Monday, February 01, 2010

Sri Lanka: Court reverses ban on "Lanka" Newspaper

Rejecting the request made by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), the Gangodawila Magistrate's court has revoked the temporary ban imposed on Lanka newspaper, when the case was taken up on Monday (01).

The CID informed the Court, that in order to proceed with the case against the Editor of Lanka, Chandana Sirimalwatte, who is been detained by the CID, the banning of the newspaper must be upheld. However, lawyers representing the newspaper insisted that the ban has resulted in a violation of the right of expressing one’s opinion, guaranteed under the Constitution.

They noted that the article in question over which the newspaper was banned, was carried on January 17th 2010 and has had no bearing whatsoever on the security status of the country nor has it affected country's stability. Additionally, the CID has so far been unable to furnish the court with any adequate proof of the charges framed against the newspaper.

Having heard both sides, the Magistrate ruled that the CID had not presented adequate evidence in favour of the ban and therefore, court has to take steps to ensure the right of the people to information.

© Lanka Truth

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Monday, February 01, 2010

Sri Lanka: Wife pleads for missing journalist

By Charles Haviland - The wife of a Sri Lankan journalist who mysteriously disappeared one week ago has pleaded that he be freed by whoever is holding him.

Prageeth Eknaligoda's colleagues said he wrote articles favourable to losing presidential candidate Sarath Fonseka.

Gen Fonseka lost last Tuesday's election to the incumbent President, Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Media rights groups have also condemned the government for shutting down a newspaper critical of the government.

Mr Eknaligoda, a writer for the website, left home last Sunday morning but has not been heard from since he phoned a colleague that evening, a call that was abruptly cut off.

Emergency regulations

His wife, Sandhya, has told a Sunday newspaper that she and their two sons have not slept for days, saying: "My plea to whoever has Prageeth is to please send him back home".

The website has shut itself down after police searched its premises.

At the same time, local media groups have condemned the authorities' forced suspension of a pro-opposition newspaper, Lanka, and the arrest of its editor.

Their statement accused the government of launching "repression" against media outlets that did not obey government orders or that expressed dissenting voices.

The director of the Criminal Investigation Department told the BBC the editor was being held under emergency regulations, because a recent article might have violated rules on government inquiries into terrorism.

Since the president's election victory, the government has moved to secure its position.

On Friday, it raided the Gen Fonseka's office, arresting 13 people.

It has also detained a serving brigadier who once served directly under Gen Fonseka and has reshuffled many senior military officers.

The Sunday Times newspaper says the move has demoted many suspected of favouring the general.

© BBC News

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Monday, February 01, 2010

Sri Lankan government 'settling scores' in media crackdown

By Andrew Buncombe - The newly re-elected government of Mahinda Rajapaksa has been accused of orchestrating a fresh crackdown on the media after a series of websites were blocked and at least one reporter detained after raising questions about the conduct of the election. One journalist is missing, one has been assaulted and others have received death threats.

In what campaigners claimed was a "settling of scores", around half-a-dozen websites has been blocked and the offices of one of them sealed. A foreign journalist who had been ordered from the country after asking a question about the president's brother was subsequently told she could stay after her case received international attention.

"Now that the president has been re-elected, there appears to be a settling of scores with critics of the government," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch (HRW). "Just days after the election, some officials seem to be on a campaign to abuse their power."

While the Sri Lankan authorities have previously been accused of intimidating journalists, many observers have been surprised at the government's actions following an election it won by 17 points. In the aftermath of his victory, Mr Rajapaksa vowed to reach out to all sections of Sri Lankan society and work for reconciliation in a country where the traumas of a three-decade long civil war remain fresh.

The government insists it is not attacking the media, only preventing the spread of what it termed defamatory rumours. A senior spokesman said: "Which country allows absolute freedom to websites or any arm of the media which gives publicity to socially corrosive and personally defamatory rumours that can also tend to destabilise the state."

But HRW said it had detected a pattern of harassment. Five online media organisations have been blocked since the day before the election on January 26, while two days later, a group of armed men surrounded the offices of one of the outlets, Lanka e News, and sealed them. A regular contributor to the website, Prageeth Eknalogoda, who has a wife and child, has been missing since two days before the election.

A member of staff at Lanka e News said after their offices were sealed, staff received up to 40 phone calls in a hour "threatening us with death if we did not stop what we were doing".

The previous day detectives arrested and questioned Chandana Sirimalwatte, editor of the Iridia Lanka newspaper. He has been detained, reportedly because of an article published on election day about a senior government official.

