Monday, February 22, 2010

Wife's plea for Prageeth's release


The wife of a Sri Lankan journalist who disappeared mysteriously almost a month ago has appealed to the authorities to do more to find him.

The journalist, Prageeth Eknaligoda, who writes for Lankaenews website that carries dissenting views, went missing two days before the presidential election last month.

The fresh appeal on behalf of the journalist comes at a time when media rights groups say Sri Lanka has become one of the most dangerous places for journalists to carry out their work.

His colleagues say during the presidential election campaign Mr Eknaligoda wrote articles in favour of the defeated opposition candidate Sarath Fonseka.

State media allegations

The wife of the journalist, Sandhya Eknaligoda says her family is now really worried about his safety as an investigation into his disappearance hasn't made any headway.

A few days ago, she also filed a petition in a court seeking judicial intervention to find her husband's whereabouts.

Mrs Eknaligoda denied reports in state media that her husband has been hiding somewhere.

“I also saw these reports and informed the police and the officials at the human rights commission,” she told BBC Sinhala service, Sandeshaya.

“I told them that the information may be useful for their investigations.”

Mr Eknaligoda's colleagues believe that the pro-government supporters may be responsible for his disappearance. The government denies the allegations.

A police spokesman told BBC correspondent in Colombo, Anbarasan Ethirajan, that there had been some progress in the investigation.

Irida Lanka

Earlier this week an editor of a Sri Lankan newspaper was released after eighteen days in detention under the country's emergency regulations.

The editor Chandana Sirimalwatte, who's supportive of the opposition JVP, says he was released without any charges.

Media rights groups accuse the authorities of intimidating and harassing journalists critical of the government's policies.

Official figures show that nine journalists have been killed and more than twenty-five assaulted in the past four years in Sri Lanka.

The government says it has nothing to do with either the killings or the attacks on journalists.

© BBC Sinhala

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Monday, February 22, 2010

Sri Lanka Govt reveals plans to censor the Internet: Implications of an Information Dark Age

Kumar David - The Chinese tried it, at first it didn’t work; any smart kid at a terminal will crack the walls and surf the world through a proxy server. More important, ways can always be found to upload content, which is what the government is really afraid of; governments are more afraid of what you reveal about them, than what you find out about them or the outside world. Information censorship paid dividends in China only when it was backed up by brute force; police squads swooping on nerds who cracked the system, beating-up cyber protesters and dragging dissidents to prison. After that you need to supplement brutality with draconian legislation; otherwise the guys will walk away free and do it again. If we too go the way of a Lanka Information Dark Age (LIDA) the authorities will have to back it up with generalised political repression; LIDA cannot work otherwise.

We are entering election season. Every opposition party must festoon on its masthead that it (a) repudiates Internet censorship and will repeal all LIDA rules and regulations introduced by this government, (b) that it will uphold freedom of information and will enact meaningful freedom of information regulations styled on Western (not Stalinist) practices, (c) that there will be zero political censorship, and (d) essential censorship (outlawing child pornography for example) will be enacted only upon the recommendations of a council of eminent civilians including women, certainly not on the prescriptions of state functionaries.

The problem is this, the government will get draconian measures ready but will not reveal them till after the elections - why give the opposition another handle to beat it with - then will come the LIDA communication straight-jacket and legislation to smother dissent.

What’s in the works?

A headline in the front page of a Sunday newspaper declares “Chinese here for cyber censorship”, cofirming a news story first broken in Lakbimanews, and the report quotes the new TRC Director General Anusha Pelpita as saying “he did not rule out the possibility of imposing sanctions and censorship”. The report adds, “In addition action will be taken to impose controls on the Google search engine”. State sponsored banana vendors in the most revolting banana republics are not quite so barefaced about their plans for thought control. This is a frightened regime, truth and transparency give it diarrhoea; this country has never before been threatened with despotic thought control replicating Chinese or any other Stalinism as the norm; no not ever before. The worst is that once this rotten lot start it, the next government and the ones thereafter, UNP, SF or whoever, will never roll it back; they too will exploit these despotic powers to the full, till one day the people throw out the whole putrid system.

An article bearing dateline 15 February in the World Socialist Website ( titled Sri Lankan government prepares new Internet restrictions says “In a further violation of basic democratic rights, Sri Lankan authorities are preparing new measures to censor Internet sites critical of the government. Reports of the plan emerged on several web sites last night, amid a widening crackdown on the political opposition, including the arrest last Monday of opposition presidential candidate, General Sarath Fonseka”.

