Athas case:Judge says media freedom should be respected
The freedom of the media should be respected for democracy to prevail, Court of Appeal Judge S.I. Imam said last week when an appeal by two former Air Force officers who were convicted by the High Court of Colombo, was taken up for hearing by him.
Justice Imam made this observation when the appeal case filed by the two men indicted for intimidation of The Sunday Times Defence Correspondent and Consultant Editor Iqbal Athas and unlawful trespass into his premises, on February 12, 1998, was heard.The Bench comprised Justices Iman and Sarath de Abrew.
The two accused Rukman Herath (now deceased) and Don Pradeep Sujeewa Kannangara were sentenced to nine years imprisonment and Rs. 10,000 fine each on two counts with another year added if the fine was not paid.
Justice Imam inquired whether Mr. Athas had published articles regarding malpractices and corruption in the other armed forces and also whether immediately prior to the incident he had written any articles regarding malpractices in the Air Force.
Deputy Solicitor General Dapula de Livera told court that Mr. Athas had published around seven articles exposing corruption and malpractice in the Air Force between 1997 and 1998 in procuring equipment.
He said this was the reason that he was being harassed.
Mr. Livera compared the persons who entered the premises of Mr. Athas as goons who were carrying out the work of higher authorities.
The DSG said the first accused was the personal security officer of the then Air Force Commander Oliver Ranasinghe and the second accused was also attached to the security of the Commander.
Mr. Livera said that the persons who entered the premises had first inquired from the servant Subramaniam whether this was the residence of Mr. Athas as they wanted an article published in The Sunday Times. Therefore they were quite sure what they had come for.
He said the two officers had then walked up to the place where Mr. and Mrs. Athas were and held a gun at them when they were talking to them. He said the two accused were present for about 15-20 minutes in the presence of Mr. and Mrs Athas and it was ample time for the couple to get a clear picture of the accused so that they could not have made a mistake in their identification.
He also said that the persons who entered the premises inquired whether there were any women, which inquiry was just a camouflage because no person would have brandished a weapon and asked for women.
He said that after they accomplished what they had come for, they then got away in the vehicles they came in saying they had come to the wrong place which story was also a concocted one.
Mr. Ranjith Abeysuriya, PC appeared for the defence. The case is to be resumed on November 1.