Friday, March 26, 2010

Sri Lanka: Attack over ‘offensive’ music video revives old fears

By Adithya Alles - Anger against the popular rap and hip-hop singer Akon, whose music video has footage of bikini-clad women dancing near a Buddha statue, may have been just a ruse used in this week’s attack on a private media house in Sri Lanka, media advocates fear.

Some 200 people attacked and stoned the head office of MTV and Sirasa, two of the country’s popular privately owned television and radio networks, on Monday, in the wake of anger over the video of a song by the U.S.-based Akon, which has now been cancelled. MTV was one of the concert promoters.

While the attackers may have indicated that their anger was caused by the music video, media activists say that the attack has simply added to a long list of intimidation and harassment faced by journalists in this South Asian island nation.

A poster left behind by the mob gave a clue as to the motive behind the attack -- or at least what those behind it wanted others to think had ignited their wrath. Written in clearly legible Sinhala, it said: ‘Don’t bring Akon to Sri Lanka’. Akon, a Senegalese American, was to perform in Sri Lanka in April.

Anger over the singer’s arrival in Sri Lanka grew in the last week over a music video for the song ‘Sexy Bitch’, which includes two women in bikinis dancing in front of a white Buddha statue.

Over 60 percent of Sri Lanka’s 20 million people are Buddhists and what they see as sacrilege easily generates anger.

Two Facebook groups against the Akon show have sprung up, getting more than 12,000 members. However, there was no indication that the protest campaign was going to turn violent. In fact, some group members have posted messages urging others not to allow extremists to take over their peaceful campaign.

A similar incident in 2004, though without the involvement of any Facebook groups, had ended in disastrous circumstances.

In December 2004, public anger broke out when Indian superstar Shahruk Khan was to hold a concert in Colombo that coincided with the death anniversary of a beloved Buddhist monk. Despite the protests, the concert went ahead and toward the end, a hand grenade explosion left two concertgoers dead. The culprits have never been indentified.

The Free Media Movement (FMM), the country’s foremost media rights group, believes that the mob attack was not a random event. "This cannot be taken as an isolated act. It is part and parcel of what has been taking place in the recent past," FMM spokesman Sunil Jayasekera said in an interview.

Others say that the row over the Akon concert provided an effective veil for anyone who wanted to target the Sirasa broadcasting house, which has been known for its independent reporting during the civil war between the state and separatist Tamil rebels in the country.

"This (Akon) concert was just an excuse for this attack. There had been concerns over its safety even before this controversy over the concert," said Susil Kidelepitiya, a former news director at Sirasa. Kidelepitiya is contesting the April general election as part of the opposition United National Party.

Media activists say that the long list of intimidations, arrests, assaults, abduction and even unsolved murders has already made journalists look over their shoulders all the time.

"This is not the first time MTV/Sirasa or their journalists have been attacked. Their studios were set on fire in January 2009. No one knows who did that," Jayasekera said. The FMM official says the government needs to take action to assure the media community that it can safely do its job.

After that 2009 attack, Reporters Without Borders had said: "The attack seems to be because its coverage was not ‘patriotic’ enough. The network is one of the country’s few, and very popular, independent news sources. The incident recalls the November 2007 attack on the Leader Publication printing works, for which nobody has been punished."

Reporters Without Borders had also noted that the MTV/Sirasa network has been criticised "for not giving enough air-time to recent government victories over the (Tamil Tiger) rebels," which the government defeated militarily last year.

Officials of the Working Journalists’ Association agree that authorities have shown a lukewarm attitude in investigating such attacks.

"If there is a sense that these kinds of acts are tolerated, it does not augur well for the future," Lasantha Ruhunge, the association secretary, told IPS. "Then more and more journalists will not feel safe enough to do their job -- which would mean that less and less information would reach the public."

This week’s attack had all the makings of a well laid-out plan rather than a spontaneous outburst of public anger.

