Criminal defamation repeal – Sri Lankan media’s vigil

Criminal defamation repeal – Sri Lankan media’s vigil

Despite brutally repressed by the government, the unity forged by Sri Lankan media to get criminal defamation repealed by its Parliament provides a lot of lessons to learn for Indian media

Among other things, this article discusses the role played Free Media Movement to get the criminal defamation repealed by Sri Lanka Parliament.

By Vishal Kumar Gupta- Tidings Central Published in 2017 Sep 21



සිලොන් ටුඩේ පේපර්ස් ආයතනයේ කළමණාකාරීත්වය ගෙන ඇති තීරණය පිළිබඳව නිදහස් මාධ්‍ය ව්‍යාපාරයේ දැඩි අවධානය

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 2012 ජූනි 211
මාධ්‍ය නිවේදනයයි

සිලොන් ටුඩේ පුවත් පතේ ප්‍රධාන කර්තෘවරයා ලෙස හා කර්තෘ මණ්ඩල අධ්‍යක්‍ෂ ලෙස ද කටයුතු කළ ලලිත් අලහකෝන් මහතා සහ කාටූන් ශිල්පි වසන්ත සිරිවර්ධන මහතා සේවයෙන් ඉවත් කිරිමට සිලොන් ටුඩේ පේපර්ස් ආයතනයේ කළමණාකාරීත්වය ගෙන ඇති තීරණය පිළිබඳව නිදහස් මාධ්‍ය ව්‍යාපාරයේ දැඩි අවධානය යොමුවී ඇත.

අදාළ සිදුවීම පිළිබඳව ලලිත් අලහකෝන් මහතා අප වෙතද යොමු කර ඇති නිවේදනයට අනුව ඔහුගේ සේවය අවසන් කර ඇත්තේ වාචික දැනුම් දීමකින් පමණක් වන අතර මේ දක්වාම ඔහුට චෝදනා පත්‍රයක් හෝ සේවයෙන් ඉවත් කළ බවට ලිඛිතව කිසිඳු දැනුම් දීමක් කර ඇති බව නොපෙනේ. එමෙන්ම කාටුන් ශිල්පි වසන්ත සිරිවර්ධන මහතාගේ සේවය අවසන් කර ඇති ආකාරය ද යුක්ති සහගත කිරීමට ද සිලොන් නිවුස් පේපර්ස් ආයතනය කටයුතු කර නොමැත.

ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ මාධ්‍ය නිදහස වෙනුවෙන් පෙනී සිටින හා මාධ්‍ය කර්මාන්තයේ අභිවෘද්ධිය මෙන්ම එහි විවිධත්වය වෙනුවෙන් පෙනී සිටින සංවිධානයක් ලෙස ඒ පිළිබඳව අප තුළ ඇත්තේ දැඩි කනස්සල්ලකි.

ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ මාධ්‍ය ආයතනයන් ආණ්ඩුවේ දැඩි ග්‍රහණයට නතු වෙමින් හා නිදහස් මාධ්‍ය ක්‍රියාකාරීත්වය දැඩි මර්ධනයකට ලක්ව ඇති මෙවන් මොහොතක මේ ආකාරයේ සිදුවීම් ඇතිවීම ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ මාධ්‍ය ක්‍රියාකාරීත්වයට කිසිසේත්ම යහපත් තත්ත්වයක් නොවේ. එබැවින් අප මේ මොහොතේ විශේෂයෙන්ම ශ්‍රී ලංකා පුවත්පත් ප්‍රකාශකයන්ගේ සංගමයෙන් හා කර්තෘ සංසදය ප්‍රමුඛ අනෙකුත් මාධ්‍ය සංවිධානයන්ගෙන් ද ඉල්ලා සිටින්නේ කර්තෘ මණ්ඩල නිදහස හා මාධ්‍ය හිමිකරුවන්ගේ අයිතීන් පිළිබඳව සිදු කරන සංවාදයක් තුළ සියළු පාර්ශවයන්ට එකඟවිය හැකි පොදු ප්‍රතිපත්තියකට පැමිණීමට කටයුතු කළ යුතුව ඇති බවය.

සුනිල් ජයසේකර                             ශ්‍යාමනී බොයිල්
ලේකම්                                             කැඳවුම්කරු
නිදහස් මාධ්‍ය ව්‍යාපාරය                    නිදහස් මාධ්‍ය ව්‍යාපාරය


An Appeal from media freedom groups in Sri Lanka to all participants at the Galle Literary Festival, 2012

An Appeal from media freedom groups in Sri Lanka to all participants at the

Galle Literary Festival, 2012


As Sri Lankan journalists and media persons committed to media freedom and to the freedom of expression and opinion in Sri Lanka and in the world, we reach out to welcome all of you who have gathered here, in Galle, in January 2012, to participate in the 6th Galle Literary Festival, which is well known as a space for intellectual dialogue and creative exchange in the fields of literature, arts and culture.


