Political parties reach a consensus to campaign against

 

The representatives of the major political parties in the country met on June 17, 2008 on the invitation of the five media organizations affiliated to the Media Centre – Sri Lanka to discuss on the dreadful situation facing the Sri Lankan media.

The representatives of the media organizations briefed on the threat faced by them for the last two years.

List of Issues

• The government has failed to complete any investiga¬tion held into the murders of journalists and threats and intimida¬tion of journalists.
• No investigative report make public on forcible entry into the Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC) premises by Minister Mervyn Silva on December 27 and the in¬timidation of media personnel at¬tached to the institution after¬wards. Although the violence against SLRC staff stopped following an order by the President, he continues to attack media personnel attached to the Sirasa. No action has yet been in¬stituted against the Minister.
• The official website of the Defence Ministry branded the media institutions, editors and the media organizations as traitors and warned that the security forces would deal with them. The website issued instructions for a self-imposed censorship on the media.
• Hudson Samarasinghe, who conducts a vindictive radio programme trying to instigate people against certain media per¬sonnel and organisàtions, has been appointed as the head of the State controlled Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation.
• Defence Secretary who called the president of the Sri Lanka Working Journalist Association Sanath Balasuriya and General Secretary Poddala Jayantha to his office warned them that their lives would be in danger if they continued their activities.
• The fearful suppression of the media in the Jaffna peninsula, where over 200 media personnel func¬tioned at one point, has prevented media personnel from engaging in their profession in the area. The edi¬tor and news editor of the Uthayan newspaper in Jaffna have been forced to live in the office premises due to the threats faced by them.
• Journalist IS. Tissainayagam has been held by the CD for over 100 days without being charged. Journalist Parameshwari, who was released by the courts is being still addressed as a terrorist by leader of the government.
• Peaceful protests organised in line with the right to free expression being subject to attacks in Chilaw and Colombo.

The representatives of the media organizations who stressed the need to uphold the media freedom which is an integral part of the democracy promised to support any campaign to pass legislations for media freedom, to implement the 17 amendments to the constitution, to guarantee free and fair elections, to protect trade union rights and to abolish the executive presidency.
 UNP Parliamentarian Ravi Kanrnanayake said that there was a plan now to change the manage¬ment of media institutions to make them, loyal to the government.
The media organisations said that when the Free Media Move¬ment met with the President and called for the implementation of the right to information bill, the Presi¬dent had responded by saying it could not be done at a time the country was fighting a war.
Leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress Rauf Hakeem said that the President’s response was unacceptable and that most countries engaged in warn fol¬low free policies. He reiterated the importance of implementing the right to information bill.
Leader of the Left Front Wickremabahu Karunaratne said that discus¬sions could not be held with repre¬sentatives of a government that was engaged in media suppression.
Minister Dalals Alahappenima, who denied the allegation that the government was suppressing the media, said a min¬isterial subcommittee has been ap¬pointed to address the grievances of the media personnel and that from Friday (20), the committee would meet and decide the solu¬tions to most of the problems.
. The representative of the UNP Democratic faction Minsiter Rajitha Senaratne said that he in no way endorsed the suppression of the me¬dia and that he and several other members in the government have already raised a voice against the issue.
        The media organizations accepted the appointment of a ministerial subcommittee as  a positive approach to the issue but expressed concern for the failures of  the committees appointed by the government.  They pointed out that the sub committee inquiring into the incident at the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation that failed to submit a preliminary report was one such. They stressed that the ministerial sub committee should build confidence with the parties concerned through its progress. The media organizations requested the sub committee to consider the recommendations of the R.K.W.Gunasekara committee appointed by the People’s Alliance Government of 1995 and  the Sidath Sri Nandalochana committee.
Ven. Dayarathana Thero said that the media needs to be more thoughtful when highlighting sen¬sitive issues.

Further action

The United National Party, Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, Sri Lanka Freedom Party ( People’s Wing) Ceylon Workers Congress, Jathika Hela Urumaya, Lanka Samasamaja Party, Upcountry People’s Front, Western People’s Front, United Socialist Front, the Left Front, and the Leftist United Front, that attended the meeting agreed to implement a common programme to protect media freedom and the media personnel.
 They decided to issue a joint declaration and to organise a public rally with the participation of the political parties concerned.
      JVP that forwarded an excuse letter for their absence from the meeting due to unavoidable circumstances reiterated their commitment to the media freedom and the protection of media personnel.
The Tamil National Alliance informed that they were not in a position to attend the meeting well in time.