The mob appeared in front of the office of Capital Maharaja, the holding company of MTV and Sirasa TV located here in the capital Colombo, without much fanfare. They arrived in two hired buses, alighted and started pelting the building with stones, clubs and anything they could grab hold of.

As stones rained on the glass facade of the Maharaja building, those inside retaliated. Some hurled the stones back at the attackers while others unwound a fire hose and opened the tap on the mob. A while later, police arrived at the scene with riot gear. The attackers dispersed and 16 were taken into custody, according to police. All were released on bail a day later.

The mob may have been doused before it could turn ugly, but it left the staff at Maharaja in shock. Staffers were seen wandering in the compound speaking on their mobile phones, gazing at the crowd that had gathered after the mob attack. They said that no one had the faintest idea of an attack before the stones started banging against the windows .

"Bringing down an artist (Akon) who has no respect for Buddhism cannot be condoned, but so is this act. Going and stoning the office is not the answer," Hegodda Vippassi Thero, a Buddhist monk, told IPS. He had urged organisers to reconsider going ahead with the concert in view of the controversial video.

Whether the mob really wanted to take the anti-Akon sentiment to a violent level will never be known, but it has achieved what was written on the poster it left behind. The Sri Lankan government has said that it would not be issuing a visa to Akon because he was "defaming Buddhism".

In a statement, Akon said: "I would never set out to offend or desecrate anyone's religion or religious beliefs."

All that, however, does not address the worries of the FMM and the Working Journalists’ Association – that being the messenger makes the media very much a target in this country.

© Inter Press Service

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Friday, March 26, 2010

Sri Lanka: Author held in book row

A Bahrain resident has been arrested in Sri Lanka after converting to Islam and writing two books in Sinhalese allegedly offensive to the spiritual leader of Buddhism.

Sarah Malanie Perera, 38, was detained in the capital Colombo on Saturday as she was due to leave her homeland after a three-month holiday.

Discover Islam has now issued an international appeal to human rights groups to help secure her release, after being contacted by one of her sisters.

Relatives in Bahrain also fear she may not be allowed to return here as her residence permit expires today.

Ms Perera came to Manama in 1985 to assist her elder sister Mariam, who owned a gifts and flowers shop called Madhuri in The Palace Hotel, Adliya.

She worked there for two years before staying at home to care her sick old mother Aisha.

Ms Perera later worked as an assistant accountant for the US Navy, before becoming a teacher at the Child Development Centre, Juffair.

Born and brought up in a Buddhist family, she embraced Islam in 1999 after studying religion at Discover Islam.

Her father Norbet Perera, mother Soma and sisters Padma, Rasa, Padmani and Malanie, later also converted to Islam at separate times.

They are now called Mohammed, Aisha, Fatima, Raihana, Fowzia and Sarah respectively.

"Ever since she (Sarah) embraced Islam, she was compiling a book on Islam and comparative religion," said her sister Mariam yesterday.

"In September 2009 she has completed her compilation.

"She has printed it into two beautiful books entitled From Darkness to Light and Questions and Answers.

"During her visit to Sri Lanka, she printed the books and was due to come back to Bahrain on Saturday.

"She was sending some copies of the books through cargo and the owner of the cargo office, who happened to be linked with an extremist racist organisation called Helaurumaya, contacted the police claiming the book was offensive to Lord Buddha."

Mariam claimed the group forced the police to detain her sister beyond the 24-hour limit before a case must be transferred to the courts.

"Sarah went home after taking three months holiday to finish a property issue, as my father died six years ago and no one was there to care for it," she said.

"As we all are married and have families plus jobs, it was impossible to go back earlier and thought she would finalise the matter during her vacation.

"But we didn't know she would be arrested for writing the book."

A Discover Islam official said the arrest of Ms Perera was unfair and demanded Bahrain's authorities take action to ensure her quick release.

"We want all the international authorities and human rights organisations to help sister Sarah," they said.

Relatives say Ms Perera's books were not abusive to Lord Buddha and merely explained the original teachings of Buddha according to the Buddhist scriptures.

