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8th, March 1998

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Condemnation of attack on Athas continues

By Imran Vittachi

More appeals have poured into Temple Trees - from home and abroad - urging President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga to find and punish those who recently menaced at gunpoint veteran journalist Iqbal Athas.

The International Press Institute (IPI) has followed other worldwide media watchdogs that earlier sent this message to the President. In a statement issued from its Vienna headquarters on March 3, IPI condemned what it called “the campaign of harassment and intimidation being waged against Iqbal Athas....”

Without mincing its words, IPI also expressed concern that the February 12 attack on the home of The Sunday Times’ defence correspondent and senior consultant editor - and earlier incidents of stalking and denigrating him - could have resulted from his exposures of corruption in the Sri Lankan military.

“Athas has been the subject of repeated harassment and intimidation, probably due to his Sunday Times reports,” IPI said.

“IPI, the global network of editors and media executives, urges Your Excellency to ensure that the authorities undertake a thorough investigation into this incident and that those responsible are brought to justice. “We further urge that any findings with regard to this case are disclosed and that everything is done to end the campaign of harassment and intimidation against Iqbal Athas and his family.”

Meanwhile, London-based Amnesty International has dispatched a worldwide bulletin, urging that similar appeals be made to the President, Deputy Defence Minister Gen. Anuruddha Ratwatte, and Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera.

The human rights group’s bulletin of February 13 — also classified as a “fear of extrajudicial execution” — expressed “serious concern about the death threats and attempted abduction...against Iqbal Athas.” In Sri Lanka, a similar appeal was made by Sri Lanka Muslim Congress MP M.M. Zuhair in Parliamentary group talks last week. he is reported to have asked President Kumaratunga to see that a thorough probe be carried out.

Transfer of police amidst torching of house

By M. Ismeth and Shane Seneviratne

Entire police post from the Aranayake station has been transferred out immediately after a gang torched the house of a journalist who had exposed the lucrative kasippu trade in the area.

The wattle and daub thatched house of Dinamina correspondent Pradeep Kumara Dharmaratna was totally burnt by the political terror gang. But the young investigative reporter and his mother had fortunately moved out for safety and stayed with a relative that night.

The escalating crisis began last month when the journalist wrote a Dinamina story exposing kasippu rackets. It is alleged that he was hauled out of bed by Aranayake policemen, threatened and tortured before being himself being framed as a kasippu dealer.

As the news of the attack on the journalist was splashed in the media, the OIC of Aranayake and three others were interdicted. But the police allegedly hit back by setting thugs and other groups to intimidate Mr. Dharmaratna and his family.

At the Cabinet news briefing last Thursday Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera was questioned about the continuing attacks on the journalist, but he claimed he was not aware that the reporter’s house had been burnt down on Wednesday night.

A senior journalist told the Minister, “if this is the treatment meted out, then no journalist is safe”.

Mr. Samaraweera then checked with the police and announced that the entire force of 41 at the Aranayake station including 8 women constables were being transferred out.

The Minister also said the CID had obtained a lead in the Iqbal Athas case and some arrests might be made soon. On Wednesday in the face of growing threats to the Aranayake correspondent, the Free Media Movement held a demonstration there to express solidarity with him.

Journalists carried placards saying, “Hands off the Media”.

But the terror gangs, obviously provoked by some elements in the police, hit back that same night to torch the house of the journalist.

Minister Samaraweera said the government was concerned about the behaviour of certain police officers who were bringing discredit to the government.

He pointed out that though the President had insisted that traffic and other security arrangements should be minimal whenever her convoy passes through a highway, some police officers were causing unnecessary hardships and putting the blame on the President.

Bomb bus came from east

By Christopher Kamalendran

Evidence that the devastating Maradana bus bomb was assembled in the east and the luxury vehicle was driven through several checkpoints to Colombo is emerging as detectives arrested eight suspects though the owner of the bus is still at large.

As the death toll rose to 38 and 65 of more than 260 people injured were still in the National Hospital, detectives said they believed the owner was still hiding somewhere in Colombo but his wife, two children, a garage owner, two mechanics, the conductor and a businessman—all from Chen-kaladi or Eravur had been arrested. They were flown to Colombo and were being interrogated as police piece together evidence of the catastrophe that shattered Colombo at high noon. The vehicle owner’s wife along with five others including the two children were flown to Central Colombo at high noon.

Investigations have revealed the bus had been plying between Kathankudy and Colombo for the past six months and was charging a high fare of Rs. 175 per passenger compared to Rs. 125 charged by other buses.

The vehicle owner identified as Pulendran of Chenkaladi was the regular driver of the bus and the last trip to Colombo was on Tuesday. After that trip, the owner is reported to have told the conductor to get back to the east while he would remain in Colombo to attend to some repairs.

The bus had been sold to Pulendran by a person identified as Rahumania who had gone abroad but negotiated the sale through a broker named Mohamed Nazeer. The broker was also arrested after the explosion but later released, though police have found that transfer papers for the sale of the bus had not yet been completed.

Detectives say they believe the bomb was assembled in the east, because there would not have been sufficient time to assemble the bomb in Colombo in the way it was done after the bus came to the city on Tuesday.

When questioned by detectives in Eravur, the bus conductor is reported to have given details of the location where the bus is normally parked when it comes to Colombo. This is expected to provide vital clues for the investigators, police said.

Otters Club defends Arthur C. Clarke

Otter Aquatic Club in Colombo in a recent statement has expressed concern over allegations of misconduct made against one of its distinguished members Sir Arthur C. Clarke. The statement reads:

“The club feels so strongly about this issue that it wishes to stand up and be counted amongst those who vigorously and vehemently condemn the malicious intentions of the subscribers to this article’’, a statement from the Club said.

“Firstly, Sir Arthur has been a long-standing and highly respected member of this Club whose very presence among our ranks has been considered an honour. His achievements in Science and Academics are accomplishments, garnered over a few decades, which caused the British Govt. to bestow on him the highest honour posible.

“It is evident to even the man in the street in Sri Lanka that it is sheer malevolence, envy and, perhaps, even professional jealousy that have motivated some persons to resort to desperate and evil measures even at the eleventh hour to deprive a person of such extraordinary talent from being deservedly honoured.

“In this malicious exercise, the good name of the Members of Otters has been dragged through mud, giving scant regard and respect to the fact that the Club has over 7000 Members among whom are professionals, academics, legal luminaries, attorneys, servicemen, public officials, politicians and decent fathers, mothers, wives, sons and daughters who have walked the corridors of this famous institutions for over six decades.

In a situation like this, any other club would wish to distance themselves from these false insinuations and innuendos, but we have the courage of our convictions and the moral fibre to condemn resoundingly and unequivocally these pathetic human specimens who pose off as journalists and bring the Fourth Estate down to the gutter.

Ranil visiting SE Asia

UNP and opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe left last night on a week long private visit for Singapore and Japan.

He was accompanied by his wife, Maithree.

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