Sri Lanka News

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Alleged move to arrest Editor

By Gihan de Chickera

Mr.Wickramatunga is surrounded by colleagues and friends at his office as news spread that the CID was about to arrest him. Pic. by Dinuka Liyanawatte

Concerns that prevailing anti-terrorism laws could be used to suppress the media heightened yesterday amidst reports of alleged Government moves to arrest The Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickramatunga over the contents of a lead story in his newspaper last Sunday.

Mr. Wickramatunga yesterday charged that the Defence Ministry had ordered the CID to arrest him under recently introduced anti-terrorism laws, for the lead story headlined ‘President to get Rs. 400 million luxury bunker’ in the Christmas Eve issue of The Sunday Leader. The arrest was to be made on national security concerns.

He said the CID had consulted the Attorney General on the legality of such an arrest to which the AG had responded in the negative.

“The Attorney General reportedly told the CID it was completely illegal to arrest me under such charges as I had not violated the law and the regulations did not apply to such situations,” he told journalists who had gathered at The Sunday Leader office in Ward Place.

Mr. Wickramatunga charged that despite this, the Defence Ministry had ordered the CID to bypass the AG’s ruling and arrest him. He said to the best of his knowledge the Defence Ministry order was not a written one but a verbal notification.

Mr. Wickramatunga also made special reference to an article carried in the front page of the State run Daily News yesterday. The report headlined ‘Talking point: Sleeping with the enemy’ which asked why the AG was not taking action againstThe Sunday Leader for allegedly causing dissension among security forces.

“I will face this crisis. I am not going to seek refuge in hospital. I will not go abroad or go into hiding. I am ready to face this head-on and live up to The Sunday Leader motto of ‘unbowed and unafraid’ ”, he said.

The Editor said he was being persecuted because his paper regularly exposed Government corruption and the abuse of State power. He charged that the motivation of the anti-terrorism laws was not to combat terrorism but to suppress media freedom and the South.

“This is a signal to the South that the country is going back to the terror era. As far as I know no terrorist has been arrested under these laws”, he said.

“I am not surprised this is happening”, he added, joking that never before has he received so much media attention.

“If arrested I will file a fundamental rights petition in the Supreme Court” he added.

Commenting on the story which sparked the controversy, Mr. Wickramatunga said he had followed Government directives to clarify all security related stories from either the Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Government media spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella or the Media Centre for National Security Director Lakshman Hulugalle.

Accordingly Mr. Wickramatunga had reportedly called Mr. Hulugalle to clarify the presidential bunker story. Although Mr. Hulugalle denied any knowledge of the bunker, he had assured The Sunday Leader Editor that no action would be taken against the newspaper if such a story was reported.

“He categorically said no action would be taken against us and we quoted him in the article”, Mr. Wickramatunga said.

However he charged that the CID later informed him of the arrest.

“I called Mr. Hulugalle who said he knew nothing about moves to arrest me. He said he would get back to me regarding the matter, but never did” he said.

Mr. Wickramatunga’s lawyer, former National Police Commission head Ranjth Abeysuriya told the Daily Mirror that the new anti-terrorism regulations allowed the Defence Secretary or a police DIG to issue detention orders for an arrest. However Mr. Abeysuriya said the reasons for such an arrest would have to be justified before the Supreme Court.

Lasantha Wickramatunga’s brother Lal Wickramatunga, who is also Chairman of Leader Publications, alleged that the order to arrest his brother came directly from Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. He said the CID had called at about 3 in the afternoon yesterday to say the arrest would be made at 5 in the evening. However he refused to disclose the identity of the CID officers saying that doing so would result in them losing their jobs.

Amidst the chaos in his office, Mr. Wickramatunga received a multitude of phone calls last evening from international news services, fellow newspaper editors, media activists and diplomats.

Sri Lanka Press Institute (SLPI) Director General Ranga Kalansooriya said Editors, journalists and media activists met three days after the new laws came into effect, to study whether they could be used to suppress the media.