(The minutes of the meeting prepared by our organizations was not subjected to the approval of any political party)

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IFJ Supports Media Dialogue in Sri Lanka

 

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) fully supports the efforts of the five media organisations in Sri Lanka to encourage dialogue with the country’s political parties in order to resolve the dangers and difficulties confronting journalists and media institutions in the country.

The five organisations representing journalists in Sri Lanka – the Free Media Movement (FMM), the Federation of Media Employee’s Trade Unions (FMETU), the Sri Lanka Working Journalists’ Association (SLWJA), the Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum (SLMMF) and the Sri Lanka Tamil Journalists’ Alliance (SLTJA) – initiated a briefing with representatives of the country’s political parties on June 17.

As a result, the five organisations said that the 12 political parties present at the briefing made a commitment to implement a common program to protect media freedom and media personnel.

In a joint statement, the five organisations said the appointment of a ministerial subcommittee to investigate the serious concerns of media personnel was a positive step. The committee, however, must seek to build confidence among the media community, they said.

The IFJ endorses its Sri Lankan partners in encouraging the committee to report promptly and transparently about the progress of its inquiries.

“The ministerial subcommittee must take a different approach to that of a prior government-appointed inquiry into attacks and intimidation related to an incident at the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC) in late December 2007, for which no report or recommendations have been forthcoming,” IFJ Asia-Pacific said.

At the briefing, the journalists’ representatives said they would support any campaign for legislative reform to support media freedom, guarantee free and fair elections, protect trade union rights and abolish the executive presidency.

Issues raised during the briefing included, but were not confined to, the following.

• The culture of impunity regarding attacks on media personnel and the failure of authorities to investiga¬te fully the murders of journalists and threats and intimida¬tion of journalists.

• The series of attacks and intimidation of media personnel following a melee at the SLRC on December 27 involving Labour Minister Mervyn Silva.

• Postings on the Defence Ministry’s official website which branded media institutions, editors and the five media organisations as traitors and warned that the security forces would deal with them; as well as instructions for the media to adopt self-censorship.

• A warning by the Defence Secretary to two office-holders of two journalists’ organisations that their lives were at risk if they continued their activities.

• Leadership of the State-controlled Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation.

• Suppression of media activities in the Jaffna peninsula.

• The detention of senior Tamil journalist J.S. Tissainayagam for more than 100 days without charge.

The parties represented at the briefing were the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (which holds government), the United National Party, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, the Ceylon Workers’ Congress, the Jathika Hela Urumaya, the Lanka Samasamaja Party, the Upcountry People’s Front, the Western People’s Front, the United Socialist Front, the Left Front, the Leftist United Front Sri Lanka Freedom Party (people’s wing), and the United National Party (democratic wing).

Alleged torture of press owner: SC seeks report

   
By S.S. Selvanayagam

Daily Mirror,28th June 2008

The Supreme Court yesterday ordered the Terrorist Investigation Division to produce press owner Vetrivel Jasiharan before the Colombo Judicial Medical Officer within one week.

The Bench comprising Justices Raja Fernando, Saleem Marsoof and K. Sripavan also directed the registrar of the court to call for a report from the JMO with regard to any injuries found on the suspect.

The Court made this order subsequent to submissions made by the petitioner’s Counsel J.C. Weliamuna who alleged that Mr. Jesiharan had been tortured.

The counsel requested court to direct that the petitioner be produced before the JMO for examination and for a report of any injuries found on him. Senior State Counsel Riyaz Hamza said he had no objection to the application. The petition was filed by Mr. Jasiharan’s wife V. Valarmathi – formerly Shakthi TV programme producer and temporary lecturer in Drama and Theatre at the Jaffna University.

Mr. Jasiharan was a contributor to the Tamil weekly “Sarinigar” and is the owner of Outreachsl.com website funded by a German Technical Cooperation project Facilitating Local Initiatives for Conflict Transformation (FLICT).

Inspector Prasanna de Alwis, Senior Superintendent Nandana Munasinghe and Inspector H.M. Janakantha of the TID, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Police Chief Victor Perera the Attorney General were cited as respondents.

He said that on March 6, several TID officers including Inspector Janakantha arrived at his printing press situated at Jampettah Street and took him to his house at Kotahena.

They searched the house and arrested him and his fiancée Valarmathi and took them to the TID.

The petitioner maintained that no search warrant was shown to him and neither was he informed of the reason for the arrest.

