musdeen, the body that is believed to be Razeek’s was exhumed today morning, in Kavathamunai, Oddamavadi, Valachenai (Eastern Sri Lanka). Police had been in the area since Monday, 25th July.

Kavathumunai is the village of Musdeen. Musdeen is believed to be a close associate of former Minister Ameer Ali, and having close links with present Minister Rishard Bathiudeen and Mr. Shahabeen Noushadh, the person identified by the Police as the chief suspect about a year ago, and finally arrested on 8th July 2011. Noushadh remains in Police custody todate. According to available information, Musdeen was arrested on 13th July 2011. Musdeen’s wife is reported to have approached Minister Bathiudeen to obtain Musdeen’s release, but is reported to have said that he doesn’t want to get involved.

The body was not in state that we could identify. Razeek’s son tentatively identified the body. Subsequently, the body was sent to Batticaloa hospital, where it will be kept until the post mortem is expected to be conducted Tuesday, 2nd August 2011, after which the remains would be released to the family.

Yesterday, 27th July 2011, at a Puttalam Magistrate Court hearing held on 27th July 2011, the case was postponed to 17th January 2012.

On 18th July 2011, the family, Mosque Committee in Puttalam, Christian Clergy, lawyers and civil society leaders met the Chairman and Commissioners of the National Human Rights Commission to expedite the case, arrest other suspects, investigate leads, and to keep the family informed of all developments. On 25th July 2011, an inquiry was held at the Human Rights Commission, where the Inquiry Officer indicated that a suspect had told that Razeek had been killed and body buried in Oddamavadi area, and that Police is following up the lead to exhume the body. No further date was given for the inquiry at the Human Rights Commission.

See attached statement and update for background.

We will keep you updated of any further information.




Villagers look on during the dig for Patani Razeek.


Sri Lankan Civil Society Statement on Razeek -27June2011-Final-English+Sinhala+Tamil

02/08/2011

The documentary that is opening the eyes of the world

A message from our chair:

Dear friend,

For two years I have been chairing a campaign to get more international attention for the appalling events of 2009 and the continuing human rights abuses in Sri Lanka. Yet even I felt I had not fully realized or believed in their full horror until I saw Channel 4's film “Sri Lanka's Killing Fields” (click the link to watch online). But this vital film might not be globally available online for much longer.

Part of the reason the documentary is doing so much good is because so many people are able to see it for free, online, all over the world. But it is not clear for how much longer this will be the case. After the 30th of August it is not at all clear if it will remain globally accessible online.

With your help we can make sure as many people as possible see it before then. The film has really helped open a lot of eyes that were previously closed. Many people, myself included, who work on Sri Lanka have noted how helpful, indeed crucial, it has been, and how much easier our lobbying, awareness raising, and advocacy work has become now the truth is out there.

The documentary has been to Geneva where it had ambassadors in tears, it has been to Capitol Hill where it seems to be improving the USA's stance on Sri Lanka, and it was seen by a million people in the UK and 270,000 others in thirty different countries in its first week alone. Since then it has been shown on Australia ABC's 4 Corners.

It is therefore vitally important that we make sure as many people around the world see it before if it is no longer available (if, as seems likely, that does end up being the case).

We need to launch an urgent campaign to make sure as many people as possible see the video before it goes offline. We need £5,000 over the next few weeks to launch the campaign[1]. Please help expose what happened in Sri Lanka's killing fields. Make a secure donation now:

You can donate here using our secure paypal page.

Donations will be spent [2] on intelligent, targeted online adverts to make sure the documentary is watched by as many people as possible. We have commissioned the best digital campaigning experts to advise us how to do this, they tell us that this money will mean that thousands more people around the world see the documentary and are inspired by its message. The more you give the more people will see it - each pound will lead another handful of people to the film.

Please make a secure donation now - and help sound the alarm about Sri Lanka's killing fields.

Please give whatever you can afford. Together your money, Channel 4's documentary, and our campaign can bring reconciliation and lasting peace to Sri Lanka.

All the best,

Edward Mortimer
Chair, the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice

P.S. The success of our campaign so far has been due to the way in which our supporters have been so good at encouraging their friends and family to join in. Please do pass this message on to people who might be interested, and please do ask them to join our mailing list . You can join by filling in your details here: http://mailman-new.greennet.org.uk/mailman/listinfo/srilankacampaign


[1] Or an equivalent in $, Rs or anything else. We accept payments from 190 countries; When you press this button you will be taken to a secure page hosted by Paypal but you do not need a Paypal account to donate - just a credit or debit card.

[2] All donations will be spent in line with our donations policy: If we are unable to use your contribution for the purpose you specify, either because of oversubscription or for another unforeseen reason, it is our policy to use your contribution to support further campaigning in the area concerned or other critical global campaigns. Approximately 85% of funds donated to the Sri Lanka Campaign goes directly into campaigning. The other 15% goes to important organizational needs like management, fundraising, legal advice, accounting support, and infrastructure – all of which are vital to effective campaigning.