He said they wrote to Media Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa calling for a meeting to clarify the matter, but two weeks had passed with no word from the minister.

“We have not received any clear guarantee from the Government that the regulations would not be used against the media. There have not been any deliberations between the Government and the media on the matter”, he said adding that the SLPI’s intention was to include journalists into section 19 of the regulations, which identify parties against whom the legislation cannot be used.

“Whether it is The Sunday Leader or the Sunday Observer these regulations become an impediment to the media”, he said adding that three journalists working for the State press had already been questioned by the CID, and now the private media were being threatened. -Daily Mirror

December 29, 2006 Posted by | Media, Media Journalism, News, News and politics, Press Release, South Asia, World News | Leave a comment

A think tank with a difference

by K. Godage

The primary objectives of  the Association

  1.  To mobilize retired executives, professionals, and Acedemics to contribute to the development effort

  2.  Undertake policy analysis and advocacy in matters of public interest,

  3.  Advocate/ intercede on matters of ‘Aging’,

  4.  Endeavour to improve the quality of life of members and to provide them with essential services,

  5.  Empower members through collective action.

The newest Association to be formed, ‘The Sri Lanka Association of Retired Executives, Professionals and Academics’, has the potential of becoming the best and most effective Think Tank of this country.

‘Retired but not tired’ were the words of the respected Professor Carlo Fonseka in his description of those who had gathered to inaugurate the above association.

How very true, we may have retired from the Public Service or whatever profession or vocation on reaching the stipulated age of retirement but we have not retired from life nor are we tired. Most of us are eager and able yet to contribute in whatever way we can to improve the lot of our people.

The contribution that a group such as those who gathered for that inaugural meeting could be enormous; their combined experience would add up to hundreds of years and their knowledge absolutely enormous. The initial task facing the Association would be as to how to mobilize this available talent, experience and knowledge; the next task would be obtain the recognition of the government and the policy makers that this Association is an intellectual ‘gold mine’ that could be harnessed for the good of the country.

Perhaps this recognition could be achieved on the basis of performance; on the ‘Policy Papers’ or commentaries on national issues which the Association could release.

I do believe the Association would have to market itself and convince the government that it is in its interest to use the Association which incidentally should be wholly ‘Apolitical’ and would be able to provide the best possible advice and policy options leaving it to the politician to decide. Those holding high office today are busy shuffling files and do not have much time to either formulate policy, leave alone to indulge in analysis and futuristic thinking.

Most countries even those in South Asia tap this resource with profit. India and Pakistan have for years encouraged retired officers to form ‘Think Tanks’ because these countries have considered the objective advice from these experienced officials as being invaluable. Our government would also do well to to follow this example.

Those who took the initiative to establish this Association should be congratulated and need to be supported. What form should this ‘support’ take? Any organization that is being set up would need some ‘seed money’ and next a modest sum every month or annually to ‘run’ the organization.

This money could surely come without strings attached from the President’s Fund for this is a worthy cause and the amount involved could best be described as ‘Silera’.

I am certain that the able Permanent Secretary to the President, Lalith Weeratunge, who would himself join us at some distant date, would support this initiate and speak to the President on the importance of having such a ‘Think Tank’ to assist the government with objective policy options, advice and analysis.

The government could also identify areas of interest to it where the Association could be of help commission such studies. The Association could indeed make a worthwhile contribution. The bringing together of multi-disciplinary teams for specific projects would be the next task for the ‘Managers’ of the Association.

Perhaps the most difficult task we would face would be the ‘marketing’ of the proposals that emanate from the Association and making the politician realize that it would be in their interest to accept objective policy proposals and ensure implementation.

The above are some thoughts off the top of the head as it were, which I wish to share with friends who would be far more competent to think through the process.

One cardinal pillar of the Association should be our independence and also that we are absolutely Apolitical. We cannot but succeed in the interest of the country.

