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12th September 1999
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Cabinet column

Media mafia and those disposable sacrifices

Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera on Thursday admitted that members of the Presidential Security Division (PSD) were involved in the attack on photo journalists covering the UNP demonstration on July 15.

Following are excerpts of the post-cabinet news conference:

Q: Any clues on the killing of the Satana Editor?

A: The investigation started immediately. In fact, I was told about this about 11.30 p.m. by the Director of Information, and the President called me the next morning to tell me she had just heard about it and by that time she had already instructed the IGP to conduct a full-scale inquiry. I believe the CID has also come into it and they have already identified a 300 series vehicle, in which the killers of this gentleman are said to have come. And I believe the investigations are going very well. 

Q: Is it the type of car or the numberplate they have identified.

A: I believe they have identified both the type of car and the number. I believe it is a Toyota, but I cannot confirm that right now. I will get back to you. As a government we are very keen to find out about this murder, and as I said in my own statement, even though I personally do not consider this gentleman a journalist, as a government which is committed to the protection of all forms of human life, this is a very dastardly blow to our excellent human rights record.

What I feel significant is why was this gentleman was killed on the very eve of the International Media Day, when the whole world is celebrating media freedom. He was killed the night before knowing very well it would be a major news item on this very important day. I am not making any insinuations, but I think that it also must be taken into consideration, whether it had political motivations, private or otherwise.

Q: Minister, you said you do not consider Rohana Kumara to be a journalist. So then the issue of International Media Day does not arise.

A: No, it does because many journalists in their private capacities have agreed with my view, that in this country when anyone opens tomorrow a newspaper of any kind, even if it is the most obscene kind, he calls himself a journalist. 

Q: For example, was he accredited to the Department of Information?

A: Never. I would not like to make insinuations about those who are not living anymore, but some of his newspapers, like Sodura, in the early stages were not even registered.

Q: Was he part of the media mafia that you were referring to?

A: He was the one who said some people can't even organise a booze in a brewery. I like that. I have always very clearly defined what a journalistic mafia is, as far as I was concerned, and I have never mentioned this person, because other than on a rare occasion when someone bought this newspaper I have never even seen any of his newspapers. I believe it was not sold, it was given free of charge. 

Q. What is the status on the Channel 9 issue?

A: There are two investigations currently going on. There is an investigation regarding the original allegation that a sum of money was given by Ravi Weththasinghe to Lakshman Hulugalle. I believe the indictment was served on the 7th. And also there is another investigation based on the evidence given by Mr. Hulugalle's cousin where there is serious evidence that there was fabrication of news to bring the government into discredit. But again, let us wait until the investigations are over.

Q: You said the President had asked the IGP to conduct an inquiry. Does that mean the police is not doing their job?

A: Don't analyse every word; you need not be so pedantic. That was just my expression of saying that.

Q: But that is the job of the police, but here you are saying that the government had to ask the IGP, no less a person than the IGP himself.

A: So what we are saying is let them do it even more efficiently than they would do it normally.

Q: What are the government's comments on the July 15 attack on journalists?

A: There was no planned attack by the Presidential Security Division on the media people.

Q: No, the problem here is a professional one. These people didn't go with the UNP protest. They went to do their work. Now they have no way of doing their work. 

A: It is true that the Presidents' Security division beat them after they entered the high security zone. Actually, if they had not done so, it would have been failure in their duties. There have been charges that during this beating, journalists were also beaten. Actually, from among the journalists it is the state journalists who suffered the most blows, from Lake House, ITN, Rupavahini and Lakhanda. 

Q: The attackers first started attacking the journalists. What is the government's comment on this?

A: That is not true. I saw the tapes of the attack. In fact the police took a very passive role. 

Q: Some of those who were beating the journalists have stolen their cameras

A: Then those who have beaten them are rogues.

Q: How could you see the tape of the attack if the Presidential Security Division didn't give it to you?

