Sunday, January 31, 2010

Five media organizations condemn the repression against " Lanka" newspaper



The five prominent media rights groups in Sri Lanka have issued a joint statement condemning the government's decision to close down the 'Lanka' newspaper office and to arrest the editor of the paper, Chandana Sirimalwatte. The statement signed by the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA), Federation of Media Employees Trade Union (FMETU), Free Media Movement (FMM), Sri Lanka Tamil Media Alliance (SLTMA) and Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum (SLMMF) denounced the government's decision stating "that sole reason behind the repression of the Lanka newspaper and its editor Chandana Sirimalwatta is the role played by the newspaper during recently concluded presidential election."

On Saturday (30), the Sri Lankan Government took steps to seal off the pro-opposition "Lanka" newspaper office after arresting and detaining the editor of the paper on Friday (29) afternoon.


The full text of the joint statement follows:

"We, 5 media organizations of Sri Lanka consider the steps taken by Criminal Investigation Department of Sri Lanka police to seal the Lanka newspaper office and arrest/detain its editor Chandana Sirimalwatta as a fatal blow to media freedom and democracy in Sri Lanka. We demand that government stop immediately the repressive acts launched against media with critical and opposing content. It is clear that sole reason behind the repression of the Lanka newspaper and its editor Chandana Sirimalwatta is the role played by the newspaper during recently concluded presidential election.

The promises made during the presidential campaign to defend press freedom and speed up the investigations on assassination of journalists have evaporated within days. Instead the repression against journalists and media that does obey government orders and express dissenting voices has now culminated in acts unleashed against Lanka newspaper.

Existence of a vibrant political opposition and unfettered space for media to carry their ideas and opinions to the people is a necessary component of a healthy democracy. Hampering the role played by the Lanka news paper is violation of the people’s right to think, hold and express their opinions.

In our opinion this is not a isolated act but another grave incident of post presidential election media suppression. The signal sent by suppressing Lanka newspaper is that critical media and journalists should shut up.

It is a common knowledge that in a society that values democracy media should not be suppressed. If this trend of suppression of dissent and oppositional views is not halted we are afraid that Sri Lanka may slip in to a dictatorial political system. That is why we urge again national as well as international democratic forces to do their utmost to protect media freedom and democratic values in Sri Lanka.

We would like to remind that during the last few year’s dozens of journalists and media workers were killed, large number of them faced various threats and intimidations, number of media institutions were set on fire in Sri Lanka. Because of these anti media actions Sri Lanka was named as the third dangerous country for journalists in the world. Not only our people’s right to information was curtailed but also our name of motherland was degraded internationally.

We, 5 media organizations’ earnest request to the government is to remove all suppressive measures imposed on the Lanka newspaper and to release its editor Chandana Sirimalwatta immediately."

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Sunday, January 31, 2010

MEDIA MATTERS: Time for an independent press?


Photo Courtesy of http://indi.ca/

Sevanti Ninan - With the re-election of President Mahinda Rajapaksa in Sri Lanka, many will be watching to see what his next term will mean for the government's policy towards private media. The persecution of the Sri Lankan media has been a long-running international story, particularly after the killing in January last year of Lasantha Wickramatunga, the editor of the Sunday Leader. Several journalists fled to seek asylum in the West, and an expatriate group called Journalists for Democracy has helped to keep Western media attention focused on the vulnerability of journalists in Sri Lanka.

Organisations such as Reporters Without Borders have been putting out releases in the run-up to election day, alleging on the day of the polls that news websites were being blocked. Even though one managed to access an allegedly blocked website, the story was that the servers were blocked so that further material could not be uploaded.


Propagandist programmes

The elections saw State-owned media, both print and television, run news favouring the incumbent, and devote most of the coverage to him. When the State media runs propagandist programmes in that country, it seems to be a real issue, because they are more watched than our State media are. And in the subcontinent, Sri Lanka is possibly the only country to have State-owned newspapers.

Al Jazeera's Listening Post reported in its last programme before the Sri Lankan elections that President Rajapaksa had greeting the country's entire population on New Year's Day through an sms. The State's communication commission had apparently ordered telecom companies to send out that message free. The programme also reported what it suggested was extended misuse of the State media during the poll campaign. It did not quote anybody in government on what they thought of the media's reporting in Sri Lanka, whereas Indian observers, both here and in Colombo, say that there is also a real problem of partisan media in Sri Lanka. J.S. Tissainayagam, who was sentenced to a 20-year jail term on charges of “supporting terrorism and inciting racial hatred in his articles”, became an international cause celebre, but was let out on bail a few days ago. Like him, several other Tamil journalists have been accused by the government of being pro-LTTE, over the years. But it is not only Tamil journalists that the government has targeted. As many as 34 scribes and media workers, both Tamil and Sinhala, have been killed in recent years.

What sort of climate for media coverage will be created during the President's next tenure? Will those who fled be able to come back and practise their profession? Or will Sri Lanka continue to remain a media hot spot for some time to come, is what we have to wait and see.

(This column is being written on the afternoon of January 27.)

© The Hindu

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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sri Lanka: Facebook users come under scrutiny



By Rathindra Kuruwita - Authorities are monitoring the user activities of Facebook and Twitter social networking sites as some members of these networks allegedly defame prominent personalities and spread false rumours against the government.

A special team at the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC) is already monitoring the user activities on Facebook, LAKBIMAnEWS learns. “A special team is randomly monitoring activity on social networking sites. The government is worried about false notes on Facebook that criticize the election results giving false allegations and openly doubting the validity and the legitimacy of the result,” a TRC source said.


“The order has been given by the government to monitor activities of Facebook and Twitter and monitor how the trend continues.”

Already the TRC has tracked down some IP addresses of many Facebook users who have been spreading false allegations. Also the TRC is to receive the support of a special team from China as they are experts in tracking down disgruntled elements.
“Experts have been brought from a Chinese IT firm,” the source said.

Last week media reports claim that the authorities arrested three individuals for spreading misinformation. Facebook has been blocked intermittently in several countries including Syria, China, Vietnam and Iran due to these reasons.

