Tuesday, May 04, 2010


Act now and send an appeal

Sri Lankan journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda disappeared on January 24th. After one hundred days, he still remains missing. For more than three months, his wife Sandhya Ekneligoda has been waging a determined battle to find out his fate. In an exclusive interview, Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka spoke to her about Prageeth and her courageous struggle to find him.

On the very first day of the new parliament, you distributed an appeal among all the parliamentarians demanding their intervention to find out about your husband Prageeth Ekneligoda. What was their response?

In my statement I appealed to all the new parliamentarians to help me to find Prageeth while pointing out the fact that the government has not taken any effective measures so far to find out what exactly happened to him. Since the government and the police remain tight lipped on the matter, I asked them to raise my problem in the parliament, as I cannot do that on my own. Even though the Police tried to prevent me from distributing the statement, I managed to hand it over to quite a lot of MPs. Except for hand full of them, the rest did not hesitate to accept it. As far as I know, one of the opposition parliamentarians has already demanded a debate on the matter. This may take place on the 5th of this month.

It is reported that a two day debate will commence today (04) focusing on the necessity of extending and revising the emergency laws. Are you hopeful that Prageeth’s issue will be taken up during this debate?

I wouldn’t say that I am totally hopeful or optimistic. But still, if such a debate opens up an opportunity to know whatever information that is available, that would be quite helpful because there is no other way for me to know what the police already knows. If the parliament can shed some light on the so called ongoing police investigation and to reveal the details of the probe, that would help me to figure out at least what happened to Prageeth.

But the police recently stated that they have found nothing which can be considered as a breakthrough, although a special team of investigators have been assigned to run the investigations. Are you satisfied with the nature of the ongoing investigation?

Actually, for several reasons I am not satisfied at all. Among other things, one of the main reasons for my frustration is the negative responses I received from the Police. Secondly, I am deeply sceptical about the way the investigations are being handled. Since the probe started, it has been transferred from one division to another. First it was handled by the Mirihana police and then the Colombo Crime Division took over the investigations. When it is transferred from one unit to another, instead of continuing from the point it was stopped, everything starts all over again from the beginning. The most primary thing should be to identify the person who rang Prageeth on January 24th, just before he went missing. Even this basic task has not been accomplished. Either they don’t say it for some reason or they simply do not know.

You have already made countless requests and appeals to the Sri Lankan government and the parliamentary opposition. But when it comes to international community and the countries who are backing the government, do you have any special request to make?

The most important thing I have to tell them is that Sri Lanka is a country where grave human rights violations are taking place. When any international government or an organization offers assistance to a country like Sri Lanka, it’s their responsibility to make sure that the governments in power does not violate the fundamental rights of its own citizens. They must give maximum priority to have a profound understanding about the actual state of human rights in the country. Every citizen should have a right to express his or her own opinion and to point out the wrongdoings of any person or institution. It’s not only a right, but even a responsibility of any sensible human being. That is what democracy is all about. If the rulers of this country cannot stand and tolerate any such criticism, then there is no guarantee the basic rights of the citizens will be safeguarded. Therefore it becomes a responsibility of the international governments to make sure that such basic rights remain unharmed.

On the International Press Freedom Day, the Sri Lankan government announced that the senior journalist J.S.Tissainayagam will be granted a “Presidential Pardon”. But while Tissa receives a “pardon”, the disappearance of Prageeth still remains unresolved. In your opinion, what lies behind these contradictory policies?

That is the tragic reality we are facing. They use one issue for their own propaganda while sweeping the other issues under the carpet. By doing so, they can easily ignore one issue and exploit the other for their own interests. By granting a pardon to Tissainayagam they simply try to portray themselves as a government that is concerned about human rights. Why should Tissa need to be pardoned? He always remained as an innocent person. He never committed a crime to be pardoned by someone. All what he did was to tell the truth, which in fact has become a crime in this country. That was exactly the same thing Prageeth tried to do as a journalist. If I am to quote one of Prageeth’s own words to describe Tissainayagam, he is a “butterfly” who would not harm anyone. Who said Tissainayagam was guilty? The same people who accused him and jailed him for a crime he did not commit are now granting him a pardon and want others to praise them for their generosity.

Do you feel safe to speak openly and to continue your struggle?

Frankly, I don’t know. I am already facing problems. Recently I received a call from someone supposed to be calling from Germany, saying that they want to help us to find Prageeth. They ask about Prageeth and his political opinions and told me that Prageeth is a traitor who does not deserve any help. This pattern may continue in the future as well. Nevertheless, I believe that I have three primary responsibilities: that is to find out what happened to Prageeth, to take care of my two children and to tell the truth.

Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

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Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Police baton charge students

Photo Courtesy of Lankatruth.com

Police baton charged a group of university students who were protesting in front of the University Grants Commission in Ward Place a short while ago. Our reporter at the scene said that atleast four students sustained injuries during the clash.

Students of the Peradeniya, Ruhunu and Jayawardena Universities are protesting seeking several demands.

© Daily Mirror

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Tuesday, May 04, 2010

World Press Freedom Day and Sri Lanka

After almost three decades of civil war, press freedom is seriously compromised. Every journalist in Sri Lanka knows his work will be scrutinized by a tyrannical government that ignores principles of editorial independence.

Sri Lanka’s opposition voices have been minimized or silenced. Journalists have been killed, detained, or suddenly vanished. Naturally, a self-serving government perceives the journalist's duty to inform exclusively through the prism of self-interest.

Weeks before World Press Freedom Day -- which was created by the UN General Assembly in 1993 -- an appointment occurred as if to prove this point. On April 23, Mervyn Silva, a politician with an established record of physical and verbal violence against journalists, was appointed Deputy Minister of Information within the Sri Lankan government. The ethical motivation of a journalist is to inform and educate because the world needs to know and has a right to know, but when self-preservation is at stake, how difficult must it be for any journalist to avoid pre-emptive self-censorship?

Reporters without Borders want Mervyn Silva removed as Media Deputy Minister. “The Sri Lankan government has again distinguished itself by assigning key posts to very controversial figures implicated in attacks on press freedom,” Reporters without Borders said. “The ruling party’s victory in the parliamentary elections is being marred by this kind of appointment, which is casting serious doubt on its ability to carry out reconciliation and reconstruction."

On March 23, 2010, Reporters without Borders appealed to President Mahinda Rajapaksa to order the release of the results of the police investigation into leading cartoonist and political reporter Prageeth Eknaligoda’s disappearance two months ago. The police have shown no interest in finding this opposition journalist alive, while government ministers have made contradictory statements that have spread confusion about the circumstances of his disappearance.

“With some senior officials such as defense minister Gotabhaya Rajpaksa still suggesting that Eknaligoda staged his own disappearance, we urge the president to provide credible information about what happened to him,” Reporters without Borders said.

Opposition journalist Ruwan Weerakoon is meanwhile still being held by Sri Lanka’s police, although he is in very poor health, according to Reporters without Borders. The fear that he will be prosecuted is very real.

Sri Lanka is not alone in the enforcement of silencing those who want to communicate to the world about the horrors and violence seeming as the norm in other countries like Pakistan and Honduras, where seven journalists have been murdered within the past 40 days. Even Fiji and Israel are suppressors of freedom of speech.
Anthony Thasan, a.k.a Shoba Sakthi, a.k.a Rocky Raj, is the author of Gorilla, trans. by Anushiya Sivanarayanan, a novel of autofiction, in which he describes the Welikada Prison massacre of 1983 where more than 50 political prisoners were slaughtered.

“First of all, I wrote the novel in 2004 when the civil war was still on. But that apart, the Welikada massacre is an atrocity that has gone without justice. It was a planned massacre with government support. And there has been no investigation or attempt to provide justice for the victims,” he says.

Thasan continues, “My narration is based on first person accounts of what happened in there. I met several survivors, cross-checked the facts, and the time and manner in which events unfolded. This account is as close to reality as it is possible to get.”

In 1993, the United Nations General Assembly declared May 3rd to be World Press Freedom Day to raise awareness to the importance of freedom of the press, and remind governments of their duty to respect and uphold the right to freedom of expression enshrined under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and marking the anniversary of the Declaration of Windhoek, a statement of free press principles put together by African newspaper journalists in 1991.

World Press Freedom Day is a time to contemplate the terrible sacrifices made by reporters around the world. It is a day to honor those who have risked and paid with their lives to carry out their duties as journalists. Journalism can potentially be one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. Knowledge is power, and those who dare to pass it on may pay dearly.

This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com

© Digital Journal

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Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Pardon of Sri Lankan journalist welcome, details needed - CPJ

The Committee to Protect Journalists is heartened by news reports today that President Mahinda Rajapaksa has issued a pardon to Sri Lankan journalist J.S. Tissainayagam, left. CPJ is waiting for official clarification, however, concerning several important details.