Dealing with specific issues the report went on that “Under regulations to be drafted by the Telecommunication Authority (TRC), it will be compulsory for all news websites to register with the authority to obtain Internet Protocol (IP) addresses. The National Express Internet Service Advisory Service, which handles IP addresses, will also be involved in implementing the rules, a TRC official told the newspaper. Restrictions will also be imposed on the Google search engine”.

We can decry all this as the antithesis of democracy, detrimental to business, and injurious to scholarship and academia, but the authorities will take no notice, they will not be moved one jot. The only language the regime understands is the language of power. If powerful mass and political forces are galvanised against LIDA, it can be pushed pack, otherwise the regime will do as it wills.

There need be no doubt in our minds that the purpose of LIDA is political. Already numerous websites are blocked; I am aware of TamilNet, TamilCanadian, lankanewsweb, nidahasa and lankaenews, but this is an incomplete list. Now that the war is over there is no military motive. The purpose now is different; it is to block exposure of corruption, abuse of power at the top, revelations of the antics of the royal dynasty, and to hide state atrocities. An information blanket supplements restrictions on press freedom such as sealing papers, arresting editors and abducting journalists. These are tools to hold down the swell of anti-government feeling - don’t be misled by Rajapaksa’s large presidential vote.

The Chinese model

The New York Times of 15 February, referring to the ham-fisted cutting off of Internet facilities in Xinjiang Province after July 2009 ethnic disturbance, calls it “China’s Self-Defeating Censorship”. “The province remains without email, instant messaging and blogs . . . since July, 32 Internet activists have been held in jails”. This is not Timbuktu though it is in China’s far west. The population is the same as Sri Lanka but the land area is 25 times larger, it is barren and a large part dessert while we are lush and green. However the province contains mineral resources and is caught up in China’s exploding economic boom; its provincial GDP is about 50% larger than Sri Lanka’s national GDP.

The economic woes of Xinjiang cannot all be attributed to the Internet clamp down, but it is a factor. One must consider the decline in the Xinjiang economy relative to the decline in the Chinese economy as a whole as a result of the Global Capitalist Crisis. The numbers are: Xinjiang’s export-import trade volume fell by 39% while across China it fell by 21% in 2009; China’s GDP growth declined to 8.7% in 2009 while it declined to 8% in the Province. Now this is not all due to Internet disconnection, obviously the larger factor was the fall from the ethnic riots.
The New York Times is more likely than not to be a tendentious reporter on China, but the article does make a broad-brush statement that I believe is correct.

“In Xinjiang, Internet censorship has inconvenienced people, hurt the economy and increasingly dented the government’s standing. Although controls in Xinjiang are far more draconian than in the rest of China, the province can be viewed as a microcosm of China itself. In the long-term, China’s censorship regime will only work to destabilize the country and discredit the government”.

So what will our government say to all this? We will exploit the fruits of office for as long as we can squeeze out what juices we can, and then push off! You suckers can stew for all we care! Such is the nature of ideologically primitive regimes in third world states.

© Lakbima News

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Monday, February 22, 2010

Former Lanka president slams govt for holding General Fonseka without charges

Former Sri Lankan prime minister and opposition leader Ranil Wickremasinghe has slammed the government for detaining Gen Sarath Fonseka without charges, accusing it of trying to "concoct" evidence against the defeated presidential candidate.

Wickremasinghe, chief of the opposition United National Party, said a losing candidate was not imprisoned in any country, and demanded that his be shifted to a civil court.

"A candidate who has lost the election won't be imprisoned in any country. When Obama won he did not put John Mccain behind bars," he told a gathering here yesterday.

The opposition leader charged that the former military chief was being held without framing any charges against him, and demanded that he be tried in a civil court if at all he has to be tried.

"How can the military law be implemented against a retired military officer. What mistakes has he committed? "Sarath Fonseka is being held without any charges being put forward. He has not been arrested but is being held by the military," he said.

He said according to military law, chargesheet should be presented before a lapse of 24 hours after an arrest but it has not been done in Fonseka's case.

"The attorney general is saying investigations are being carried out. That means they are trying to concoct evidence. What is his evidence?" he asked.

"It is being said that the discovery of foreign currency is a violation of the country's Foreign Currency regulations. If that is the case Fonseka should be produced before a civil court," Wickremasinghe said. The Opposition leader said Fonseka should then be charged for violating foreign currency regulations.

"Military charges should be withdrawn. He (Fonseka) should be brought before a civil court. Why can't it be done," he asked.

Sri Lanka's opposition has come out in support of Fonseka, who was put behind bars after the presidential election that saw Mahinda Rajapaksa winning a second term. The government has claimed that Fonseka had plotted to assassinate Rajapaksa and topple his government.