© Lakbima News

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Sunday, January 31, 2010

World media groups express grave concern



The pro-Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) newspaper Lanka was sealed by CID detectives yesterday – while world media rights groups expressed alarm over attacks on journalists and the free media after the presidential election.

Armed with a court order, the detectives turned up at the Lanka editorial office at Delkanda in Nugegoda last evening to seal the premises. This means the newspaper will not be published until this clamp down is withdrawn.


The sealing came a day after Lanka Editor Chandana Sirimalwatte was arrested by the CID. He was questioned by detectives and is to be produced before the Gangodawila Magistrate tomorrow. Mr. Sirimalwatte was questioned about articles published in the newspaper.

He had also been questioned twice last year on reports relating to the construction of a Deniyaya mansion for a VIP. A spokesperson for the newspaper said that detectives on Friday had sought information on the Lanka circulation but they refused to comply saying it was not relevant to the investigations.

Meanwhile, reporter and cartoonist Prageeth Eknaligoda who works for lankaenews.com still remains missing a week after he failed to return home from work. His family has had no word from him and the police are yet to come up with any clues to his whereabouts.

In separate incidents Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation programme producer Ravi Abeywickrema is reported to have been attacked by a senior station officer for criticizing the election coverage by the state TV channel, while soldiers are alleged to have roughed up foreign media personnel who had attended a news conference given by defeated presidential candidate Gen. Sarath Fonseka.

In another attack on the free media, a powerful minister is alleged to have threatened the Jaffna-based Tamil daily Uthayan with unspecified reprisals while Swiss Public Radio journalist Karin Wenger was deported for allegedly asking embarrassing questions at a news conference given by senior ministers.
The house of Lake House regional correspondent Gunaratne Liyanaarachchi was smashed up by a mob on the day after the election. In a complaint to police the correspondent had blamed the attacks on government supporters.

The Paris-based media rights group Reporters Sans Borders (RSF) has called on President Mahinda Rajapaksa to put a stop to arrests and intimidation of journalists working for privately-owned and foreign media.

“It is quite normal for journalists and privately-owned media to side with a candidate before and during a democratic election but it is unacceptable for them to be the victims of reprisals once the elections are over,” the media rights group said.

The RSF also reminded the President of the assurances he had given on media freedom. The New York based Committee to Protect Journalists said yesterday it was alarmed by reports that journalists in Sri Lanka were being subjected to government intimidation, arrests, censorship, and harassment in the aftermath of this week’s presidential election.

“We are receiving reports of government retribution against journalists who sided with the opposition in the election. Given the ugly history of attacks on journalists in Sri Lanka, we call on President Mahina Rajapaksa to ensure the safety of all journalists in Sri Lanka, and to use his new mandate to reverse the repressive trends of the past several years,” CPJs Asia programme coordinator Bob Dietz said.

© The Sunday Times

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Saturday, January 30, 2010

"General Fonseka should be arrested immediately" says NFF leader



National Freedom Front (NFF) Leader Wimal Weerawansa said that Common Presidential Candidate General Sarath Fonseka should be arrested immediately without allowing him to leave the country.

Weerawansa made this statement at a press conference held at the NFF headquarters on Friday (29) morning.


Weerawansa called on the government and the President to arrest General Fonseka without allowing him to leave the country as he could continue to make more statements that would betray the nation like he did during the Presidential election campaign.


© Lanka News Web

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Saturday, January 30, 2010

General Fonseka warns the government



By Kshanika Argent - Former Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka, speaking at a press briefing a short while ago, warned that he will expose government secrets should anything happen to him and demanded that the government stop harassing him.

The former Army Commander said that he has filed detailed documents in which he has listed malpractices of government officials who have been harassing him since he decided to run for President.


General Fonseka said, “If anything should happen to me I’ve given evidence concerning those people who have been threatening my life and evidence ofmass scale rigging at the elections.”

The General added that recent developments involving his office premises raided by the STF, his security 'reduced to zero’ and officials close to him either arrested, sacked or harassed, lead to the conclusion that the Government is preparing for his assassination.

He added, “Ninety soldiers were replaced by 4 policemen armed only with pistols. Close associates of mine, who are legally retired from the army have been arrested including 3 generals, 3 brigadiers and 2 colonels today, one of whom the government says is connected to Lasantha’s (Wickrematunge) murder. This is a blatant lie. Twenty staff members from my office were remanded yesterday and the CID confiscated 23 computers and they had no search or arrest warrants on them at the time.”

The General also declared that all law and order in the country has broken down. He said, “You can’t go to the police or the courts. You can be arrested at any time. There’s no media freedom. Everyone is under pressure and cannot carry out their rightful duties.”

On whether the General plans to flee the country he stated, “I have no plans of leaving at this moment. I want to stay and represent the people. If I need to hide in order to survive that’s a different matter. But in any case, I can’t leave the country and neither can my family, we’ve all been blacklisted at the airport, myself, my wife and now my two daughters who study abroad.”

As for the allegations leveled on the General of planning an assassination attack on President Mahinda Rajapakse, the General said, “We stayed at the Cinnamon Lakeside for our own protection, booking 20 rooms on the 2nd floor after we received news that there was going to be an assassination on either the opposition leader or myself. The government is now trying to twist that story, they say whatever pops into their heads without any thought and their stories don’t even match.”

When contacted by Daily Mirror online, Defense Affairs Spokesman Minister Keheliya Rambukwella stated, “I don’t think anyone can take him (Fonseka) seriously considering he’s not even a registered voter. A man who talks about discipline and good governance who is not even registered to vote has clearly forgotten his franchise.”

© Daily Mirror

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Saturday, January 30, 2010

"We are in touch with Fonseka over his security" - US



US has said it is in touch with the defeated Sri Lankan Opposition Presidential candidate over the issue of his security which was withdrawn on Thursday and has urged President Mahinda Rajapaksa to move towards a political reconciliation.

