7th May 2000

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UNP to brief DPLs on state of the country

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti

The main opposition UNP is scheduled to hold a series of meetings with the diplomatic corps next week to brief them on the current situation in the country and the possible consequences.

Meanwhile, the party which held a special parliamentarians' group on Friday decided to take all possible action against the government if it moved towards Censored using the Public Security Ordinance (PSO) to curtail public freedom.

Censored The party has also decided to solicit support from political parties, civic organisations and interested individuals in their cause of 'preserving democracy'.

However, the UNP has also announced that their opposition was not against the armed forces nor the seeking of a solution through military means Censored.

The group also revoked an earlier decision to burn the gazette notification which put the country on a 'war footing' as it was deemed extreme by the party leaders in the present context.

Probe on snake wine underway

By Laila Nasry

Investigations are being conducted by Customs officials to ascertain whether there is a Sri Lankan link in the snake-in-the wine business.

Last week, 21 bottles of wine with snakes inside them were seized from an American couple by Customs officials at the BIA. The couple who were on transit here said the wine bought in Vietnam contained medicinal properties.

The investigators hope to determine whether the wine is part of an illegal importation process or an unauthorised exportation process that is being conducted within the country, Custom sources added.

The snakes in the bottle will be examined to determine whether they are indigenous to Sri Lanka, Custom officials said.

This will help officials confirm as to whether Sri Lanka is involved in the wine making business, they said.

The couple who broke journey in Sri Lanka for two days en route to the US from Vietnam, were arrested under the Fauna and Flora Act and later released after being severely warned.

Tamil parties make slow start for polls

By Roshan Peiris

With parliamentary elections due within the next few months, minority parties are still undecided over their stand.

EPDP leader Douglas Devananda said his party would contest the elections alone and that too only in the Northern and Eastern Provinces.

Asked whether the EPDP would join a Tamil alliance, he said no such decision had been made so far.

EPRLF politburo member T. Wilson said his party may join a grand Tamil alliance.

TULF parliamentary Group leader Joseph Pararajasingham said the party would contest the general elections but there would not be any alliance with other Tamil parties.

ACTC leader N. Kumaraguruparan said their party would not contest the elections in the north and east as the situation there was not conducive for any elections. But he said the ACTC would contest in other areas, probably in alliance with other Tamil parties.

CWC leader and Minister Arumugam Thondaman said his party would contest in all areas where the Tamils of Indian origin lived. But he said the party would decide on whom to back once parliament was dissolved in August.

Lankans killed in Baghdad plunge

By S.S.Selvanayagam

Four members of a Sri Lankan family were killed in a horrible road accident when their speeding vehicle plunged off a cliff on the way from Amman to Baghdad on Friday, relatives here said.

The victims were Dr A.A. Mohamed Iqbal, his father Aboobucker A.L. Admani and the doctor's daughters Mariam and Rukaiya. Dr. Iqbal's wife Rafiqun Nisa, his daughter Shaima and his mother Zainab were injured in the accident with the mother reported to be undergoing urgent surgery at Baghdad' premier hospital.

Sri Lanka's Ambassador M.Farook had made the arrangements to send the bodies to Sri Lanka but the family eventually decided to have the burials in the Iraqi capital.

Relatives here said police reports indicated the vehicle was running at a speed of some 160 kmph and the driver had allegedly fallen asleep.

ASG questions editor's evidence

Starting the prosecution argument in The Sunday Times editor's defamation appeal, Additional Solicitor General Rienzie Arsecularatne told the Appeal Court that the fact that the editor had not published a correction or an apology on realisation that the article was false, had a bearing on the ingredient of intention to defame or knowledge that the President would be thereby defamed.

The Sunday Times editor was convicted of criminal defamation of the President on the basis of an article published in the Gossip Column of the newspaper in February 1995. The article said President Kumaratunga went for a birthday party of SLMC Parliamentarian Asitha Perera, held at his private suite in Hotel Lanka Oberoi through its rear gate in a circumspect manner. It was proved that the contents of the said article were false.

