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FoE rights inSri Lanka– Bulletin, October- November 2008


1. 1st October  –   Sudaroli news paper warned
2. 6th October   – Journalist liked in suicide attack
3. 6th October   – CaFFE spokesperson victimized  
4.  18th October   – State media accuses unmade Journalists     
5. 23rd October   – Violence against media in the Eastern Province 
6.  23rd  October   – HR lawyers threatened
7. 29th October   –  News paper threatened
8. 30th October   – new regulation to control private TV stations  
9. October   – Press freedom has deteriorated  in Sri Lanka
10.  4th November   – Government ordered to stop live talk show on FOE rights
11. 8rd November  –  TV journalists detained briefly
12. 08th November   – TV  journalists harassed, footage taken
13. 8th Novemebr   – Journalist threatened
14. 14th November   – Radio journalist/manager  arrested
15.  18th November  – journalist Tissainayagam moved to another prison
16. 14th November  – Minister Mervyn indicted .
17. 14th November   –  SC granted leave to proceed on TV regulation case.
18.  16th November  – New tax on newsprint
19. 17th November   – Defense ministry accuses released journalists as terrorists
20.  17th November  – Defense ministry accuses journalists facing trail
21. 21st November   – Enjoining order against police spokesperson
22. 26th November   -Tamil journalist questioned byTID
23. 27th November   –  Journalists Jasiharan’s family threatened  
24.  27th November  – Government censors BBC Sinhala and Tamil programmes
25. 28th November   – Film banned
26. November   -TV news and magazine from TamilNadu blocked
27. 29th November  –  Journalist assaulted by police


Free Media Movement

Freedom of Expression Rights in Sri Lanka
E – Bulletin, October- November  2008

1. 1st October-   Sudaroli news paper warned
In a letter addressed to the Tamil language Sudaroli newspaper, military spokesperson Brigadier Udaya Nanayakakara writing in the name of and under the official aegis of Military Head Quarters has stated that a photo-caption in the newspaper “…will create tension among the people and confuse the Security Forces who are serving to safeguard the sovereignty of the country.”
2. 6th October – Journalist liked in suicide attack

Rashmi, provincial correspondent of Sirasa TV for Anuradhapura was killed while covering the opening ceremony of the new office of the United National Party (UNP) in Anuradhapura. The explosion at the ceremony killed more than 20 people including the Leader of the Opposition of the North Central Provincial Council, Major General Janaka Perera, and other leading UNP figures in the area. 
3. 6th October – CaFFE spokesperson victimized
Mr.Rajith Keerthi Tennakoon, who is member of staff at the University was indicted on 6th October and immediately relieved of all responsibilities, presumably for serving as the Spokesperson of election monitoring watchdog CaFFE. After the conclusion of municipal election of Batticloa  , the President’s Office Co-Ordinating Director (Media) wrote on 25th May 2008 to University Grants Commission (UGC) Chairman demanding a report on Mr. Tennakoon’s statement that the Eastern PC polls were rigged and far from free and fair whilst working as a public servant in a State institute.
4.  18th October – State media accuses unmade Journalists 
On 18th October state controlled Sinhala language daily Dinamina carried a front page news item titled “Information about ten journalists who work for Tigers exposed”. Story didn’t have any sources.  This story was given wide publicity by state controlled electronic media as well. According to the news item National Intelligence Division has uncovered information on 10 journalists who disseminate news and photographs internationally giving distorted interpretations on the humanitarian operations the government is conducting in good faith to liberate Tamil people from the clutches of terrorism.   

5. 23rd October – Violence against media in the Eastern Province 
Tension prevailed in Batticaloa as armed cadre of Karuna and Pillayan factions violently clashed over the ownership of the Thamil Alai newspaper. Thamil Alai is published using equipment stolen from the offices of the Thinakkathir in August 2002, at a time when Karuna was the top leader of the LTTE in the region. FMM noted in a press release on 8 August 2002 that was also sent to LTTE, the Thinakkathir office was “vandalised and office equipment (computers, printers, TV, radios, UPS’s etc) worth Rs. 1.2 million stolen during the attack.”

6.  23rd  October – HR lawyers threatened
A letter from a group that calls itself the ‘Mahason Balakaya’ (Mahason Regiment)  was posted to leading Human Rights defenders and lawyers, as well as given to all Court Registrars to be handed over to lawyers who appear for human rights cases. The letter, in Sinhala, clearly states that lawyers who defend human rights cases will be summarily killed or receive life-threatening injuries. It ends by noting that, “To those who support the terrorists, remember those who were killed and lost their limbs and eyes to the terrorists! Know that in the name of the nation, to make you suffer in the same manner is a blessing.” The letter also notes that “Henceforth, for every traitor who stands up to defend a terrorist, know that we will not hesitate to hasten fate which is the same as that faced by the innocent victims of terrorist in our motherland today.”