"We are watching carefully and we have been in touch with General Fonseka regarding his security", US Assistant Secretary of State Philip Crowley said in Washington.

On the fears expressed by the defeated candidate, Crowley said, "Well, he had expressed public concerns and I think the (US) Embassy (in Colombo) reached out to him and just remain– we'll remain in contact with him to clarify what his future intentions are and to be helpful if that's appropriate".


On whether Fonseka had a US residency, Crowley said "Yes, he does".
The US Official said the Sri Lankan President should move towards a political reconciliation after his victory.

"But we think that President Rajapaksa now has an opportunity to continue to move forward with the political reconciliation and start the process of devolution to the provinces" Crowley said.

"He (Fonseka) feels threatened that he could get arrested on false charges of planning a coup", his close aide told PTI here.

"It is important that the former army chief's security is reinstated as the 72 security personnel who guarded him are the ones whom Fonseka fully trusts and they are necessary for his security", the aide said.

"They (the security guarding him) have been with him for years and he wants them back", the aide said.

The army has maintained that Fonseka's security cover was withdrawn after the Supreme Court ruled that the former army chief would get army protection only till the Presidential elections that ended on January 27 after the declaration of the results.

Secretary Crowley welcomed the steps Rajapaksa has taken towards political reconciliation process and noted that the election itself was a step forward.
"So with this election comes an opportunity to continue to work to heal the breach that exists within Sri Lankan society," the Assistant Secretary said.

"And I think we commend the people of Sri Lanka for a 72 per cent turnout. That is something that is truly remarkable", he said.

"I think it's important to recognise that this was the first nationwide election in decades," Crowley said, adding that the participation was high, the process was generally peaceful, though there were incidents of violence which the US was very aware of.

"I think it is remarkable when you consider what Sri Lanka has come through recently. There is a process for resolving electoral disputes. We're obviously aware that there have been claims of victory and counterclaims," Crowley said.

© PTI

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Saturday, January 30, 2010

URGENT ALERT: CID SEALS "LANKA IRIDA"!



The officers of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) who broke into "Irida Lanka" newspaper office in the early hours of Saturday (30) have now sealed off the newspaper office a short while ago – at around 14.00.p.m Sri Lanka time. Before closing down the office, the CID officers have questioned everyone inside the office, while preventing anyone from outside visiting the office.

In the aftermath of the presidential election, the Sri Lankan government has launched an all out war against all the media who backed the candidacy of former Army Chief General Sarath Fonseka. The decision to seal off "Irida Lanka" follows the earlier action taken by the government to close down another pro-opposition website "Lanka E News" on Thursday (28) evening. The arrested editor of "Irida Lanka", Chandana Sirimalwatte, is still being held in CID custody.


The Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka appeals to all the responsible governments and rights groups to act without delay and to exert maximum pressure on the Sri Lankan government demanding an immediate halt to the unprecedented repressive onslaught launched against dissenting media.

Please make phone calls and send emails to:

The President of Sri Lanka - + 94 112447400/ email -president@presidentsoffice.lk

Secretary to the President - +94 112 2326309 / email - prsec@presidentsoffice.lk

Minister of Information Anura Yapa - + 94 0773 814470 (mobile) / +94 112596557 (Office)

Inspector General of Police Mahinda Balasuriya - +94 112 421750 / +94 773088400 email - igp@police.lk

Spokesman Mr. Nimal Madiwake (Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police) - +94 72 2248235

SSP I.M. Karunarathne (Assistant Media Spokesman) - +94 11 4236161 +94 772 602897

(please send copies of your emails to journalistsfordemocracy@gmail.com)

Executive Committee
Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka
30.01.2010

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Saturday, January 30, 2010

URGENT ALERT: CID RAIDS ARRESTED JOURNALIST'S RESIDENCE



Officers attached to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) who had previously arrested the editor of the "Irida Lanka" newspaper, Chandana Sirimalwatte, have tried to break into his residence a short while ago. According to initial reports, the officers who had visited his residence tried to search the premises without a search warrant. But the wife of the journalist had refused to grant permission since the officers failed to produce a valid search warrant. She has given her protest in writing to the officers.

In the meantime, another group of CID officers have raided the "Irida Lanka" newspaper office on Saturday (30) morning for the second time, after sealing off the premises to visitors. Earlier on Friday (29) afternoon, following the arrest of the editor, the CID broke into "Irida Lanka" office and had searched the premises extensively. They had brought the arrested journalist along with them and had forced him to hand over files that contain sensitive information. According to our sources, the second CID raid is still going on and the officers are questioning every staff member despite their protest.


Notwithstanding the repeated condemnations issued by international media rights groups in the wake of the fresh intimidation campaign, it is obvious that the Sri Lankan government is determined to continue their extremely coercive policy of cracking down on the dissenting media. The journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka urge all the responsible governments and rights group with utmost urgency to demand an immediate stop to the increasing harassment unleashed against "Irida Lanka" and to release it's editor Chandana Sirimalwatte immediately.

Please make phone calls and send emails to:

The President of Sri Lanka - + 94 112447400/ email -president@presidentsoffice.lk

Secretary to the President - +94 112 2326309 / email - prsec@presidentsoffice.lk

Minister of Information Anura Yapa - + 94 0773 814470 (mobile) / +94 112596557 (Office)

Inspector General of Police Mahinda Balasuriya - +94 112 421750 / +94 773088400 email - igp@police.lk

Spokesman Mr. Nimal Madiwake (Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police) - +94 72 2248235

SSP I.M. Karunarathne (Assistant Media Spokesman) - +94 11 4236161 +94 772 602897

(please send copies of your emails to journalistsfordemocracy@gmail.com)

Executive Committee
Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka
30.01.2010

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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Sri Lanka Police arrest staff of General Fonseka



The police raided the office of Sri Lanka’s defeated presidential candidate on Friday and arrested 15 of his staff members, after officials accused him of plotting to overthrow the government and assassinate his victorious rival.

