11th June 2000

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UK House of Commons

Restrictions on media freedom regretted

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Peter Hain in a recent address in the British House of Commons has strongly regretted the restrictions on civil liberties and press freedom under the emergency regulations introduced by the Sri Lankan government.

Mr. Hain last Wednesday informed the House in reply to a motion by Simon Hughes on the Sri Lankan situation, said that the European Union called on Sri Lanka to lift the restrictions as soon as possible, and welcomed the recent lifting of restrictions on political meetings and processions and the easing of censorship on foreign media.

He also hoped that the first step towards lifting the emergency regulations would soon be extended to the local media as well, as suggested by the Lankan Media Minister.

Mr. Hughes who moved the motion had explained that the result of the conflict in Sri Lanka was due to both sides being so committed to their own resolutions that it was clear that neither would win the conflict outright.

Mr. Hughes also elaborated that the government was unable to manage, suppress or eradicate the LTTE. He told the House., "They will not go away. Likewise, the LTTE was unlikely to be able to takeover and hold, without contradiction or challenge, the Tamil Elaam territory in the North and East they espouse.

There has to be a way to mediate and accommodate them.

"We will continue to raise civil liberties and human rights concerns with the Sri Lankan authorities, although we acknowledge that they have taken steps to improve on their human rights record."

Describing the Sri Lankan situation as one in which people lived in perpetual fear of assassination if they were involved in the political process.

Mr. Hain informed the House that the LTTE has been responsible for serious human rights violations, and condemned the terrorists attack in Colombo and elsewhere which have killed and wounded many innocent civilians.

Complimenting Sri Lanka in his address, he hailed the trouble-torn island as a friend, and assured support for the continuity of its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

"The precise terms of any settlement are a matter for the people of Sri Lanka, but they will have to respect the rights and aspirations of all communities including those that the LTTE claims to represent,"he noted.

Mr. Hain also welcomed President Chandrika Kumaratunga's firm commitment to a negotiated settlement and her attempts to reach consensus with the opposition UNP and other political parties, including Tamil parties, on some form of devolution package to be put to the LTTE.

Criticising the constitutional status quo as being neither politically desirable nor viable, he welcomed the undertaking given by the Leader of the Opposition Ranil Wickremesinghe to put aside political differences to achieve a bipartisan position on a future constitutional framework.

"Those are important steps forward, and we have been encouraging them," he told the House of Commons.

The process of negotiations he remarked would not be easy as they knew by the Ireland experience. Both sides required to show patience and flexibility as talks get underway. There was a need to make compromises. After seventeen years of bitter conflict it is wholly unrealistic to expect negotiations to be quickly concluded as it would take time to build up trust between the two sides."

Much diplomatic activity took place in a bid to bring about a cession of hostilities and create conditions for peace. He assured the House that the British government, while happy for now to play a supporting role in their quest for peace, remained in close and regular contact with the key international players, Mr. Hain replied.

"We have taken that matter up with the Sri Lankan government, the LTTE is also well aware of our position. They know that the safety of civilians is of paramount importance and that we call on them to abide by international humanitarian and human rights law and look after prisoners of war," he said.

In conclusion Mr. Hain said that they were discussing with the EU the dispatch of election monitors at the general elections later this year.

Although we have held discussions with our colleagues; the Indians, those in the US and others - to try to reach a common position, we were unable to do so but we continue our efforts.

Journalists seek diplomatic protection

Four journalist have claimed that their lives are under threat following a news item on a state TV telecast branded them as 'traitors'.

The state controlled Independent Television Network (ITN) on June 3 read a statement issued by an organization calling itself Deshabakti Madhya Viyapura or the Patriotic Journalist Movement. The journalists said the statement described them as 'traitors.'

In a letter sent to embassies in Colombo the four journalists state that this statement constituted a direct threat to their lives as it was clearly designed and deliberately calculated to instigate extremist and contract killers against their families.

This statement was also carried in the state-owned Sinhala weekly Silumina and the daily Dinamina and in the news broadcast of the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC) on June 4 and 5.

"We request you to use your good offices to take necessary action to prevent such slanderous, malicious and diabolical news items appearing in the state controlled media," the letter said.

The four journalist are Sunday Leader defence correspondnet Roy Denish, BBC Tamilservice news coordinator P Seevagan, Irida Peramuna editor Saman Wagaarachchi and colmnist D Sivaram.

Police must give equal protection Police Problems

Throughout civilization there has always existed in this world, a class of men indomitable by repressive authority. Men of this class, stout of heart and sturdy of purpose, but abhorred by repressive rulers, have always been idols of the populace. Those in authority called them and still call them, troublesome fellows, and at times, prompted by basic instincts, disparaging names. These men described herein, certainly do not contribute to the smooth functioning of repressive governments. Yet their contribution to society is enormous; because, nothing can be more certain than the fact that, if the Executive, whether it be a Monarch, a Cabinet, a Public Service, or a Trade Union Committee, is allowed to govern unchallenged, tyranny and oppression are bound to result. The reason is that most men in power delude themselves into the belief that they can do no wrong, and that anyone who opposes them is a turbulent person who should be repressed by any means at their disposal, rules of law notwithstanding. It is due to this tendency on the part of rulers and governors, a tendency so dangerous to the liberty of the people, that they find the class of men alluded to above, as their most effective opponents, and hence subject them to untold persecutions.

In Sri Lanka today it is widely alleged that the media censorship currently in force is too repressive for the following and more reasons:

[a] it covers more aspects than required for the preservation of national security.

It has been specifically alleged that the censorship is being misused to protect the government from embarrassment and wrongdoing; that it deprives the people of the right to discuss matters relevant to the elections, especially the ethnic problem which has turned into a major war, and has become a main topic of discussion among the people; that while such censorship is in force, the government controlled media is being used by the government for it's political propaganda and to attack political rivals etc. etc. The Police and the Armed Forces should bear in mind that their obligation is to uphold the Constitution of Sri Lanka, and desist from harassing but give equal protection to people exercising their rights enshrined in the Constitution.

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