The editor was charged under Section 479 of the Penal Code and Section 15 of the Press Council Law read with Section 14.

Mr. Arsecularatne told court that Under section 15 of the Press Council Law that a person who publishes or causes a publication in any newspaper or any statement or matter amounting to defamation within the meaning of 479 of the Penal Code will be guilty of an offence. Section 14 says that in such a situation the editor, publisher, proprietor and journalist shall be guilty of an offence.

The prosecuting counsel said that among the witnesses called during the trial was Ranjit Wijewardene, the proprietor of The Sunday Times, who testified that the article was written by the Gossip Columnist of the newspaper. He also said he found out that the contents of the article were false. If there is a mistake, carrying a correction and apology is the editor's responsibility. He also admitted that these remarks had caused disrespect to the President.

Justice Hector Yapa: So it is the sole responsibility of the editor to publish a correction?

Counsel: the proprietor said.

Mr. Arsecularatne said no correction had been published up to date and that their lordships should bear this in mind when considering the question of intention or knowledge on the part of the editor.

Counsel said the second witness Asitha Perera testified and said that the President did not attend the party nor was she invited for it. Mr. Perera said that to say she attended the party was false, and counsel pointed out that that fact stands uncontradicted in court.

The learned High Court Judge had concluded that it was the accused who wrote the said article in the Gossip Column. Counsel said the judge had considered the refusal on the part of the accused to disclose the writer's identity, when coming to this decision.

The accused had said that disclosing the name of the writer went to the root of press freedom.

Justice P.H.K. Kulatilleke: Did he say he knew who the writer was.

Counsel: Yes. He knew who it was, but refused to divulge the name or sex of the person.

Mr. Arsecularatne said the editor was refusing to divulge evidence favourable to him and the trial judge had said he was claiming a privilege he was not entitled to and thereby suppressing evidence.

The accused had said he wrote three paragraphs of the article and owned up only those three paragraphs referring to a mishap pertaining to a bungalow allocated to a Minister appearing in the middle of the gossip column.

Counsel said that when the accused claimed he wrote three paragraphs of the article it did not go to the root of press freedom, but for him to disclose the writer of the article it went to the root of press freedom.

Justice Yapa: You mean the editor has contradicted his statement?

Counsel: Yes my Lord.

The other item the learned trial judge had considered when deciding that the accused wrote the article was the fact that the editor did not disclose the name of the writer because he would then be disclosing his name, as he was the writer of the article.

It is the accused's position that he did not know what preceded or proceeded the three paragraphs he wrote. The very first paragraph of the gossip column however says 'for the high and mighty, be they blue or green, purple or whatever colour of the political rainbow this is party time..... if our readers want it, we shall deliver - even if it is who ate what, with whom... is in bad taste', and this shows that the writer knew of all the paragraphs referring to parties which are to follow.

Justice Yapa: The first paragraph is indicative of what is to follow?

Counsel: Yes. The man who wrote the first paragraph knew all the other paragraphs which would follow.

The trial judge has also considered the accused's diverse statements relating to the fact whether the gossip column is written by one or more persons In the accused's statement to the CID he had said that 'the column is written by one person, but the news items in the column are collected by various persons'. But when the accused was asked whether it was his position that in respect of each news item in the column there was a different writer, he had said no. He had also denied that he told the CID that the column was written by one person. This statement of his to the CID was marked as a contradiction.

Counsel also pointed out that the newspaper said that the column was written by Our Gossip Columnist, which as it is in the singular indicated that it had been written by one person.

When the accused was questioned on different occasions he had given diverse answers. When he was asked whether he told the CID that the column was written by one writer he had said 'I do not concede that is what I said'. When he was asked whether he told the CID that the column is written by one person but the news items are collected by various persons he had said 'that is the way it is recorded', which counsel said was an insinuation that he did not tell the CID that the column is written by one person.

Justice Yapa: He does not deny nor does he admit that he said it?