They said she wrote it to explain why she chose to convert to Islam and it was an attempt to bring people of all faiths closer by recognising their similarities.

Ms Perera is being held in Mirihana Police Station, Colombo, while investigations continue.

© Gulf Daily News

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Friday, March 26, 2010

National Sangha Council accepts responsibility for the protest: MCNS Director

Jathika Sangha Sammelanaya has accepted responsibility for the protest demonstration held against MTV media 02 days ago for sponsoring the performance of a foreign artiste named Ikon who allegedly had blasphemed Lord Buddha. While the protest was continuing, a confrontation had taken place between the protestors and the staff of the MTV institute. In the ensuing fracas, the property belonging to the MTV institution had been damaged. The Police are conducting investigations said Mr. Lakshman Hulugalle Director General MCNS addressing a media briefing held at MCNS today(24).

Several suspects for the attack have been interrogated and released on police bail, Mr. Hulugalle added. Answering a question he said the government totally denies any involvement and this is purely a confrontation between an organization and the media institute.

© Media Centre for National Security

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Friday, March 26, 2010

Tamil politicians highlight Sinhalese influx into North Lanka

PK Balachandran - In the intense competition for the ethnic Tamil vote in the run up to the April 8 Sri Lankan parliamentary elections, parties touting Tamil nationalism are highlighting the “dangers” arising from the post-war influx of Sinhalese into the predominently Tamil Jaffna peninsula and the Wanni.

Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which is the strongest of the Tamil nationalist parties, is drawing attention to the construction of permament Sri Lankan army camps in the Wanni. Suresh Premachandran, who is contesting from Jaffna district, told Express that the construction of permament camps meant the transformation of the existing camps into family stations, which in turn, would mean a great increase in the population of the Sinhalese. This fear stems from the fact that the Sri Lankan army is almost exclusively Sinhalese.

“The army has about 40,000 troops now in the Wanni.Very soon, the troops’ families will join them. Once a permanent settlement comes up, infrastructural facilities like Sinhalese schools and Buddhist temples will come up, and the ethno-cultural character of the Wanni will change,” Premachandran said.

Tamil nationalists point out that the predominantly Tamil Wanni has been substantially denuded of Tamils by the war, which had gone on for 30 years. The existing Tamil population has been impoverished by the war, especially in the last two years of it.

C.Sridharan, another TNA candidate in Jaffna, is quoted by Sudar Oli daily as saying that the army is constructing 4,000 family quarters at Kokkavil. There would soon be at least 8000 school going Sinhalese children, for whom Sinhalese schools would have to be opened, he said.

“Similar family stations will come up in Iyakkachchi, Palai and Jaffna,” he warned.


A lawyer, who did not want to be named, said that Buddhist temples (most Buddhists are Sinhalese in Sri Lanka) were mushrooming in Jaffna. He said that a Buddhist temple had come up recently near the ancient Thiruketheeswaram temple in Mantottam in Mannar district in west Wanni.

Visiting Sinhalese traders have put up temporary shops all over Jaffna. “ Very soon, these shops will be regularised and we can do nothing about it because the municipality is not under our control,” the activist said. “ Sinhalese shops have come up even around the Nallur Kandaswamy temple, when our custom does not allow it. Traditionally, shops are allowed only temporarily, during temples festivals. But who has the power to question these things?” he asked.


The Sri Lankan government’s view is that just as there are Tamils living amicably among Sinhalese in south Sri Lanka, Sinhalese should be able to live among Tamils in the north, because the country belongs to all ethnic groups. There were Sinhalese in the north before the Tamil movement became militant, it is recalled.

On the charge that army camps were mushrooming in the Wanni, Military Spokesman Maj.Gen.Prasad Samarsinghe said that these were not new camps. “And they are there to protect the Tamils from the LTTE,” he added.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa had only recently told Straits Times that there still were “sleeping cadres” of the LTTE, who could be activated by interested parties both at home and abroad. There were still people in the north who believed in Tamil Eelam, he pointed out.

© Express Buzz

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