The candidate, Sarath Fonseka, a general who carried out the successful military operation against the Tamil Tiger insurgency last year, called the allegations fabricated and vowed to challenge President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s party in coming parliamentary elections.


The two men were close allies when they crushed the rebels last year, but had a falling out after the war ended in May. General Fonseka joined the opposition to run against the president, with both sides campaigning on their record as heroes who ended the 26-year separatist rebellion.

Mr. Rajapaksa swept to a resounding victory in Tuesday’s vote, beating the former army chief by 17 percentage points. But General Fonseka rejected the results and accused the government of stealing more than one million of his votes during the tallying process.

The government denied this, and in turn accused General Fonseka of plotting to kill Mr. Rajapaksa and overthrow the government with the help of army deserters and former military officers.

Dozens of police officers raided General Fonseka’s office here in the capital on Friday, taking away computers and detaining 15 ex-military staff members who worked there, said Shiral Laktilaka, the general’s lawyer.

A government spokesman confirmed the raid, but did not give details.

General Fonseka was at his house elsewhere in the capital at the time, said Mano Ganeshan, an opposition official. The police said they were looking for explosives during their five-hour search of the building, according to one office worker.

“This is the price we pay for democracy because he decided to contest the election,” Mr. Laktilaka said.

After his defeat, General Fonseka said the government was harassing his associates, and had recalled his 80-strong state-provided security force, a move he said put his life in danger. He also said authorities had put his name on the list of people who could not leave the country, a claim denied by the government.

The postelection acrimony could continue until the general elections. General Fonseka announced that he planned to run for a parliamentary seat.

The president can dissolve Parliament and call general elections at any point between now and April, when its six-year mandate expires. Mr. Rajapaksa and his coalition partners hold a majority in Parliament.

Detectives also questioned an editor of a pro-opposition newspaper, said an opposition lawmaker, Vijitha Herath. The editor, Chandana Sirimalwatta, of the newspaper Lanka, was asked to report to the Criminal Investigations Department on Friday, the lawmaker said, adding that officials were preparing to obtain an order from the government that could allow a 90-day detention under the country’s wartime emergency laws.

The newspaper backed General Fonseka in the presidential election and has reported on allegations of government corruption.

Separately, authorities ordered a Swiss radio journalist to leave Sri Lanka by Monday, after she asked critical questions at a postelection news conference this week, said Andreas Notter, a spokesman for the national broadcaster.

Sri Lanka has in the past expelled journalists, United Nations officials and aid workers who have spoken publicly about the plight of civilians during the country’s civil war and political repression.

© The New York Times


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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Journalists in Sri Lanka face intimidation, censorship and harassment - CPJ



The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by reports that journalists in Sri Lanka have been subjected to government intimidation, arrests, censorship, and harassment in the aftermath of this week’s presidential election.

“We are receiving reports of government retribution against journalists who sided with the opposition in the election. Given the ugly history of attacks on journalists in Sri Lanka, we call on President Mahina Rajapaksa to ensure the safety of all journalists in Sri Lanka, and to use his new mandate to reverse the repressive trends of the past several years,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator.


At least 10 security agents were deployed outside the Colombo offices of Lanka eNews, a Web site critical of Rajapaksa’s government, on Thursday night, according to CPJ sources. One source reported that authorities padlocked the gate to the premises before leaving late Thursday.

Prageeth Ekneligoda, a political reporter for Lanka eNews, remained missing today after disappearing on the night of January 24. Several CPJ sources said they fear he was abducted. Ekneligoda was described by colleagues as a political analyst who supported opposition presidential candidate Sarath Fonseka.

Lanka eNews is blocked to online users in Sri Lanka, news reports said, although it is still accessible outside the country. In a joint e-mail message today, Sri Lankan press groups reported that three other Web sites critical of the government—Sri Lanka Guardian, Infolanka, and Nidahasa—have been blocked domestically by state and Internet service providers.

Swiss Public Radio reported today that Sri Lankan authorities have withdrawn a visa granted to journalist Karin Wenger and have asked her to leave the country within 48 hours. “I fear I have been kicked out for asking uncomfortable questions at a government press conference,” Wenger, who is based in New Delhi, told Agence France-Presse.

The Sinhala-language opposition weekly Lanka reported that its editor, Chandana Sirimalwatte, had been arrested around noon today. Several other news outlets picked up the report, citing Lanka as their source. CPJ is seeking to independently corroborate the arrest and the circumstances.

Fonseka, the former general who challenged Rajapaksa, has refused to accept the outcome of the election and has vowed a legal challenge. The BBC reported that journalists have been barred from entering the street where Fonseka’s campaign office is located, in a tourist hotel in Colombo. Fonseka has been widely quoted in the local and international media as saying that he wants to leave the country because of death threats.

The Centre for Monitoring Election Violence, a nonpartisan domestic group, said that while there were apparent irregularities in the polling, there was little evidence of large-scale fraud. About 70 percent of the country’s 14 million voters cast ballots, although the turnout in Tamil areas was only 30 percent, particularly in the northeast where the war with secessionist Tamils ended last year.

© Committee to Protect Journalists

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Saturday, January 30, 2010

"Halt post-election crackdown on media!" - RSF



Read the profile of a "predator"

Two days after he was declared the winner of this week’s election, Reporters Without Borders appealed today to President Mahinda Rajapaksa to put a stop to arrests and intimidation of journalists working for privately-owned and foreign media.

“This wave of post-election violence could cast a lasting stain on the start of President Rajapaksa’s second term and bodes ill for the political climate during the coming years,” said Reporters Without Borders, which highlighted an increase in election violence and censorship in countries such as Iran and Tunisia in its latest press freedom roundup.


Reporters Without Borders also reminds the president of the statements in support of press freedom that he has made on many occasions, including a meeting with a Reporters Without Borders representative in October 2008.

“It is quite normal for journalists and privately-owned media to side with a candidate before and during a democratic election but it is unacceptable for them to the victims of reprisals once the elections are over,” the press freedom organisation added.