7. 29th October –  News paper threatened
According to letter from the Managing Director, Mr. E. Saravanapavan of the Uthayan daily newspaper printed and published from Jaffna, ” Armed cadre of the Eelam Peoples Democratic Party (EPDP), a group that is part of the incumbent government and led by Mr. Douglas Devananda, who is a Cabinet Minister, disrupted the distribution of the paper on 23rd October 2008 and prevented newspaper staff from leaving their homes to report to work.”   ( EPDP sent a reply to FMM on this issue and relevant parts of it were published on FMM blog.)

8. 30th October – New regulations to control privately owned  TV stations
The Minister of Mass Media and Information has on 10th October 2008 promulgated a new set of regulations cited as the Private Television Broadcasting Station Regulations, under powers conferred by the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Act, No.6 of 1982. These new regulations seek to regulate all aspects of private television broadcasting, including classification of stations and services; issue, revocation, and duration of licenses; fee structure; territorial coverage; ownership; duties and responsibilities of private television broadcasters; extended powers of the Ministry; and content controls.
9. October – Press freedom deteriorated
The International Press Freedom Mission to Sri Lanka on its visit between October 25 and 29 found deterioration in the press freedom situation since its last visit in June 2007, marked by a continuation in murders, attacks, abductions, intimidation and harassment of the media.
10.  4th November – Government ordered to stop live talk show on FOE rights
Government authorities ordered state controlled TV station SLRC to stop a live TV programme related to freedom of expression in Sri Lanka. On 4th November State controlled SLRC abruptly stopped a live TV discussion on recently imposed Private Television Broadcasting Station Regulations without giving any reasons to the audience.  After 45 minutes  the discussion was stopped suddenly,  a commercial break was announced and stations started to play songs continuously discontinuing the live discussion.

11. 8rd November-  TV journalists detained
Pinsiri Perera provincial journalists working for Derana TV was detained and handed over to police by Colombo zoo authorities after he covered an accidental death of a hippopotamus giving birth. He was released without any charges after two hours. He was detained at Dehiwala police in western province.
12. 08th November – TV  journalists harassed, footage taken
Mahinda M. Pushpakumara, a provincial journalists working for Swarnawahini TV was surrounded and harassed by Sabaragamuwa University students while he was covering 12 students hospitalized after violent ragging secession . This incident took place at Pambahinna hospital of Belihuloya. Students took his camera and removed the film cassette by force. 
13.  8th Novemebr – Journalist threatened
Wimalasena Manamuni, Mahawewa, Maravila provincial correspondent of Lakbima Sinhala daily was threatened by divisional secretary and her husband over a news story reported by him. The news story was on a recent flood that has taken place in the area.
14. 14th November – Radio journalist/manager  arrested
Mr. A.R.Vaama Loshan (32) General Manager of Vettri FM Radio (Tamil Radio station) was arrested by the Terrorism Investigations Division on 14th Nov 2008. He worked as radio journalists for nearly 10 years before joining Vettri FM in early 2008. The police officials gave a receipt which said Mr. Vaama Loshan was arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.  He was detained at infamous TID detention centre in Colombo for a week and release without any charges. .

15.  18th November – journalist Tissainayagam moved to another prison
J.S. Tissainayagam, senior journalist who is on trial before the High Court has been moved from the remand prison to the magazine prison in Colombo on November 18. No reasons were given for this sudden move. Tissainayagam who appeared in courts on the 18th nor his lawyers were aware of this move. Free Media Movement learnd that Tissainayagam has been threatened by the some  prisoners. His dinner on the 18th was taken by the other prisoners. He was not provided with lunch on the 18th or breakfast on the 19th.  ( Later prison authorities took some corrective steps in this regard) 
16.  14th November – Minister Mervyn indicted
Labour Minister Mervyn Silva and three others were indicted on 14th Nov. by the Attorney General in the High Court of Colombo on nine counts of unlawful assembly, mischief, robbery and assault involving Sirasa journalists at Peliyagoda on August 4.The assault and removal of the camera equipment took place when the journalists Waruna Sampath and Saliya Ranawaka went to cover a public event at the invitation of the organisers of the event.Silva, Dulan Hettiarachchi, Prasanna Ranaweera and Nihal Chandrawansa alias Manchi Nihal were indicted on charges of assault, unlawful assembly, mischief and robbery. They have been indicted under nine counts. Charge one in the indictment relates to the removal of videotapes from the two journalists.
17. 14th November –  SC grants leave to proceed on TV regulation case
The Supreme Court’s granted leave to proceed in the challenges to the new regulations concerning private television broadcasters made by the Minister of Mass Media and Information. The Court’s issued a stay order suspending the operation of these regulations until the Court has decided the merits of the cases. FMM, along with several partner media and civil society organisations as well as affected private television broadcasters, have filed several petitions before the Supreme Court complaining that the new regulations violate the right to equality and the freedom of expression.