A: I saw the Rupavahini and ITN tapes. In fact the Rupavahini tapes didn't show much, because as soon as the beating had started the Rupavahini cameramen had run, fearing for their equipment. I then later got the Swarnavahini tape, which was better.

Q: Minister, there has been no progress regarding the investigation into the attack on Lasantha Wickramatunga but in the case of Priyantha, the Lakbima journalist, they have been able to uncover a murder that happened 10 years ago. So with this kind of thing isn't there a credibility problem?

A: No, it is not a matter of credibility, because in the case of the Lakbima journalist, why he was arrested was because people in his village had recognised him and come forward and said, so and so was in this village during this period, etc. 

On that basis he was arrested. But no one has yet come forward and said Lasantha Wickrematunga was attacked by such and such a person, or at least he came in this vehicle or any clue has not been given. So even today, if Mr. Wickrama-tunga or any of you or any citizen of this country will give us any clue to the attack on Mr. Wickramatunga we will certainly look into it. Once that information is given and we don't proceed, then you can criticise us. 

You remember when Richard de Zoysa was killed. The information was there, were enough people to give the information, but when Parliament asked for a debate Hon. Ranil Wickramasinghe himself came forward and said Parliament can't debate this. But today we have granted a debate on the request of the Opposition on the death of Mr. Rohana Kumara.

Q. The Sunday Leader Editor, Lasantha Wickramatunga has said that if anything happens to him or his family, he will hold the President responsible. There was also an attack on his house. Up to now there has not been much progress on the investigation . Will the government provide security for him? 

A. You must be familiar with the Martin Luther King's quote, it is not the doing of the bad people that destroys, but the silence of the good. It is a very serious thing when an Editor is killed. With regard to the media Mafia, a newspaper editor now has more power than the media minister himself does. 

In Iqbal Athas' case you said nothing would come out of the investigations, but in the end we found the people. If even now, Lasantha Wick-ramatunga comes to us and says he suspects someone of the attack on his house, then we will do something about it. We are keener than Mr. Wickramatunga to find out who has done this. 

If Mr. Wickramatunga is already saying that he will hold the President responsible if he is killed, then it shows his motive. There are some disposable sacrifices that have been identified to carry out attacks on the government. If journalists ask us for security showing sufficient reason we will certainly provide it, but do you really want security following you around. I should think most of you wouldn't.

And why is it that when a journalist is killed, everyone rushes to attack the government? In England, when a journalist was killed, people waited for the inquiry to conclude. They didn't immediately rush to blame Tony Blair. In India, recently when a well-known political cartoonist was killed, nobody rushed to blame the government. 

As to the media Mafia, it is Victor Ivan who first coined this phrase, not me, so why can't I use it? I have repeatedly clearly defined who I consider to be the media Mafia. 

Q: Is there any government comment on the situation in East Timor?

A: We were invited to participate in the peace keeping operation, and the army has nominated five officers to proceed on this, and the police have nominated 10, but they are all awaiting instructions to proceed. 

Q: The papers have given the date of the election as January or March. Is there any discussion in government as to advancing the date of elections?

A: The papers are free to speculate on the election, because obviously they think being the sixth year, that the election should be held within the next so many months. The elections will be held at appropriate times, as far as the government is concerned. Appropriate meaning, from the government's point of view if they find it appropriate.

Crippled maid gets a hand

In response to a story in The Sunday Times, about a housemaid who was paralysed after being pushed from the third floor by her Saudi employers, the Foreign Employment Bureau has made arrangements to pay her compensation.

The FEB has promised to pay Rs. 10,000 after the Minister of Labour requested them to investigate the matter and pay compensation. 

The FEB is also making arrangements for insurance payments, which will provide the victim with a life-time income.

Meanwhile, the Saudi Embassy has also responded and promised to take up the matter with the Foreign Ministry in Riyadh.

Editors Guild on Kumara's killing-

Signs of a disturbing trend

The Editors' Guild of Sri Lanka has expressed oncern that the gunning down of Satana editor Rohana Kumara marks another event in a disturbing trend towards a police state where journalsits or others are slain for expressing views contrary to government policy.