Police and unidentified groups have been targeting the media, especially media that supported the leading opposition candidate, Gen. Sarath Fonseka, every since the announcement of the result, which some opposition sectors including Fonseka are disputing. Sri Lanka’s five main journalists’ organisations have issued a joint statement condemning the “post-election media suppression.”

The following serious press freedom violations have been reported:

1. Police today arrested Chandana Sirimalwatta, the editor of Lanka, a newspaper that supports the JVP opposition party, after he responded to a summons for questioning about an article published on 26 January. The president’s brother, defence minister Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, threatened to burn the newspaper down a few days ago.

2. Plain-clothes men using a car with the license plate 32/ 84 32 placed seals yesterday evening over the entrance to the office of the Lankaenews website. Men searched the office earlier in the day. The website itself has been rendered inaccessible for the past few days by the state telecommunications company Sri Lanka Telecom.

3. In an interview for the Colombo-based Daily Mirror newspaper yesterday, Tamil government minister Douglas Devananda threatened the Jaffna-based newspaper Uthayan with unspecified reprisals.

4. Reporter Karin Wenger of the Swiss public radio station DRS is facing possible deportation on 1 February following the withdrawal of her press accreditation. “I had a visa and accreditation that were valid for the election,” she told Reporters Without Borders. “I think this decision is linked to the questions I asked an official during a news conference after the results were announced.” A presidential adviser referred to her insultingly as a “white face.”

5. Ravi Abewikrama, a reporter with state radio broadcaster SLBC was attacked yesterday by one of the station’s officials for criticising the biased election coverage imposed by the head of the station.

6. Soldiers took up position on 26 January around and inside the buildings that house two privately-owned TV stations, Sirasa and Swarnavahini, in Colombo.

7. Soldiers roughed up photographers working for foreign news agencies when they tried to attend a news conference given by Gen. Fonseka yesterday. One was forced to delete the photos on his camera’s memory card. Soldiers also prevented journalists from working freely near a hotel being used by Fonseka the previous day.

Reporters Without Borders finally also urges President Rajapaksa to assign more police officers to the search for political reporter and cartoonist Prageeth Eknaligoda, who has been missing since 24 January. His family has had no news of him since that date.

© Reporters sans fronti√®res

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Saturday, January 30, 2010

After election, will Sri Lanka improve press record?



By Bob Dietz/Asia Program Coordinator - CPJ - Sri Lanka’s Department of Elections today declared incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa the winner of the presidential election with almost 58 percent of the vote. The situation is still tense as his opponent, former Gen. Sarath Fonseka, threatens a lawsuit to challenge the entire process, from voter access to irregularities in computer counting, to name just two aspects. Fonseka remains sequestered in the Cinnamon Lakeside Hotel in Colombo, where he and his political allies gathered as the results were tallied. Some Sri Lankan media say Fonseka is claiming there is a plot to assassinate him. Soon after he announced the results of the voting, Elections Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake said he wanted to resign. He told reporters he is no longer able to bear the pressure imposed by various parties.

Among media professionals, there is plenty of tension. During the campaign, news media pretty much took sides in supporting either Rajapaksa or Fonseka. There was little middle ground in the coverage. Rajapaksa’s opponents note that state-controlled media were blatantly and illegally pressed into the incumbent’s political service.


We’ve documented one apparent attack on a journalist during the campaign, along with some online censorship. A pro-Fonseka journalist, Prageeth Ekneligoda, a political reporter for the Sri Lankan news Web site Lanka eNews, remains missing after disappearing on January 24. “I fear he has been abducted,” one Sri Lankan journalist wrote me the day after Ekneligoda went missing. On Tuesday, we reported that several Web sites were shut down, apparently on orders of the government, while the voting was under way.

I stayed up late communicating with Sri Lankan journalists and other sources, most of them texting on phones, and monitoring Twitter. Here is a typical quote from a journalist whose judgment I have grown to trust over the years. (I’m not going to identify sources because of the ongoing threat to journalists.) “It is widely believed the margin of victory is too large, and rigging of the computer tally is suspected. Bitterly fought election, so reprisals expected even with those in media.”

That is an issue on the minds of many journalists with whom I’ve been communicating today. Will Sri Lanka’s long suffering media face a storm of retribution now that the election has passed?

It doesn’t have to be that way, although the indicators are mixed: Sri Lanka ended its decades of warfare with Tamil secessionists last year, although many Tamils continue to suffer in its aftermath. It has just voted in an administration, although there is a possible legal challenge. The country is caught in a severe economic slump, in part tied to the war and in part tied to the global economic crisis. Diplomatic and trade pressure to reverse the repressive trends of the past five years is mounting; the European Union has put on hold a decision to extend a preferential trade and tariff agreement (called GSP+) that Sri Lanka needs to keep its clothing export industry thriving. In the United States, the Obama administration appears to be taking a new approach to countries like Sri Lanka, looking for leverage and influence but taking a less confrontational line. Before the stock market closed in Colombo on Tuesday afternoon, Sri Lanka stocks rose slightly; analysts said it was because of a “positive sentiment” among investors.

One, worrisome trend was the participation during the campaign of ranking military officers in TV political shows. They were there not because a colleague was running for the presidency, but because the military has become politicized to a degree not seen before in Sri Lanka, a 61-year-old developing country that has never had a military coup.

The partisanship shown in the media during the campaign is nothing new to the country; partisan journalism is part of the country’s decades-old media culture, as much a product of its colonial heritage as its public schools and parliamentary form of government.

Certainly the Rajapaksa government can learn to live within this culture. Violence against journalists, which spiked during the Rajapaksa administration’s all-out push to defeat the Tamil secessionists, can be reined in. The government can start to reverse the history of impunity in attacks on journalists, a record we documented in our 2009 report “Failure to Investigate.”

No one I’ve spoken with knows what will come next. Most, though not all, are fearful. Some have gone into hiding. At best, journalists outside the pro-government media are taking an anxious, wait-and-see attitude,

© Committee to Protect Journalists

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Friday, January 29, 2010

URGENT ALERT: "IRIDA LANKA" EDITOR ARRESTED!