He claims he has never been involved directly or indirectly in any unlawful activity nor has he had any links whatsoever directly or indirectly with LTTE.

He alleged that upon his arrest, his father and sister immediately went to the Kotahena Police Station to lodge a complaint. However, the officers at the police station refused to entertain their complaint.
 

State media level dangerous allegation against Sri Lanka Press Institute

 

Free Media Movement expresses its serious concern that State controlled media has levelled dangerous allegations against Sri Lanka Press Institute (SLPI) without verifying the story from SLPI.

State controlled Sinhala language newspaper ‘Dinamina’ considered as one of the mouth pieces of the government said in a lead story  that “the police intelligence has received information saying that a group of members connected to LTTE were sent to Norway through Denmark under the Journalist label by the Sri Lanka Press Institute.  This foreign tour has taken place in the year 2007.” 

In a press release issued on 26th SLPI said: “Sri Lanka Press Institute (SLPI) strongly refutes the prominently displayed front page story of today’s (June 26, 2008) Dinamina newspaper titled: “Eight Tigers sent to Norway under journalist label” as baseless, misleading and factually incorrect.”

According to SLPI there was no training program carried out by the SLPI in Denmark in the year 2007 as reported by the said newspaper. Applications were called on 05th September 2007 for a training program in the capital of Denmark, Copenhagen titled ‘Media and Democracy.’

Approximately 100 journalists from television, radio and print media had applied, out of which 20 had been selected. The 20 journalists have attended the six-week training course from the 01st of April to May 03rd 2008. All of them have returned to the country on May 04, 2008 on board the same flight.  

SLPI plays an important role in bringing member of media organization together in press freedom advocacy in Sri Lanka today and in this context FMM views this cooked up story as another attempt to intimidate media and media organizations.

Further this story implies the Tamil journalists who took part in the training programme as LTTE supporters. This allegation coming form a state media today is equal to unofficial death sentence passed on those journalists. FMM holds government and the news paper responsible for the dangerous situation that has been created for these journalists by this story who ever planted it.

FMM request Media Minster to make a formal apology to the SLPI and those journalists mentioned without delay.

 

IFJ Calls for Fair Judicial Process for Tissainayagam in Sri Lanka

 

24th June 2008/The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) calls on authorities in Sri Lanka to ensure fair and transparent judicial process is applied to senior Tamil journalist J.S. Tissainayagam, who continues to be detained by the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) of the Sri Lanka Police.

A magistrate is due to issue a decision on June 30 in the case of the editor of the OutreachSl.com news website, who has been detained since March 7. A ruling will also be delivered on N. Jesiharan, owner of E-Kwality printers, and his partner Valarmathi, who have been held since March 6. 

The expected rulings follow a court appearance by Tissainayagam and Jesiharan at Colombo’s Court No. 1 yesterday, according to the Free Media Movement (FMM), an IFJ affiliate.

Tissainayagam has been held without charge for 107 days. Under the Emergency Regulations Act, detainees must appear before a court upon completion of a 90-day detention order. However, the TID had previously failed to present him for scheduled court hearings due to purported administrative delays.

In court yesterday, Tissainayagam’s lawyer, Subandiran, argued that Sections 19 and 21 of the emergency regulation in force further required that detainees must be transferred to fiscal custody (that is, removed from TID special detention into general detention) upon completion of a 90-day detention order.

The court also heard allegations yesterday that Jesiharan had suffered torture in detention. Grave concerns are held for his welfare.

“The prolonged detention of Tissainayagam, without explanation, breaches the basic human right to justice,” IFJ Asia-Pacific said.

“Fair judicial process must be applied to Tissainayagam, and all cases, without exception

Tissainayagam further detained

   
By: T. Farook Thajudeen.

Daily Mirror/24th June

Senior journalist J.S. Tissainayagam was further detained yesterday while his counsel insisted that the detention by the TID beyond 90 days was illegal.

Colombo Chief Magistrate Nishantha Hapuarachchi reserved the order for June 30 and ordered the TID to produce Mr. Tissainyagama and the other suspects Vetrivel Jesikheren and Malarmadi Vadivel on that date.

Counsel M. A Sumanthiran appearing for the senior journalist said Emergency

Regulations had allowed the police to detain the suspects on the direction of the IGP only for 90 days. He said thereafter they should be released or produced before a Magistrate.

The Counsel said provisions in the Emergency Regulations clearly stated that the authorities could detain suspects for one year but after 90 days a Magistrate has to direct that the suspects be remanded in  prison under fiscal custody. He said these suspects were detained on April 1 complying with the regulations and the 90 day period lapsed on June 5. He said detaining them with the TID thereafter was illegal and the suspects should be detained in prison.