18.  16th November – new tax on newsprint
The government budget proposals for 2009 imposed a 5% Cess tax on imported paper. This affected the prices of newsprint needed to print newspapers, and prices of exercise books and stationery also. The new tax forced newspaper owners to increase the prices of the newspapers.

19. 17th November – Defense ministry web accuses released journalists as terrorists
An unsigned article published on Defence ministry web site accused two female journalists released without any charges as terrorists. The two female journalists named are Munusamy Parameshwari and Thambirasa Susanthi. This is the relavent section in the article: “The suspect Munusamy Parameswari, Gampola has been arrested by the Special Task Force on 23 Nov 2006 for aiding and abetting an LTTE suicide women cadre Thambirasa Susanthi by providing lodging in Colombo” (http://www.defence.lk/new.asp?fname=20081114_04 )

20.  17th November – Defense ministry web accuses journalists facing trail
An unsigned article published on Defence ministry web site accused media workers Jasiharan and Valarmathi as LTTE agents. This is what article into said:  “We present 08 case studies which reveal, if not for the remarkable investigative talents of the security forces and the Police horrendous crimes against humanity would have been committed by the agents of the LTTE posing off as civilians. The significant fact is having attempted to commit acts of human rights violations against society, those LTTE agents seek the protection of the clauses embedded in our constitution to protect the human rights of citizens.”  Two of the case studies sited in the article are  on Jasiharan and Valamathi.
( http://www.defence.lk/new.asp?fname=20081114_04 )
21. 21st November – Enjoining order against police spokesperson
An enjoining order was issued by the Colombo District Court on 21st Nov. on Police Media Spokesperson SSP Ranjith Gunasekera preventing him from making defamatory statements against the MTV channel.District Judge Sisira Ratnayake had made the order following a civil suit filed by the television station claiming Rs. 100 million as damages from SSP Gunasekera. MTV Channel Private Limited in its plaint had complained that SSP Gunasekara had been issuing malicious and defamatory statements against the respective media organisation and sending letters to the Chief Justice, Media Minister, IGP, Media Centre for National Security, Press Complaint Commission, other media institutions and all the police stations to be displayed in their notice boards in official letterheads of the Police Department.
22. 26th November -Tamil journalist questioned byTID
Journalist Paramanandam Mathanavasam, editor  Issai Ulagam lifestyle weekly published by  Virakesari group was summoned to Terrorist Investigation Division questioned for hours and released.

23. 27th November –   Journalists Jasiharan’s family threatened
An unidentified caller  threatened the family of Jasiharan . Jaseeharan is the journalist/manager who was arrested along with journalist Tissainayagam under the Sri Lanka’s Prevention of Terrorism Act. The family  received three threatening phone calls on 25th and 26th November.  They live in a remote village in Batticoloa District, in the volatile East of Sri Lanka. The caller had been asking the ransom of Rs. 100,000 to ensure Jaseehan’s safety in the prison. The callers have threatened the family that Jaseehan will be killed if the ransom is not paid within three days. ( Later the family was moved out of the area for safety)
24.  27th November – Government censors BBC Sinhala and Tamil programmes
Government controlled Sri Lanka Broadcasting Cooperation (SLBC) censored the BBC Sinhala and Tamil service programmes broadcasted on 27th November 2008. Sections of the programme on LTTE leader V. Prabhakaran’s “Hero’s Day” speech and Defence Watch press conference were censored making them inaudible to listeners. Defence Watch is headed by former Foreign Minster Mangala Samaraweera, and provides opposition viewpoints, other news, and information on the ongoing war.
25. TV news and magazine from TamilNadu blocked
On several occasions in recent times, Sri Lankan authorities blocked SUN TV news channel in an effort to censor antiwar / pro-Tamil agitations taking place in Tamil Nadu. SUN TV is based in TamilNadu.  According to magazine distributors, the last issue of Ananda Vigadan, a Tamil magazine printed in Tamil Nadu, also has not been released in Sri Lanka because of some critical content concerning the present Sri Lankan administration. 
26. 28th November – Film banned
Public Performance Board (PFB) has suspended of the film “Leader” for general distribution it was reported.  The film was directed by popular actor and opposition politician Mr. Ranjan Ramanayaka. He plays the main role in the film. The film portrays a satirical parody of Sri Lankan politics, bribery and corruption. It begins with a comical musical of scandals and politicians, with characters resembling popular political leaders dancing and singing. The song says this is ‘comedy country’. This clip is among the number of other clips that has been ordered to remove by the Public Performance Board.

27. 29th November –  Journalist assaulted by police
A journalist (who didn’t want to be named for security reasons)   was assaulted while he was covering affects of sudden curfew imposed in Batticloa on 29th Nov. Sri Lanka Army (SLA) and the police searched and checked more than 10,000 Tamils , 4,000 houses and more than 50% of the vehicles in Batticaloa district, during the joint search launched, clamping a 12-hour police-curfew Saturday, According to the police sources.

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