We want to draw your attention to the fact that the month of January, in which we are celebrating the arts and culture here in Galle, is also a month which is marked by many of us with various acts of commemoration and mourning. It was in January 2007 that Sugirtharajan, a photojournalist in Trincomalee, was shot and killed for having published the photographs of five students who had been excecuted by the security forces. In 2009, Lasantha Wickrematunge, the editor of the English weekly the Sunday Leader was shot and killed while on his work on January 8.  In January 2010, cartoonist and writer Prageeth Ekneligoda, was abducted. In none of these cases has anyone ever been prosecuted.


During the years in which the government of Sri Lanka was engaged in a war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (the LTTE), the government also launched a war against the media and against the freedom of expression. Through formal and informal censorship and through attacks and intimidation, they have silenced the diversity of opinion in our country. The prevailing climate of impunity has created an environment in which self-censorship has become the norm. The role of the media in building a strong body of conscious citizens, which is a cornerstone of any democratic society, is undermined.


In the last six years, close to 40 media persons have been assassinated. Many more have been subject to brutal assaults. Five media institutions have been destroyed by arson attacks. Many newspapers have closed down. Access to websites has been blocked. Those who challenge this situation are regularly attacked and vilified in the media, both state-owned and private. There are no credible investigations into any of these incidents. Over fifty media persons have fled the country as a result of this situation. The final report of the government’s own Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission, which was made public in November, calls for investigations into attacks on journalists and reminds the state of its obligation to ensure freedom of expression, opinion and information.


As you enjoy an environment in which you may discuss matters of literature and the arts in relative comfort and freedom, we appeal to you to recall the reality of our situation, and to engage with it in your discussion forums. Support the freedom of expression in Sri Lanka in every way that is open to you, here and once you have returned to your homes. Give our message wings to fly with so that our appeal for media freedom and the freedom of expression in Sri Lanka will echo around the world.



Sri Lanka Working Journalist Association  (SLWJA)

Federation of Media Employers Trade Union (FMETU)

Sri Lanka Muslim Media Fedaration (SLMMF)

Sri Lanka Tamil Journalist Alliance (SLTJA)

South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA – Sri Lanka)

Media Movement for Democracy (MMD)

Free Media Movement (FMM)

Mervyn promises he will not harass journalists

Wednesday, 17 December 2008 15:57   
Labour Minister Mervyn Silva has given an undertaking to the Supreme Court that he will refrain from harassing or disrupting the duties of media personnel in the future.

His promise came today (Dec. 17th) when the SC took up a fundamental rights petition filed by a camera journalist of MTV Channel (Pvt.) Ltd.

The petitioner claimed the minister had prevented him from carrying out his duties at the opening of the Kelaniya flyover.

The SC also ordered the minister to pay Rs. 750,000 as compensation for the damaged camera equipment of the media institution.

Sivaram murder trial fixed for June 2009

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 17 December 2008, 15:49 GMT]
The Colombo High Court Monday fixed the inquiry into Journalist Dharmaretnam Sivaram murder case for June 1st next year before Sinhala speaking Jury. The sole suspect, Arumugam Sriskandarajah, was produced in court under heavy security when the case was taken up, legal sources said

Journalist Sivaram was murdered in April 2005 in Colombo.

High Court Judge Ms Kumudhini Wickremasinghe said the trial would begin on June 1 and would continue till its completion, legal sources said.