Counsel K. V. Thavarasha appearing for the other two suspects also said they should be detained in prison custody. He  said  although the  Magistrate  did not have the power to bail the suspect, he  had the authority to detain them in prison.

Senior State Counsel Amendra Seneviratne told court that it could not enlarge the suspects on bail without the  Attorney General’s consent. He said  the magistrate could detain them in prison only after the conclusion of investigations.

The suspects were detained by the TID alleging that they had aided and abetted the LTTE movement. 

Press owner reveals TID assault in tears 

The owner of the printing press who was arrested with senior journalist J. Tissanaiyagam said he was assaulted by TID officers for revealing the injuries caused to him by the police to the Judicial Medical Officer

“I’m frightened to go back to the TID”, the suspect Vettrivel Jesiheran said breaking into tears in open court.

Jesiheran who is in remand for more than hundred days under TID detention wept when he was

 produced before the Colombo Magistrate and said he was assaulted on the very night he was produced before the JMO for examination.

At this stage his counsel K. V. Thavarasha told court that on the direction of the Magistrate, Jesiheran was produced before the JMO on June 13 for examination of injuries alleged to have been caused by torture at the TID but on the same night he had been tortured again.

The counsel further said he was compelled to complain to the Magistrate as the Supreme Court had directed to inform the Magistrate with regard to any torture in the TID and inform the Supreme Court by way of an affidavit.

Chief Magistrate Nishantha Hapuarachchi at this stage ordered that Jesiheran be produced before the JMO again for examination and report.
 

Twenty-nine IFEX members alert UN secretary-general to statements by government and military

 

 

Ki-moon
Secretary-General
United Nations
Secretariat Building, Room S-3800
New York, NY 10017

Dear Sir,

Under terms of UNSCR 1738 on the protection of journalists in conflict, we write to draw your attention to the alarming situation in Sri Lanka, where statements associated with the government and the military have, in our view, put journalists in grave danger.

In commentaries published on its website on Thursday 5 June 2008 the Defence Ministry labelled journalists critical of the war effort against Tamil rebels as “enemies of the state” and said it would take “all necessary measures to stop this journalistic treachery.”

As well as news organisations, the Ministry singled out for criticism the Free Media Movement (FMM), a prominent local rights group.

This follows comments last January by Army Commander Maj.-Gen. Sarath Fonseka who labelled some journalists as traitors. His statement followed a strike by the Sri Lankan Air Force against the official Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) radio station which killed at least three editorial staff the previous November.

The undersigned organisations, all of whom fully support the UN Security Council Resolution 1738 on journalism in conflict zones, condemn these statements, which risk encouraging those who have used extreme violence against journalists and other news professionals in the country.

The global survey of news media casualties, presented to you by the International News Safety Institute last December, placed Sri Lanka 14th out of more than 70 countries where journalists died trying to do their jobs over the past decade. Journalists continue to work there in conditions of fear and harassment.

As you know, Resolution 1738 urges all parties in situations of armed conflict to respect the professional independence and rights of journalists, media professionals and associated personnel.

We seek your support in urging all United Nations member states to respect Resolution 1738 in letter and in spirit, and specifically request your help in persuading the government of Sri Lanka to withdraw these statements and immediately stop all actions which undermine the independence and safety of the news community.

Sincerely,

Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), Cairo

ARTICLE 19, London

Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Manama

Center for Human Rights and Democratic Studies (CEHURDES), Kathmandu

Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), Manila

Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), New York

Freedom House, New York

Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety, Baku

International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Brussels

Independent Journalism Center (IJC), Chisinau

Institute of Mass Information (IMI), Kyiv

International News Safety Institute, Brussels

Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC), International PEN, London

International Press Institute (IPI), Vienna

Index on Censorship, London

Instituto Prensa y Sociedad de Venezuela (IPYS Venezuela)

Journaliste en danger (JED), Kinshasa

Free Expression Ghana, Accra

Free Media Movement (FMM), Colombo

Maharat Foundation, Beirut

Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), Accra

Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Lagos

Mizzima News, New Delhi

Media Institute of Southern Africa, Windhoek

National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ), Mogadishu

Network of African Freedom of Expression Organisations (NAFEO), Accra

Norwegian PEN, Oslo

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA), Suva

Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF), Karachi

Sindicato de Periodistas del Paraguay (SPP), Asunción

World Association of Newspapers (WAN), Paris

 

Former Journalist abducted in Colombo

[TamilNet, Sunday, 22 June 2008, 09:15 GMT]
A former reporter of Colombo Tamil daily Thinakkural, Thiruchelvam Thirukumaran, currently an officer attached to the Sri Lankan Ministry of Environment, was abducted from his house at Dehiwala by a group of men who arrived in a white colour van around 8:45 p.m. Saturday, according to a complaint lodged by his parents with the Dehiwala Police Sunday. The abductors were clad in police uniform.