© Daily News & Analysis

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Monday, February 22, 2010

Sri Lanka: Clueless IDPs and govt. resettlement plans

By Ranga Jayasuriya - The government pledged to resettle former residents of Wanni, in their former villages by the end of January 31. They were earlier herded into tightly guarded camps in Vavunia. On the surface, the government seems to have lived up to its undertaking —at least a part of it.

Civilians have been granted freedom of movement and many of the once teeming camps have now been emptied.

But, in the resettled villages, it is a different spectacle: Over hundred thousand civilians, former inmates in camps are virtually dumped on their former villages in the Wanni, and are left without any means to resume normal lives.

With their houses no longer intact, their property destroyed and vandalized, it is an uphill task for the resettled Tamils to restart their lives.

When this correspondent visited the resettled villages on the A 9 Road, it was a waste-land that awaited him. The majority of the houses had been reduced to rubble. A few skeletons of concrete buildings stood where former towns were located. No building was left with the roof intact. Kilinochchi is a ghost town of war wrecked buildings, except for the soldiers and pilgrims heading for Nagadeepa on the A 9 Road.

It is a land of shattered hopes and crumbled homes.

Sinnaiah Velu was released from the IDP camp in December last year along with his family. Originally from Nedunkerny, Olumadu, they were told that their land is still being demined. Hence, the family was left abandoned in Parissamkulam, near Kanagarayan kulam, where they now live in a makeshift hut and collect fire wood to make ends meet. “People from Jaffna come to buy firewood,” he says.

He said he was not given a plot of land to cultivate as he was not a resident from the area, which leaves him having to rely on the jungle to make living.

But, mines and booby traps in the jungle pose a mortal threat. Last week, two civilians lost their limbs from landmines.

The Sinnaiahs are one among 65 families from Nedunkerny living on the A 9 road in Parrisamkulam, awaiting green light to proceed to their villages.

Sinnaiah like most other IDPs have received 25,000 rupees start up allowance. But, the fact of the matter is that it is too little and it could hardly better the IDPs case, who is left with nothing but the cloth on his back. The only exceptions to groups with such a fate are those with access to foreign remittance.

Another 25,000 rupees is being paid to the IDPs for doing 50 days of social work, ten days of which could be utilized to rebuild and clean their own houses.

Additional Government Agent (Vavuniya North), K Paranthaman says that the government would provide a grant of 325,000 rupees each to rebuild houses, and that the evaluation report has already been sent to Colombo. Housing is the acid test for the government. The resettled former IDPs take shelter in tents and huts, but the monsoon would complicate the situation. A few could, of course, afford to build houses on their own, but the vast majority would be condemned to live in shacks. Many civilians, this correspondent spoke to were clueless about the government’s resettlement plans.

On the surface, it looks like the camp life had been shifted to Kanagarayan kulam. But, there is some work, though at its incipient age. There are 20 or so Grama Sevaka Divisions in the Vavuniya North AGA Division, only in nine of which, resettlement activities have commenced, owning to landmines. Resettlement had commenced only on the left side of the A 9 road and the demining activities are being carried out on the other side.

IDPs are given paddy land to cultivate. Every family is given 2 acres and the government provides seed free of charge. Farming has commenced in many places.

K. Ganesh (40), a resettled villager in Kanagarayankulam says that he has resumed farming.

Weidyalingam Nithyanathan (42) another resettled villager asks for a water pump to water his vegetable plot. But he and many other IDPs complain that they had not received food rations for past two weeks.

Many of the resettled villagers carry old scars of war; many were caught in shelling as they fled the Tiger controlled pocket.

K. Rathan (28) originally from Nedunkerny shows his still festering wounds in the legs. He says battle scars had prevented him from working in the paddy fields. Another villager says he was evacuated to safety by the ICRC relief ship at the height of war. But, he mourns for his son, who is still missing and feared to be killed in the final days of the battle.

In the face of scarce resources, there is competition. A middle aged couple -- residents of Nedunkerny --- complained to the AGA that locals didn’t allow them to use the well.

The AGA tells this correspondent that it was a sign of caste differences, a perennial trait of the Tamil polity, which the LTTE reined in to greater extend, but is showing up, even before people emerge from the wreckage of war.

The Assistant Government Agent vows that a resettlement package is in the offing and that he would commence a vocational training program for the resettled youth to find employment in the host of construction activities soon to take place in the war torn Wanni.

But, some IDPs are yet to make up their minds after the end of a vicious war and a wretched camp life. Some have lost their kith and kin to the war; some others are still unaccounted for, while others languish in detention.