Counsel: Yes My Lord. What he is trying to say is that he did not say it. The accused is a journalist and also an attorney-at-law and he has accepted in his evidence that he read his statement to the CID before signing it.

Justice Yapa: But his statements are not denials either.

When the accused was asked whether he told the CID the entire column is written by one person he had said, 'it is not correct. What I have told the CID is not correct'.

Justice Kulatilleke: In other words he says he lied.

Counsel: By his own admission he lied.

Justice Yapa: There is an inference that he told the CID that the column is written by one person.

Counsel: Yes My Lord.

When he was later asked whether he recalled that he had said that the column is written by one person but several people supply the news items, he had said that 'if it is so recorded it is correct. I may have said it'. The learned trial judge had regarded this statement as a tacit admission. The accused had later in response to a question said that he had specifically admitted that the column in written by one person, which the trial judge regarded as an express admission, having earlier denied that he stated it to the CID.

When he was asked whether he did not tell the CID that the column is written by one writer, the accused said 'I may have said so but I stated categorically that the news items are collected from different people'. Counsel pointed out that in this instance the accused remembers a part of his statement which works in his favour but does not remember the part of the statement that works against him.

The learned trial judge had given three reasons why he had refused to accept the accused's denial of what he told the CID that the column is written by one writer.

The first is that his position was a veritable medley of mutually inconsistent positions, a quality of evidence based on false pretences and that he admitted in veiled if not in definite terms that the column is written by one writer, and that against such a background the court is forcibly drawn to conclude that the accused told the CID that the column is written by one person.

The accused had later said when he said that the column was written by one person he was referring to a news item in the column but the learned trial judge had said that when one refers to a column in a newspaper it normally means the entire article.

The accused had said in his statement that 'the gossip column is written by one person but the news items in the column are supplied by various people', the first use of the word 'column' meant one item and the second time the word 'column' is used in the same sentence to mean the entire column.

Justice Yapa: There is no other way of understanding his evidence.

Counsel: That is why My Lord the learned trial judge rejected it.

The accused had also on different occasions said he could not remember whether he used the word 'column', and that he could not recall the background in which it was used and that he could not recall the exact words he said at the time.

But if he cannot remember whether he used the word, 'column' how can he recall the sense in which that word was used. The trial judge refers to this evidence as a "clincher" in his judgment to reject the denial of the accused, that he told the CID that the column is written by one writer.

Justice Yapa: These are the reasons he gave as to why he refused the accused's denial?

Counsel: Yes My Lord, and to conclude that the accused wrote the article.

Submissions will be continued on Tuesday.

Growing mangroves to save lagoon

By Tania Fernando

In a move to preserve the Negombo lagoon the Coast Conservation Department (CCD) has started a mangrove planting campaign.

This project that is being carried out by the fishermen of the area is getting financial support from World Vision and technical assistance from the Forest Department.

The roots of the mangrove trees not only help to bind the soil and prevent erosion, but the mangrove eco-system also provides a good breeding ground for fish and shell fish.

The fishermen who in the past have contributed to the destruction the mangrove have now realized the importance of the trees and have thus volunteered for this project.

"Most of the mangroves have been destroyed due to ad-hoc clearing methods and houses coming up along the bank," said R A D B Samaranayake, Manager, Coast Conservation Department (CCD). Due to this the water is getting polluted and the fish scarce.

In addition the fisherman also cut branches of the mangrove trees to be used as 'brush files' (fish aggregation method). They put the branches in the water to encircle an area after which they move the branches to catch the fish.

The fruits from the mangrove trees are used as pigmentation to colour their nets, said Dr. Samaranayake.

The area that comes under the CCD is two kilometres towards the water and 300 metres if it is near the sea bank. It is planned to amend the Coast Conservation Act to include 100 mt. from the bank area to come under the jurisdiction of the CCD, he said.

Dr. Samaranayake said permission from the CCD is necessary for structures to come up on the river bank.


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