I do sincerely hope that others too would join in this ‘discussion’ through the medium of your newspaper for I am confident that such contributions would assist the Committee that has established itself to take this project forward. -The Island

November 30, 2006 Posted by | Media Journalism, News and politics, South Asia | 1 Comment

President sets trend, son to join Navy

President Mahinda Rajapakse’s second son Yoshitha Rajapakse, Thursday faced a preliminary test at Welisara navy base. "It will be the first in several tests," a military spokesman said adding, "If successful, he would be joining the executive branch of the Sri Lanka Navy (SLN).

The Thomian ruggerite was among a group of candidates who faced the aptitude test at the base north of Colombo.

Successful candidates would join the service as cadet officers and once they complete the required training would be commissioned as Acting Sub Lieutenants.

Yoshitha recently received the nod from the President to join the SLN. Yoshitha’s Grandfather E. P. Wickremesinghe had held the rank of Commander and at the time of retirement had been the third or fourth in the line of command.

A senior navy spokesman said that this would definitely help the ongoing recruitment drive to strengthen the SLN. The armed forces are engaged in a major effort to attract youth as security forces clash with the LTTE on several fronts with the focus on a campaign to weaken Sea Tigers.

"We are proud to have a son of President Rajapakse in our ranks," the officer said, expressing the belief that this would be an example to other parents and an encouragement to youth.

The SLN inflicted considerable losses on Sea Tigers since last May when they made an abortive bid to target a passenger vessel carrying over 700 off duty personnel to Kankesanthurai. The SLN also thwarted several attempts to smuggle in arms, ammunition and equipment with the September 16 attack on a large vessel over 100 nautical miles off Kalmunai being the biggest recent detection in the high seas. However SLN victories did not come cheap.

Courtesy:     The Island

November 26, 2006 Posted by | Media Journalism, South Asia | Leave a comment

Co-chairs as preachers

The Co-chairs of the Tokyo Donors’ Conference on Sri Lanka have issued yet another statement blaming both parties to the conflict for the escalation of violence and called for keeping the supply routes open. It has welcomed the government’s readiness to send convoys of essential goods via the now closed A-9 road—an offer that the LTTE has flatly refused demanding that the road be fully opened. The government is wary of meeting the LTTE demand on the grounds that the objective of the outfit is to resume illegal taxes, arms smuggling etc. by taking advantage of the road opening.

However noble their intentions may be, the Co-chairs are, we are afraid, not making a worthwhile contribution to peace making. They are only behaving like a group of preachers trying as they do very hard to impress the virtues of non violence, compassion and respect for human rights on the warring factions, knowing very well that they are pouring water on a duck’s back. Nobody seems to pay heed to their preaching but they go on pontificating. Thus, the Co-chairs have wasted their time and money on meetings. The suffering of civilians remains far from ameliorated, violence escalates and the death toll rises.

Those who are involved in conflict resolution here are preoccupied with the final solution, which might even be light years away. They appear to think that everything else has to wait until the conflict is resolved once and for all. A process of resolving a protracted conflict warrants short term and middle term strategies to address the issues that, besides causing human misery, may also have the potential to stand in the way of a final solution.

The present phase of ‘undeclared’ war began with the LTTE capturing the Mawilaru anicut, having attacked the security forces with claymore mines for months. Had the Co-chairs made an early intervention at that stage to stop the LTTE provocations, the escalation of violence could have been averted. Mere statements sans action are of little use in curbing violence.

Restraining the LTTE is a task that the UK or Norway can accomplish with ease by summoning the big Tigers it is sponsoring on its soil and warning the outfit through them to behave. The UK did so quite effectively when Tamil parliamentarian Sam Thambimttu’s wife and son were abducted in the East in the late 1980s. The British government asked LTTE Spokesman Anton Balasingham in London to either secure their release or get ready to be deported. That method worked. (However, the LTTE killed Mr. and Mrs. Thambimuttu in 1990). More recently, when the LTTE abducted a prominent Tamil social worker called Jayadevan, a British passport holder in the Wanni owing to a dispute over a Kovil in the UK, the British government intervened and secured his release.