Editor of the "Irida Lanka" newspaper, Chandana Sirimalwatte, has been arrested by the Criminal Investigation Department on Friday (29) afternoon. According to his lawyers he was questioned for two hours and was detained for further questioning.

Following the election victory, the ruling UPFA regime has launched a massive crackdown on all media institutions which backed the opposition candidate, former Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka. On Thursday (28), the authorities took steps to close down "Lanka E News" website, following the government's decision to block the local viewers from visiting the website for two days. In a separate incident on the same day, a State television employee who had been an outspoken critic of the state media policy was assaulted at his place of work.


The arrest of Chandana Sirimalwatte, the editor of "Irida Lanka" newspaper, proves the fact that the Sri Lankan government has adopted a policy of retaliation against all the forces including media, for not backing the candidacy of Mahinda Rajapaksa. The journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka urge all the responsible governments and global bodies with utmost urgency to demand an immediate stop to ongoing witch-hunt in Sri Lanka and to release Chandana Sirimalwatte immediately.

Make phone calls and send emails to:

The President of Sri Lanka - + 94 112447400/ email -president@presidentsoffice.lk

Secretary to the President - +94 112 2326309 / email - prsec@presidentsoffice.lk

Minister of Information Anura Yapa - + 94 0773 814470 (mobile) / +94 112596557 (Office)

Inspector General of Police Mahinda Balasuriya - +94 112 421750 / +94 773088400 email - igp@police.lk

Spokesman Mr. Nimal Madiwake (Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police) - +94 72 2248235

SSP I.M. Karunarathne (Assistant Media Spokesman) - +94 11 4236161 +94 772 602897

(please send copies of your emails to journalistsfordemocracy@gmail.com)

Executive Committee
Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka
29.01.2010

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Friday, January 29, 2010

Sri Lanka expels Swiss reporter



Sri Lankan authorities have withdrawn the visa granted to a Swiss reporter covering the island's fiercely fought presidential vote and asked her to leave the country within 48 hours.

Karin Wenger of Swiss Public Radio said she was sent a letter by the immigration controller saying she must leave the island before Monday and that her application for a media accreditation card had been denied.


She had already been issued with a media accreditation by the Sri Lankan government department of information and she said her journalist visa was valid until Feb 17. 'I fear I have been kicked out for asking uncomfortable questions at a government press conference,' Wenger, who is based in New Delhi, told AFP.

A government minister had publicly criticised her for grilling the authorities on allegations of irregularities at Tuesday's vote which was comfortably won by President Mahinda Rajapakse.

There was no immediate reaction from the government or the Swiss embassy in Colombo.

A letter sent to her from the Controller General of Immigration and Emigration, seen by AFP, stated: 'You are kindly informed to leave the country on or before 1 February 2010. Please note that you are not entitled to engage in any media activities in Sri Lanka during this period.

© The Straits Times

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Friday, January 29, 2010

MASKED STF OFFICERS RAID GENERAL FONSEKA'S OFFICE!



By Ranga Sirilal and Andrew Caballero-Reynolds - Sri Lankan police raided the office of losing presidential candidate General Sarath Fonseka on Friday, an aide said, two days after troops had surrounded him inside a hotel on suspicion he was plotting a coup.

"The police Special Task Force broke into the office of Sarath Fonseka," aide Asanka Mahagedara told Reuters.


A Reuters journalist saw police commandoes outside the location of Fonseka's office. A police spokesman could not immediately confirm if there had been a raid.

© Reuters

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Friday, January 29, 2010

CID RAIDS "LANKA IRIDA" OFFICE: SEEKS STATEMENT FROM THE EDITOR



A group of officers attached to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID)has raided "Lanka Irida" news paper office short while ago. They have informed the newspaper staff that they need to record a statement from the Chief Editor of the paper, Chandana Sirimalwatte.

On Thursday (28), addressing a media conference in Colombo, the leader of the People's Liberation Front (JVP) stated that the Defence Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who is also the brother of Prsident Mahinda Rajapaksa, has threatened him over the phone saying "I will set your Lanka newspaper on fire – be warned." Responding to the allegations, the Defence Secretary denied threatening the JVP leader but admitted that he made the call to 'clarify certain matters'. The latest incident comes in the aftermath of the above accusations.


"Lanka Irida", a newspaper close to the JVP, openly campaigned for President rajapaksa's rival candidate during the presidential election. Intending to create a state of fear and to silence dissenting views, the CID raided the "Lanka" office in last September and again later in October, the editor of the paper, Chandana Sirimalwatte, was arrested and questioned.

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Friday, January 29, 2010

URGENT ALERT: "LANKA E NEWS" OFFICE SEALED!



The office of the ‘Lanka e news’, a prominent news website operating from Sri Lanka, has been sealed off by the authorities, according to the journalists attached to the news site. When the journalists reported to work today (29.01.10), they have found out that the office has been sealed off.

The website, which maintained a highly critical editorial policy towards the ruling party during the recent presidential race, was targeted by the authorities soon after the results were announced. Prior to the latest incident the Lanka e News complained that the government has blocked their website on the Election Day (26), restricting readers residing in Sri Lanka from accessing the site. Two days before the elections, another regular contributor to the website, Prageeth Eknalogoda, went missing after leaving the website office and his whereabouts remains unknown. On Thursday (28), the website reported that a group of armed men who were believed to be members of a VIP security division, has arrived at the website office in a vehicle bearing the registration number 32-8432, around 8.00 p.m. The armed group has surrounded the office, but left the scene after realizing that there was no one inside.


The latest step to shut down Lanka e News website is a part of a systematic repressive campaign unleashed by the ruling UPFA government against journalists and media institutions, aimed at silencing opposing views and voices. The Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka appeals to the international governments, rights groups and concerned parties to take immediate action by exerting pressure on the Sri Lankan government demanding an immediate stop to repressive actions carried out against Lanka E News website and its journalists.