© Lakbima News

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Monday, February 22, 2010

Rise of Sri Lankan President’s son Namal Rajapaksa sparks concern

Jeremy Page, South Asia Correspondent - Modesty is apparently not a strong point for Namal Rajapaksa, the 23-year-old son of the Sri Lankan President and scion of Asia’s newest political dynasty.

His website says: “A future leader with a friendly spirit and possessing good values is what comes to mind when meeting the dashing and smashing young Namal Rajapaksa."

The keen rugby player graduated from London’s City University in September with a third-class law degree. He now clearly plans to follow in the footsteps of his father, Mahinda, who was an MP at 24 and went on to defeat his former army chief, Sarath Fonseka, in a presidential election last month.

Last week, after General Fonseka’s arrest, Namal was accepted by his father’s party as a candidate in parliamentary elections on April 8, joining dozens of other relatives in government and politics. One rumour suggests that he could take over the politically powerful position of Custodian of the Temple of the Tooth, Sri Lanka’s holiest Buddhist shrine.

Namal’s meteoric rise was hailed last week in a eulogy on the official government news portal, entitled The Doctrine of Namal Rajapaksa — Activism and Positivism in Politics.

For most Sri Lankans it came as no surprise: Namal campaigned alongside his father and used an NGO that he runs to fund a lavish television advertising campaign promoting the incumbent. For many, however, his political debut, and the personality cult surrounding it, are worrying indications of the demise of South Asia’s oldest democracy.

Over the past fortnight international concern has focused on the arrest of General Fonseka — who led the army to victory over the Tamil Tiger rebels last year — on charges of plotting a coup. Equally troubling, however, is the Rajapaksa clan’s ever-tightening grip on power — especially if the ruling coalition wins a two-thirds majority in April, allowing it to change the Constitution.

Alan Keenan, of the International Crisis Group, said that the President had had reason to surround himself with family when he came to power in 2005, as he faced many political enemies and the threat of assassination by the Tigers.

“Up to a point, it was understandable. But now it does seem to have reached an extreme level, and with real dangers,” he said. “There’s always been corruption, but businessmen in Colombo now complain it’s got to the point where you have to know a Rajapaksa to get something done. That’s unprecedented.”

Now Namal is being touted as a potential successor to his father, whose second and final term will end in 2016. Supporters say that this is no different from the Gandhis in India, the Bhuttos in Pakistan or the Kennedys and the Bushes in the US.

T.C. Rajaratnam, who wrote last week’s official eulogy, said: “His style is unique and incomparable. If Sri Lanka has to develop at a rapid pace then Namal Rajapaksa should have the controlling authority.”

Critics say that such eulogies smack of the kind of personality cult surrounding Kim Jong Il, the North Korean leader.

Sri Lanka's ruling dynasty

Mahinda - President, Minister of Finance, Media, Religious Affairs & Moral Upliftment, Highways and Road Development

Gotabaya (younger brother) - Secretary of ministries of Defence, Public Security, and Law and Order

Basil (older brother) - MP and senior presidential adviser on economic and international affairs

Chamal (older brother) - Minister of Ports and Aviation and Minister of Irrigation and Water Management

Shashindra (Chamal’s son) - MP and Chief Minister of Uva province

Jaliya Wickramasuriya (Mahinda’s first cousin) - Sri Lankan Ambassador to the United States

Udayanga Weeratunga (Mahinda’s first cousin) - Sri Lankan Ambassador to Russia

Kapila Dissanayake (Mahinda’s cousin) - councillor of Southern Province and President’s co-ordinating secretary in Hambantota

© Times Online

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Monday, February 22, 2010

Probe into Fonseka’s poll funds

Sri Lanka is investigating whether foreign sources funded the campaign of defeated opposition presidential candidate General Sarath Fonseka, a newspaper report said yesterday.

The former Army commander is already in military custody facing charges of conspiracy against the government.

The Criminal Investigations Department (CID) began investigating after $527,000 in cash were found in the bank locker of a close relative of Fonseka last week, the Sunday Times in Colombo reported.

Sri Lankan law limits the possession of US bank notes to $2,000 without government permission, it said.

The report said the CID sought the help of Interpol headquarters in France to try to determine the source of the currency.
Detectives were also interviewing officials of the Central Bank and local banks, the news report said.

The money was found in one of safety deposit boxes under the name of Asoka Tillekeratne, whose son Danuna is married to a daughter of Fonseka, it said.

Detectives said Danuna Tillekeratne is wanted in connection with alleged fraudulent activity in supplying military items to the army, and is evading arrest. They were also investigating reports that he had fled Sri Lanka under a false name, the paper said.

© Gulf Times

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