Making an aid worshipping government fall in line is much easier. It was only a few years ago that a bossy vice president of the World Bank told President Kumaratunga how to run the country. An otherwise pugnacious Ms. Kumaratunga took it all lying down. Such is the power that the givers of aid and loans wield over mendicant governments anywhere in the world.

Perhaps, it is not fair for the Co-chairs to be asked to clear the mess Sri Lanka has created herself. But, now that they have volunteered to shoulder the burden of resolving the conflict, they ought to change their strategy. They need to take crucial issues one by one and deal with them as and when they crop up without letting the grass grow under their feet and lumping them together. The biggest problem besetting the country at present being the plight of civilians in the North, the Co-chairs should be more focused on it.

The best way to help that hapless populace is to send food convoys through the A-9 road. Since the LTTE is opposed to the government proposal, the Co-chairs can step in to break the deadlock. They should either ask the LTTE to allow the supplies to reach the North as the government suggests or get the road fully reopened by wresting an assurance from the LTTE that it won’t resume its illegal taxes, arms struggling and forays. They must also spell out what action they propose to take in case of the LTTE acting in breach of its assurance.

Bland statements which leave much unsaid are not going to take us anywhere. They are not worth the paper they are written on. -The Island Editorial

November 24, 2006 Posted by | Media Journalism, News and politics, South Asia | Leave a comment

A journalist and gentleman

Ajith is no more! The icy cold hand of death has cruelly removed from our midst a brilliant journalist and wonderful friend. We are at a loss for words to describe how diminished we are. Our sorrow knows no bounds.

Ajith (Samaranayake) began his brilliant career way back in 1975 at Lake House as a young radical bubbling with zest and burning passion for the printed word. Having already cut his teeth on writing at Trinity, he took to journalism like a duck to water. Under the tutelage of heavyweights of the day, he rose to the cruising altitude of Sri Lankan journalism in no time.

He joined The Island at its inception and went on to edit The Island Sunday Edition. No respecter of political potentates and their commissars, he led the charge against the dictatorial regime at that time from the front to keep the popular struggle to democratise Sri Lankan politics alive. He also lent his voice fearlessly to mass movements for democracy and human rights.

There was hardly a subject that he didn’t write about. He excelled as a literary critic, political commentator and editorialist par excellence. Anything that he wrote, the people devoured avidly. His columns sold newspapers. To us the fellow scribes, it was a pleasure to be with Ajith and see him at work. He would sit in his editorial chair stroking his greying beard and suddenly he would spring into action. He would take out his small typewriter—by the ear as we jokingly said—and produce a juicy copy in record time and disappear equally fast after finishing it to exercise his elbow at a watering hole, a habit that never deserted him. He apparently thought on the same lines as Mark Twain, who said:

All say, "How hard it is that we have to die"- a strange complaint to come from the mouths of people who have had to live.

Following the false beginning of a new era in 1994, immersed in the prevailing zeitgeist, he went whence he had come—to edit The Sunday Observer. His going back was a mistake as he used to confide in the editor of this newspaper whenever they met. At the time of his death, he was Editor of The Friday tabloid.

Ajith obsessively strove to maintain what he fondly referred to as gravitas in journalism, which is fast disappearing with packaging taking precedence over content in today’s newspapers, as he recently pointed out in a column. He jealously guarded editorial freedom and had the knack for having a tiff with those who wielded authority. He knew there was a Brutus behind every pillar in state media institutions but didn’t give two hoots about the consequences that his defiance would lead to. For, he didn’t care for positions. A good journalist, it is said, works with the resignation letter in his pocket.

The tragic death of his sister last week dealt a devastating blow that Ajith could hardly withstand. Since then, he had been battling death in an ICU of a Colombo hospital. A fighter to the last, he may have thought like Donne:

Death be not proud, though some have called thee

Mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not so`85

With Ajith’s untimely demise, gone is a man who never bartered standards and ethics of his profession for personal gain. Ajith leaves us sad but proud.

Adios amigo!

-The Island Editorial

November 23, 2006 Posted by | Media Journalism, News and politics, South Asia | Leave a comment