The victims apartment is located in Luxmi Mahal complex in Dehiwala, a suburb of Colombo.

Five unidentified men, four of them in police uniform and the other in civil arrived in a white van and took Mr. Thirukumaran away.

Earlier, the victim had worked as a part-time reporter for Thinakkural, media sources said.

As Sri Lanka’s civil war escalates, so do attacks on its journalists

By BHARATHA MALLAWARACHI,

 AP

Posted: 2008-06-19 03:47:30

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) – With civil war raging in Sri Lanka, the journalists trying to cover the conflict find themselves increasingly under siege.

They have been hounded by the government, attacked by unknown assailants and accused of aiding the rebels. Many reporters have been arrested or fled the country, while others have resorted to self-censorship, journalists said.

Rights groups blame much of the intimidation on the government, saying that since fighting with the Tamil Tigers flared more than two years ago, pressure has grown on journalists to report the official line.

When media don’t comply – reporting higher troop casualties or alleging corruption in arms purchases – “they are branded as traitors,” said Sunanda Deshapriya of the Free Media Movement.

“The government does not accept that media can play a watchdog’s role,” he said.

Media Minister Anura Yapa denied the government was intimidating the media or orchestrating the assaults.

“We have no intention of suppressing media freedom. Why should we attack journalists and get our image tarnished?” he said.

For their part, the rebels allow no independent media at all in their de facto state in the north, which they run as a dictatorship. The rebels also have been accused of killing journalists critical of them in the violence-plagued Jaffna peninsula.

Pressure on the media has grown along with the fighting. Both sides have been accused of exaggerating victories and downplaying defeats, while the government has restricted access to the war zone, making independent reporting difficult.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa recently summoned top media officials and warned them that the rebels, known formally as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, could be using their reports on the war to predict future military operations.

“I said that such information is a blow to the country at a time when we are trying to weaken the LTTE militarily,” Rajapaksa told the Sunday Times.

Last year, two private newspapers critical of the government were closed down after the government accused them of links to the rebels, the printing press of the Sunday Leader, a pro-opposition newspaper was torched by unknown attackers and a radio station was forced off the air after falsely reporting a rebel assault.

At least 100 reporters have been attacked, 25 journalists have fled the country and several others have gone underground, said Deshapriya of the Free Media Movement.

Many have been arrested, including J.S. Tissainayagam, a Sunday Times columnist who has been jailed without charge since March by the government’s anti-terror squad.

Keith Noyahr, defense reporter for The Nation newspaper, was abducted by a group of men outside his home on May 22. Six hours later he was released, beaten and bloody.

No one has been charged with the attack, which came several weeks after Noyahr wrote a column about controversial military promotions.

Noyahr’s colleagues said he and his editor have fled the country. The colleagues, who declined to give their names out of fear of repercussions, refused to provide contact details for either man, and calls to their mobile phones went unanswered.

In a letter to Rajapaksa last week, Joel Simon, executive director of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, accused the government of stifling war reporting and doing nothing to protect reporters.

“Those who wish to harass, harm, or even kill journalists can operate with relative impunity in Sri Lanka,” he wrote.

Days later, Rajapaksa established a committee of government ministers to look into the complaints.

In the face of the violence and intimidation, many journalists said they have stopped reporting information that might embarrass the government.

“We don’t want to be pet-poodles of the government, (but) neither to antagonize the military,” said Ranga Jayasuriya, defense columnist at the Lakbima News newspaper.

Iqbal Athas, a high-profile defense columnist for the Sunday Times who is routinely threatened, said this was the “worst period” in his 42-year career.

The government withdrew his security detail after nine years last year when he reported on irregularities in the purchase of fighter jets. The Ministry of Defense Web site accused Athas of working for “the pro-terrorist propaganda machine” and trying to sow “disloyalty, suspicions, disobedience, rumors, etc.” among troops.

“It’s clear that what they want to do is silence me to not write anything they dislike,” Athas said.

This week, he suspended his column.