State media workers have also suffered. Ravi Abeywickrama, an employee at Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation, was attacked after signing a joint statement with 60 other employees that raised questions about the misuse of state media by Mr Rajapaksa's campaign, an issue that was also raised by the country's independent election commissioner, Dayananda Dissanayake, who said it had been overwhelming biased in favour of the president.

"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 the media freedom group, Reporters Without Borders. "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."

While it is Sri Lankan journalists who suffer the gravest dangers, international correspondents have also been harassed. Karin Wenger, a reporter with the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) was ordered to leave the country after she asked a question about the role of Mr Rajapaksa's brother, Basil Rajapaksa, in the campaign. This order was subsequently revoked and Ms Wenger informed there had been "a huge blunder". Many foreign journalists were refused visas to cover the election.

Campaigners say in recent years at least 14 media workers have been killed and dozens more forced into exile. Among the most high profile cases was that of Lasantha Wickremetunge, editor of the Sunday Leader newspaper, which often criticised the government and who was murdered a year ago. No-one has been charged over his death. The government has denied any involvement in attacks on journalists.

Bob Dietz, of the Committee to Protect Journalists, based in New York, said: "Given the ugly history of attacks on journalists in Sri Lanka, we call on President Rajapaksa to ensure the safety of all journalists and to use his new mandate to reverse the repressive trends of the past several years."

© The Independent

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Monday, February 01, 2010

S.Lanka revokes expulsion of Swiss reporter

Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapakse on Sunday revoked an expulsion order against a Swiss reporter who covered the island's fiercely fought election.

A government spokesman said that "wrong information" had led to the immigration authorities ordering Karin Wenger, of Swiss Public Radio, to leave the country.

The department of information had accused her of damaging the image of Sri Lanka with "defamatory" reports.

A government minister also criticised her for grilling the authorities on allegations of irregularities in Tuesday's vote, which was comfortably won by incumbent Rajapakse.

International rights organisations accused the government of harassing independent journalists who it believed sided with the defeated opposition candidate Sarath Fonseka.


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Monday, February 01, 2010

Government moves against media raise fears for Sri Lankan democracy

Jeremy Page - A crackdown on media organisations has raised fears for democracy in Sri Lanka days after President Rajapaksa’s disputed re-election.

Media and rights groups accuse Mr Rajapaksa’s Government of closing and blocking news outlets and harassing, assaulting and detaining journalists who it claims supported General Sarath Fonseka — a former army chief and Mr Rajapaksa’s rival in last Tuesday’s election. Sri Lanka is South Asia’s oldest democracy, but Mr Rajapaksa severely curbed civil liberties during the military campaign that led to the defeat of the Tamil Tiger rebels last May.

During vote counting last Wednesday, his Government sent troops to surround General Fonseka’s hotel headquarters, and raided his campaign office after he disputed the result.

On Friday authorities detained Chandana Sirimalwatte, the editor of Lanka, a pro-opposition weekly newspaper, on unspecified charges. On Saturday they closed the newspaper. Media owners, editors and rights bodies issued a joint statement yesterday describing the move as a “fatal blow to media freedom and democracy”. It said: “Promises made during the presidential campaign to defend press freedom and speed up the investigations into assassinations of journalists have evaporated within days.”

Authorities also tried to expel Karin Wenger, a Swiss radio reporter, apparently for asking questions about the conduct of the election at a press conference with ministers. Ms Wenger asked why troops had been deployed around General Fonseka’s hotel, and why Basil Rajapaksa, the President’s brother and adviser, went to see the Independent Elections Commissioner just before the latter announced the final results. The ministers denied that Basil Rajapaksa was meeting the commissioner, and said that he was asleep at the time, but Ms Wenger said that she saw him leave the Commissioner’s office immediately after the press conference.

The Government revoked her accreditation and ordered her to leave the country, but was forced to back down after protests by rights groups and the Swiss Embassy. There were also reports that authorities had blocked access to websites critical of the Government and sealed the offices of one, LankaeNews. Prageeth Ekneligoda, a regular contributor to the site, has been missing since January 24.

“Now that the President has been re-elected, there appears to be a settling of scores with critics of the Government,” said Brad Adams, the Asia director of Human Rights Watch.

© Times Online

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Monday, February 01, 2010

More state media staff under probe

More staff from the state electronic and print media including a deputy Director of the state owned television Rupavahini, are under probe for their alleged involvement in a coup attempt by the opposition against the government, state television reported in its night news bulletin.

The news report late this evening said that these state media staff had reportedly been part of the alleged attempt which was hatched from the Cinnamon Lakeside hotel in Colombo by opposition Presidential candidate General Sarath Fonseka.

Already eight employees of the state owned Lake House newspapers have been interdicted over their involvement in this attempt and the news report this evening said several others are also expected to be taken to task including some staff members at Rupavahini.

© Daily Mirror

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