Make phone calls and send emails to:

The President of Sri Lanka - + 94 112447400/ email -president@presidentsoffice.lk

Secretary to the President - +94 112 2326309 / email - prsec@presidentsoffice.lk

Minister of Information Anura Yapa - + 94 0773 814470 (mobile) / +94 112596557 (Office)

Inspector General of Police Mahinda Balasuriya - +94 112 421750 / +94 773088400 email - igp@police.lk

Spokesman Mr. Nimal Madiwake (Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police) - +94 72 2248235

SSP I.M. Karunarathne (Assistant Media Spokesman) - +94 11 4236161 +94 772 602897

(please send copies of your emails to journalistsfordemocracy@gmail.com)

Executive Committee
Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka
29.01.2010

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Government to take action against General Fonseka



Anbarasan Ethirajan - The Sri Lankan defence secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa says that the government is considering taking action against the opposition presidential candidate and former army chief General Sarath Fonseka for allegedly divulging sensitive information to the public.

His comments came just a day after the incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa was announced the winner of the presidential elections.


The defence secretary said he was angry with his former colleague in the army for speaking out in public.

He said General Fonseka was wrong to suggest in a newspaper interview that the defence secretary had ordered the killings of senior Tamil rebels as they tried to surrender in the final stages of the conflict last May.

General Fonseka later retracted his statement.

He said his words were taken out of context. But in his BBC interview, Mr Rajapaksa said the retraction was not enough.

"He had done many mistakes," said Mr. Rajapaksa.

"He accused me of saying that I gave wrong orders. It came out in the newspapers. So taking action later on we will follow the procedures."

The defence secretary said that Gen. Fonseka will not be arrested "because he was the opposition candidate."

LTTE key suspect 'arrested'

There's been no immediate response from General Fonseka, who maintains that he won the presidential election and that he will be appealing against the verdict.

In his interview, the defence secretary also said they'd arrested the second in command of the Tamil Tiger organisation's overseas operations.

He said the suspect, known as Rajan (alias Subramaniam Sivakumar) had been arrested in a south east asian nation and brought to Colombo on Thursday.

The information regarding the suspect, he said, came from the Tamil Tiger leader, Selvarasa Pathmanathan, who is under arrest in Colombo. Mr Pathmanathan was arrested last August.

© BBC Sinhala

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

STATE TELEVISON EMPLOYEE ASSAULTED



A media employee attached to the state controlled TV broadcaster Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation has been assaulted by a person claimed to be a coordinator of Sri Lanka's president.

Ravi Abeywickrama, the Organizer of the Program Producers Union in the state TV corporation was reportedly assaulted by the official close to the president Mahinda Rajapaksa in the presence of corporation's chairman, Ariyarathna Athugala


Prior to the presidential election Ravi Abeywickrama signed a joint statement along with 60 other state media employees condemning the misuse of state media in favor of President Mahinda Rajapaksa's election campaign.

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

"I was forced to remove Competent Authority from state media": Polls Chief



“The two state media organisations did not comply with the relevant regulations of the election. Although the two heads of those media houses assured the Competent Authority (CA) appointed by me that they would comply with the CA's guidelines, it simply did not happen forcing me to remove him,” said the Elections Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake yesterday.

Addressing a media briefing last evening at the Elections Secretariat at Rajagiriya to announce that Mahinda Rajapaksa had been elected as the President of the country according to the provisions of the Constitution, the polls chief spoke of instances where several regional leaders had disturbed his staff; District Returning Officers being unable to take control; several Deputy Elections Commissioners coming under verbal abuse; election officials of one polling station being chased out, etc.


“Of the 22 candidates who contested the presidential election that was held on the 26th of January 2010, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has secured 6,015,934 votes. This is more than half, more than 50 per cent of the votes cast at the election and according to the provisions of the Constitution, he has been elected as the President of the country,” said the polls chief.

“We note now several regional leaders of political parties have been disturbing us. They came into polling centres with their supporters and disturb our officers. This is not a good precedent to go by.

“I do not think that this is something that is motivated by the hierarchy of these parties. This is something that is done by these elements out of their own choice. There have been several instances where my Distinct Retuning Officers were unable to take control of such situations. At the same time several of my deputy elections commissioners have had to face severe inconveniences and have even come under severe verbal abuse.

“There was also one instance where election officials were chased out of the polling centre. I take this opportunity to state that these acts are very disappointing. This election was conducted according to the provision set out in the 17th Amendment to the Constitution.

“One thing I noticed during this election is that the two state media organisations did not pay much attention to comply with the relevant regulations of this election. Therefore, I was forced to appoint a competent authority for this purpose but these two institutions did not pay any attention to his recommendations.

“I would like say that the heads these two institutions met with the Competent Authority and had promised to comply with his recommendations. However, I would like to say that the heads of these two institutions met wit the Competent Authority and had promised to comply with his recommendations.

“We believed that they would act accordingly but this did not happen. Therefore I was forced to cancel this appointment and treat it as something that would not work and had to continue with my duties.

“Furthermore on several instances, I observed how many public sector institutions were acting without having identified what they should and should not be doing.

“I was also forced to face several hardships and inconveniences during this election. I was to retire in 2002 but I am still here. Although I had to work with much mental pressure, I was able to successfully carry out my responsibilities to the letter.

“I earnestly request to be removed from this position and I feel that it would not be right for me to continue in this office after this election. I cannot function under these conditions. They are not conducive for my health. If something were to happen to me, it is only I who has to deal with it and so therefore, I have no indention of continuing under these circumstances,” said the Elections Commissioner.

© News First

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Sri Lanka: General Fonseka under House Arrest



Although the Army allowed General Sarath Fonseka, who contested the last Presidential Elections as the Common Opposition Candidate to go home from Hotel Cinnamon Lakeside, we reliably inform the readers that he is being kept under an unofficial House Arrest.

His house on Queens Road, Colombo 03 is encircled by soldiers of the Special Task Force and Gajaba Regiment of the Army, a reliable source informed Lanka News Web.