Sri Lankan president issues threat against Supreme Court judges

By Wije Dias
17 December 2008

In an extraordinary outburst last week, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse lashed out at the country’s Supreme Court, accusing it of undermining his powers, and issued a barely disguised threat that the judges could find themselves the target of violent thugs.
Speaking at a public meeting on December 9, Rajapakse bemoaned the fact that a series of Supreme Council decisions had reduced the status of the president to “less than that of a magistrate”. He continued: “Many of the judgements may place us in a difficult position in the future.”
While declaring that the government respected the court’s rulings, the president ominously reminded the judges of what had happened in the past. “Gentlemen of the judiciary might have forgotten about the time when the homes of the judicial officers were stoned and impeachment motions brought against three Supreme Court judges,” he said.
Rajapakse’s reference was to the early 1980s when President J.R. Jayawardene sought to intimidate the Supreme Court after it ruled against police officers who had brutally attacked peaceful protesters opposed to his government. Thugs associated with Jayawardene’s United National Party (UNP) attacked the houses of the judges and an unsuccessful attempt was made to impeach them.
Rajapakse’s comments are not an idle threat. His government has escalated the communal war begun by Jayawardene against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). In the name of national security, Rajapakse has severely curtailed basic democratic rights, threatened the media and attempted to silence critics. Over the past two years, hundreds of people have “disappeared” or been murdered by death squads operating in collaboration with the security forces. Journalists have been threatened, detained, abducted or killed.
Now Rajapakse is turning his sights on the judiciary. He is particularly antagonistic to a Supreme Court decision to order the government to establish the Constitutional Council in accordance with the 17th amendment to the constitution passed in 2001. Rajapakse has simply ignored the constitutional requirement for past three years, using the pretext that he had appointed a parliamentary commission to re-examine the 17th amendment and was awaiting its report.
The Constitutional Commission, which is jointly appointed by the government and opposition, has powers to make appointments to other commissions established under the 17th amendment covering the police, electoral department, judiciary and other areas of public administration. While the amendment was meant to placate public anger over rampant corruption in the state apparatus, even these limited measures are intolerable to Rajapakse.
As public hostility to the war and its impact of living standards has risen, Rajapakse has increasingly concentrated power in his own hands and those of his close associates—particularly his brothers. The president holds the posts of defence and finance. His older brother Chamal is minister for ports and aviation. Younger brother Gotabhaya holds the powerful position in the state bureaucracy of defence secretary and Basil was put in charge of the “liberated” east after the LTTE was driven out.
Basil Rajapakse is also the president’s right hand man when it comes to keeping the government’s unwieldy parliamentary alliance in check. The ruling coalition is composed of disparate parties, all of which have received political payoffs in the form of ministerial posts and other perks. Sri Lanka currently has one of the largest ministries in the world, but the real decisions are made at the presidential secretariat rather than in cabinet. To maintain his precarious grip on power, Rajapakse has had to resort to personal appointments—on a scale that is unprecedented even by Sri Lankan standards—not only to secure allies but to install his loyalists into key posts to ensure his policies are implemented.
The establishment of the Constitutional Council, in which the parliamentary opposition leader and opposition appointees sit, would cut across Rajapakse, which is why he has manoeuvred to block it. The Supreme Court ruled that the body had to be appointed by December 4, but the attorney-general pleaded for an extension on the basis that the president was out of the country on that date. Now the Supreme Court has ruled that the president has to install the Constitutional Council by January 15 and left Rajapakse with no legal escape route. It was at this point that he lashed out last week at the judges.
The Supreme Court in Sri Lanka is no great defender of constitutional or democratic rights as an examination of its record would show. Its latest rulings, however, reflect growing fears in the country’s ruling elite that the Rajapakse government, as it prosecutes the war, is increasingly breaking with the norms of parliamentary democracy and assuming an autocratic form. The concern in these circles is not over the war, with which the entire establishment in Colombo agrees, personal corruption or the abuse of democratic rights. The real fear is that this brittle regime will break apart amid mounting popular opposition and threaten the stability of capitalist rule.
The rulings over the Constitutional Council are only the latest in a series of cases brought by several non-government organisations, including the Centre for Policy Alternatives and Transparency International.
In July, the Supreme Court removed the treasury secretary, P.B. Jayasundera from his post for his role in the privatisation of the state-owned Lanka Marine Services Limited, which the judges found was “irregular and designed to suit one party”. Determined to keep Jayasundera’s services, Rajapakse sent him as a special presidential envoy on a trade delegation to Iran, then appointed him as a special presidential advisor to finance.
A Supreme Court instruction to the police Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and the Commission to Investigate Bribery and Corruption (CIBC) to investigate Jayasundera over criminal charges has been ignored. The judges issued an order to the police top brass, CID, CIBC and the attorney-general to appear in court to explain what action they have taken. Jayasundera had not even been questioned by police.
When the case was taken up on September 29, Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva ruled that the CID director “should be removed from office for failing to perform his duties”. It was only when the judges ordered Jayasundera to appear in court on October 8 that he resigned his posts and gave a guarantee that he would never enter the public service in future.
Another case related to a gazette notice published on August 11 vesting the president with the power to extend the service of any public officer beyond compulsory retirement “if he considered it expedient”. On the basis of that notice, Rajapakse extended the appointment of the attorney-general, who was due to retire at the end of August, by six months. If the Constitutional Council had been established, it would oversee any extensions of service.
The Centre for Policy Alternatives contested the gazette notice as a violation of equality and equal protection guaranteed by law. On September 22, the Supreme Court stayed its implementation. On October 8, the attorney-general announced his retirement, two days before the court was due to deliberate on the issue.
In a third case, the Supreme Court issued a ruling on October 8 on a deal done by former President Chandrika Kumaratunga to sell a large plot of prime government-owned land to a private company to set up a golf course. The judges found that she had “completely betrayed” the public trust and “grossly abused the country” and ordered her to pay back 30 million rupees and return the property to the urban development authority.
While the case involved a previous president, the Supreme Court ruling had potentially wider ramifications, inhibiting the president from using his or her wide-ranging executive powers under the constitution. In its judgment, the court declared: “No single position or office created by the constitution has unlimited power and the constitution itself circumscribes the scope and the ambit of even the power vested with any president who sits as the head of this country.”
The various court cases are part of the subterranean political warfare within the country’s ruling elite as it confronts a deepening political and economic crisis compounded by the island’s reactionary communal war. Rajapakse’s threat against the Supreme Court judges demonstrates just how extreme these tensions have become.