The country’s recently appointed external affairs minister, G.L. Peiris, announced the pardon at a press conference in Colombo. “President Mahinda Rajapaksa has decided to pardon journalist J.S. Tissainayagam, who was convicted on 31 August 2009 under the Prevention of Terrorism Act,” Peiris told reporters. He noted that the announcement was timed to coincide with World Press Freedom Day, May 3.

“CPJ is waiting for a detailed explanation of the terms of the government’s announcement. We remain concerned about our colleague’s safety while he lives in seclusion in Sri Lanka,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “While this is potentially very good news, our enthusiasm is muted until the details are made clear.”

Tissainayagam’s attorneys were not notified of the pardon prior to the announcement, leaving several questions about the official details. Among its concerns, CPJ said, is whether the pardon will allow Tissainayagam freedom to travel within and outside of the country and whether the government will return the journalist’s passport. CPJ is also concerned that Tissainayagam be able to live and work without fear of reprisal. Unpunished violence against journalists is very high in Sri Lanka, CPJ research shows.

Tissainayagam was released on bail in January and has lived in seclusion since. At the time, CPJ welcomed Tissainayagam’s release from a sentence of 20 years, but called on Rajapaksa to extend a full pardon.

Based on its research, CPJ has concluded that Tissainayagam was imprisoned in retaliation for his critical journalism. CPJ named Tissainayagam a recipient of an International Press Freedom Award in 2009.

The Tamil editor was first jailed in March 2008 and eventually indicted under the Prevention of Terrorism Act in August 2008. The government said today that it would relax some restrictions put in place under a state of emergency first declared in August 2005. There was no mention of easing the Prevention of Terrorism Act, however.

© Committee to Protect Journalists

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Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Sri Lanka Military Intelligence men issue death threats to Thenmaraadchi journalists

Sri Lanka Military Intelligence wing men in Jaffna Monday issued death threats to the journalists who covered the case of alleged death threats to Chaavakachcheari Magistrate K. Pirabakaran by EPDP operatives when it was taken for inquiry Monday in Chaavakachcheari court and published news of it in the local dailies, sources in Chaavakachcheari said. The intelligence men had first gone to the offices of the dailies that had published the news and procured the addresses of the said journalists in Thenmaraadchi before going to their houses, the sources added.

Jaffna Deputy Mayor Thurairajah Ilango alias Regan and Allexander Soosaimuthu alias Charles, Eelam Peoples Democratic Party (EPDP) organizer for Thenmaraadchi were the two men who were mentioned in the complaint made by the Paa’ndiayn Thaazhvu residents to Chaavakachcheari court.

As the threatened journalists fear for their lives various public organizations in Jaffna peninsula have appealed to North Ceylon Journalists Association to take prompt action against the threats issued to the journalists.

Meanwhile, Chaavakachcheari magistrate K. Pirabakaran Monday had ordered suspect EPDP coordinator of Thenmaraadchi, Allexander Soosaimuthu alias Charles arrested for suspected involvement in the abduction and killing of student Kapilnath and for allegedly threatening Chaavakachcheari magistrate K. Pirabakaran, to be placed in remand prison, when he was produced in Chaavakachcheari court.

© Tamil Net

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Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Crime wave sweeps North Lanka

P K Balachandran - Jaffna and Vavuniya districts in Sri Lanka’s Tamil speaking Northern Province have become a happy hunting ground for ransom seekers and house breakers who do not hesitate to murder their victims. Incidents of murder and abduction for gain have mounted in the past few weeks, reaching a peak now, says M V Kanamylenathan, editor of Jaffnabased `Uthayan’ daily.

Mavai Senathirajah MP and leader of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has said that it is time a public interest petition was filed to get the law enforcement authorities, including the Sri Lankan army, to arrest the culprits. Every Tamil daily has written angry editorials calling for action.

Among the high profile cases listed by Senathirajah, are the abduction and killing of T Kapilanath, school going son of a leading businessman of Chaavakkachcheri for ransom on March 14. This was followed by the abduction and murder of Krishnagopalan, a student of Vavuniya on March 23. In Achchuveli, house breakers killed a woman while robbing her jewellery. A woman war refugee was abducted and raped in Maanippai on April 18. In the Thirunaavukkulam area of Vavuniya, robbers broke into a house and attacked a mother and her nine-year old girl child with sharp instruments. The girl subsequently died.

According to Kanamylenathan, chain snatching has made Jaffna women avoid deserted areas and many men too avoid going out after dark.

The Tamil daily `Sudar Oli’ said in an editorial on April 29, that the fact that these crimes were being committed with impunity showed that the perpetrators enjoyed the patronage of the powers-that-be.

But Kanamylenathan said that arrests were now being made, thanks to public pressure.

© Express Buzz

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