A senior Government Minister informed us that the troops are kept near his private residence for his own security. Meanwhile, the Army troops who were assigned for General Fonseka’s security have been withdrawn from midnight yesterday.

© Lanka News Web

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

"I will set your newspaper on fire" - SL Defence Secretary threatens JVP leader



“ I will set your Lanka newspaper on fire – be warned” were the words of Defence Secretary and brother of the President, Gotabaya Rajapakse to Somawansa Amarasinghe, leader of the JVP. The Defence Secretary made this call this morning to Mr Amarasinghe’s mobile phone. The conversation was witnessed by the JVP leader’s driver and members of the staff.

“ Around 9.21 am this morning, I received a call from the mobile no 077 – 3501626 which is the Defence Secretary’s number. He threatened me with death but I told him that one dies only once. He then asked me if I had not lived abroad and I said yes, I have but so have you. He next threatened to set Lanka newspaper press on fire.” Said Mr Amarasinghe at a press conference held in Pelawatte.


Answering questions raised by media, Mr Amarasinghe said that the phone number was recorded on his phone and that he answered the call leaving the speaker on in order to let the others who were with him to listen to the conversation.

© Lanka Truth

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

"If Prageeth is not missing, government should prove it" - SLWJA



A number of Sri Lankan web newspapers are blocked by Sri Lanka authorities in the run up to the presidential polls, a press freedom watchdog claims.

Lankaenews, Lankanewsweb, Infolanka and Sri Lanka Guardian websites were blocked in Sri Lanka hours before the results of the presidential elections announced, Paris based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said in a statement.


Condemning the "imposition of additional restrictions" on online freedom of expression, the watchdog said such censorship reflects the government's "readiness to resort to manipulation."

"The free flow of news and information during an election offers one of the few guarantees against massive fraud. We urge the government to restore access to these sites as the electoral commission has requested," RSF said in a statement.

The Lankaenews has lodged a complaint with the elections commissioner against the government's blocking of the website.

The Commissioner has referred the complaint to Sri Lanka Telecom, the Internet Service Provider (ISP). Secretary to the President, Lalith Weerathunga, is the chairman of the SLT.

Meanwhile, the press freedom watchdog has raised concern over the political columnist and cartoonist for Lankaenews, Prageeth Eknaligoda, who went missing last Sunday.

'Same old game'

Mr. Eknaligoda has been campaigning for the candidacy of the main opposition candidate Gen Sarath Fonseka.

"Eknaligoda had just written a long piece comparing the two leading presidential candidates and expressing a preference for the opposition candidate," said the RSF.

The Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA) accused the authorities of not taking steps to find the whereabouts of the missing journalist.

Its General Secretary, Lasantha Ruhunage, told BBC Sandeshaya that the government has resorted to the "same old game" of blaming the missing journalist of staging a disappearance drama.

"The role of a responsible government is to investigate any disappearance of a citizen, let alone a journalist, and prove that he is not missing" he said.

© BBC Sinhala

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Sri Lanka's defeated presidential candidate in hiding



Sri Lanka's defeated presidential candidate who failed in a bid to unseat incumbent Mahinda Rajapakse was in hiding Thursday in Colombo after warning of possible attempts on his life.

Former four-star general Sarath Fonseka was resoundingly defeated in the country's first post-war election and was then stripped of his 80-strong state security team which he said he needed to keep him safe.

"We have moved to a house in Colombo, but I can't tell you the location for obvious reasons," one of Fonseka's bodyguards told AFP late Wednesday.


In a day of high drama Wednesday that followed a bitter and vitriolic contest between the former allies, Fonseka rejected Rajapakse's victory and said he would mount a legal challenge.

Throughout the day, he was surrounded by heavily armed soldiers in a luxury hotel in central Colombo and he claimed he was unable to leave because he would be arrested or assassinated.

He eventually slipped out unimpeded after dark.

Rajapakse rode a wave of support among the majority Sinhalese population in the south to win the election, but he lost out to Fonseka in the Tamil areas in the north.

The 64-year-old president, who has close family members in key government positions, is a Sinhalese nationalist who ordered an offensive after taking office in 2005 to crush Tamil rebels and their 37-year separatist struggle.

The battle against the Tamil Tigers, who took up arms in 1972, has since been mired in war crimes allegations. Fonseka was the army chief credited with the military victory.

Analysts say Sri Lanka faces an enormous task in rebuilding its economy and is under stiff international pressure to secure a lasting political solution that addresses the grievances of its large Tamil minority.

Rajapakse and Fonseka, who belong to the Sinhalese majority, had both courted Tamil voters during the campaign with pledges of greater political inclusion and investment in the devastated northeast.

"I want to reach out to the Tamil people even though they did not vote for me this time," Rajapakse told reporters.

"What is important is to get them involved in a truly democratic election process," he added.

"We can sit and talk with them. See what their problems are. We can work together."

Rajapakse also said Wednesday that he was keen to repair relations with Western nations that were strained during the conflict due to criticism of Colombo's human rights record from the US, Britain and the European Union.

"Most of our misunderstandings were due to the fighting. It is over now. I am on my second (and final) term and we can work together to address any outstanding issues," he said from his residence.

Sri Lanka increasingly distanced itself from the West as it came under fire for its human rights record. It has built ties with China and Iran and last year hosted Myanmar's reclusive military leader Than Shwe.

Fonseka said Wednesday that he and the assorted coalition of opposition parties that backed him would challenge the election verdict, making their next step the filing of a petition at the Supreme Court.

But he also suggested he might have to flee abroad because the government had stripped him of his security, which he said was a deliberate ploy to leave him vulnerable to assassination by militants or government loyalists.

"They will try to assassinate me and then blame it on someone else," he told reporters.

Leaving the country in the short-term might be the best option, said the father-of-two who holds a US Green Card that gives him residency rights in the country.

Independent election monitors criticised the abuse of state resources by the government for campaigning ahead of the election, as well as violence on election day particularly in the north.

They stopped short of repudiating the vote, however.

© AFP

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