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Vasu writes to President on defence web intimidations


Tuesday, 16 December 2008 14:48
Presidential Adviser and former MP, Attorney at Law Vasudewa Nanayakkara has written to the President, himself a lawyer that the official website of the Defence Ministry has published an intimidating report on lawyers who appear for persons suspected of terrorist activities.
“The Report has singled out the Tamil Lawyers who filed cases. Exposing the Tamil Lawyers in this manner is extremely dangerous and discriminatory.” writes Mr. Nanayakkara, who stresses that “Your Excellency’s speedy intervention into an extremely urgent matter.” is necessary.

Arguing his case, Mr. Nanayakkara notes, “Civilized citizens agree that every person is presumed innocent, until proved guilty by a court of law. The so-called terrorists are also entitled to obtain the services of a Lawyer. Further, ‘Legal Ethics’ require Lawyers not to decline to appear for a client on the basis of ethnicity. The recent happenings clearly indicate that there is a powerful unit operating within establishments to discourage Lawyers in appearing in cases for LTTE suspects.”

Full text of Mr. Vasudewa Nanayakkara appears below

Vasudewa Nanayakkara
49, Vinayalankara Mawatha, Colombo 10

His Excellency Mahinda Rajapakse,
President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka
Presidential Secretariat,

Your Excellency,

I write this as citizens of Sri Lanka, an Attorney-at-Law and colleague of Your Excellency and expect Your Excellency’s speedy intervention into an extremely urgent matter.

The defense Ministry Website: www.defense.lk carried a Report titled “Who are the Human Rights Violators”. This report was uploaded on 16-11-2008 but still on the web with one amendment. The original Report that appeared in the website is annexed for Your Excellency’s easy perusal.

This Report deals with 9 cases, which were filed in the Supreme Court under the Fundamental Rights Jurisdiction. The intention of this Report is clearly to create an opinion that those who file Fundamental Rights cases for LTTE Suspects are unpatriotic and working against the interests of the country. This Report has the effect of inciting people to condemn the Lawyers and even possibly to attack them. Some of the cases are still pending and my information suggests that most of those cases referred to in the Report was withdrawn after the Attorney General agreeing with the Petitioners to discharge the suspects in the absence of any evidence.

The names of the Counsel who are appearing in those cases are not
mentioned in the Report. It has also carefully avoided mentioning the Sinhala Lawyers who filed the cases. The Report has singled out the Tamil Lawyers who filed cases. Exposing the Tamil Lawyers in this manner is extremely dangerous and discriminatory.

Civilized citizens agree that every person is presumed innocent, until
proved guilty by a court of law. The so-called terrorists are also
entitled to obtain the services of a Lawyer. Further, ‘Legal Ethics’
requires Lawyers not to decline to appear for a client on the basis of
ethnicity. The recent happenings clearly indicate that there is a
powerful unit operating within establishments to discourage Lawyers in appearing in cases for LTTE suspects.

Your Excellency will recall that about a month ago a group claiming to be “Mahason Balakaya” circulated a ‘Threatening Notice’ intimidating Lawyers. A copy of this Notice is also annexed for Your Excellency’s easy perusal. In late October, Senior Human Rights Lawyer, Mr. J. C. Weliamuna’s house was attacked but there is nothing to suggest that there was a fair Police Investigation into the attack despite a strong request from the Bar Association.

I therefore, request you as the Head of the State, to immediately take
action to remove the Defence Ministry Website Report naming as traitors for appearing for clients which is a fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution. I hope Your Excellency will forthwith instruct those who are responsible for running the Website to desist from intimidating, threatening and inciting against the lawyers for carrying out their professional duties. Finally, let me request Your Excellency to protect those Lawyers whose names have appeared in the website from any form of coercion or physical harassment.

I have no doubt that as a person who stood for Human Rights in late 80’s Your Excellency is sensitive to this issue and intervene forthwith.

Yours Faithfully,

Vasudeva Nanayakkara

CC: 1. Mr. Gotabhaya Rajapakse:- Secretary, Ministry of Defense.
2. Mr. W. D. Dayaratne:- President, Bar Association of Sri Lanka.

Charge sheet against ‘Aksharaya’ director withdrawn

(lankadissent)Friday, 12 December 2008 16:01
The children’s and Women’s Bureau has withdrawn a charge  sheet against director Ashoka Handagama for having used a minor in a nude scene for his film ‘Aksharaya’ or ‘Letter or Fire.’
Colombo additional magistrate Kumari Abeyratne yesterday (Dec. 11th) permitted the withdrawal by the Bureau following advice by the attorney general.
A case was filed against the director on the instructions of the AG under Clause 286 (B) 1 of the Penal Code.
When the additional magistrate took up a motion, Sergeant Priyanthi of the Bureau said that deputy solicitor general Jayantha Jayasuriya, on behalf of the AG, had informed them of faults in the charge sheets.
The matter will be taken up again on January 18th.

Editor of Lankan daily fired over ‘joker’ remarks

PTI,Colombo,  December 9, 2008 
The editor of a state-run newspaper in Sri Lanka was sacked on Tuesday after it carried derogatory remarks by the Sri Lankan army chief against some Tamil Nadu politicians sympathetic to the Tamil cause in the ethnic strife-torn island nation.

Dinesh Weerawansa, the editor of the Sunday Observer, has been replaced on Monday by Jayatilake De Silva, sources said today. De Silva is a former editor of the paper.

When contacted, a high-ranking government official refused to confirm whether the removal is linked to the outcry in India following army chief Sarath Fonseka’s comments which were published in the paper on Sunday.

Fonseka had said that the Indian government would never influence Sri Lanka to restore the ceasefire with the Tamil Tigers and it would not listen to the “political jokers” of Tamil Nadu whose “survival depends on the LTTE”.

“If the LTTE is wiped out, those political jokers like (Tamil Nationalist Movement leader) P Nedumaran, Vaiko and whoever who is sympathising with the LTTE will most probably lose their income from the LTTE,” he was quoted as saying.

India today said it has lodged a protest with Sri Lanka over the remarks and Colombo has expressed “regret”.

There were sharp reactions to the comments in the political circle in Tamil Nadu, with MDMK leader Vaiko asking the Centre to seek an unconditional apology from the Sri Lankan government for the “outrageous” remarks

Sri Lanka detained journalist says threatened daily; quizzed in court over writing

Writer’s Trial: 
Nov 16, 2008 (LBO) – A Sri Lankan journalist who had been detained for over eight months had been questioned about what he wrote, and had also revealed to court that he had been repeatedly threatened, a media report said.
Senior journalist J S Tissainayagam’s case had been taken up Friday in Colombo High Court but the judicial medical officer summoned to give evidence was not present, The Sunday Times newspaper reported.

Earlier in the week Tissainayagam had testified that he had a serious eye condition, where an accident when he was 18 had caused a detached retina in both eyes and he had 50 percent vision.

Doctors had advised him that a blow to the head could make the condition recur.

He said officers of Sri Lanka’s terrorist investigation division who was holding him had threatened him saying he would be “beaten up like other detainees” and that he would go blind if the officers beat him, the report said.

He said he was threatened on a daily basis.

In cross-examination, a government lawyer had produced several documents and statements that. Tissainayagam was said to have signed on March 7, the day he was detained.

Tissainayagam had denied that it was his signature on the documents, saying he signed in the English language and therefore the signature on the documents could not be his.
Tissainayagam had told court on May 9 after he had seen another arrested colleague being tortured, and had been told the same would happen to him. The prosecution’s position was that he was lying, the report said.

The defence had asked for a medical officer who had reported on it to be called to court.

A government lawyer had questioned whether he had visited a Tamil Tiger controlled area with the permission of the Government and questioned him on an article he had written in November 2007 and asked him to read out portions of it.

Tissainayagam had read out the article and said he stood by it and added that as a journalist he had expressed his views, The Sunday Times said.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) had launched a campaign to free Tissainayagam saying it was a trial on the freedom of expression.