In a statement, the Guild said:

"It is with a sense of revulsion that The Editors Guild of Sri Lanka records the murder of Rohana Kumara, Editor of Satana on the day of solidarity of the working journalists throughout the world. 

"Mr. Kumara's newspaper and his brand of journalism was not of the mainstream mould. He was not a member of ours nor has he been invited to join the Guild, nor did he ever want to enrol in it.

"He was a journalist nevertheless who practised his profession by his own standards and rules which were unacceptable to The Guild. His violent death at the hands of an assassin, however, assumes a different dimension. 

"The Guild, other media organisations and human rights groups both here and abroad have, in recent times, drawn the attention of those in Government to the alarming trend towards physical attacks on journalists critical of those in high public office. 

"Two months ago when ten press photographers were assaulted under the nose of the police we warned in a public statement such as this of emerging trends towards a Police dictatorship and called on all democratic forces to come forward in protecting Freedom and Human Rights.

Now even the Media Minister has confirmed that Presidential "Security Division was responsible for the attack on those journalists, and in fact justified the attack.

The gunning down of Mr. Kumara is the culmination of this deteriorating trend.

"It is a matter of deep regret that the Government by its omissions and commissions is continuing to encourage this disturbing trend which makes a mockery of its avowed claims of Media Freedom and of ensuring the safety of journalists in this country."

Hurry with package: NAP

The National Alliance for Peace, which includes more than 100 multiethnic and multi-religious groups, has called on the Government to present the new Constitution Bill which includes the devolution proposals to Parliament without any further delay as an essential initial step in the peace process. 

"We urge that this process be expedited and that every effort be made to reach a consensus. All parties and politicians in the democratic stream must do everything in their power to facilitate this process and put the national interest before that of their party", the Alliance said in a resolution approved unanimously at a peace conference attended by religious prelates and other eminent persons. 

"While including the Tamil and the Muslim political parties in the process, the Opposition must act constructively and responsibly while the Government should be equally responsive and be flexible enough to accommodate all workable amendments. The consensus reached should result in the new Constitution Bill being passed expeditiously by Parliament with the requisite two-thirds majority as the basis for talks with the LTTE," the resolution said. 

The resolution is backed by religious, human rights, trade union, women's, student's, scientific, social service, peace and employer's movements and prominent citizens. The Alliance's convenor is Professor Tissa Vitarana while its National Council includes the Ven. Thalalle Dhammaloka Anunayake Thera, Bishop Kenneth Fernando, K. Neelakandan, Jezima Ismail, Ven. Athureliya Indraratne Nayake Thera, Fr. Tissa Balasuriya, Bogoda Premaratne, Javed Yusuf and Sunanda Deshapriya. 

The two Buddhist prelates said the Tamil speaking people needed to be given not only their language rights but also a fair share in the administration of the country. They said that earlier this year they had held talks with LTTE leaders in the Vanni and they were confident that the LTTE was ready for negotiations. 

The NAP resolution added: "All political parties should ensure that the effort to resolve the ethnic conflict is not subordinated to election politics and the Government should ensure that all parties share credit equally for any success that is achieved."

Death threat did not scare Satana editor

By Chris Kamalendran
Satana Editor Rohana Kumara was under constant threat just before his death on Tuesday. It was just one and half months ago that a group trying to kill him came close to their target but abandoned their plans when they found him in the company of three others.

Mr. Kumara had told his wife Gayani that he might be killed at any time, and his wife advised him to give up his aggressive type of writing and not get too involved in political issues.

But he insisted that he wanted to continue with his own style of writing and that he would 'expose corrupt politicians and their henchmen'.

'Death threats became quite common but he wanted to continue with his work, despite the risk,' Satana Deputy Editor Senaka Ekananayaka told 'The Sunday Times'.

'Even the day before his killing Mr. Kumara received a telephone call saying that he would be killed, but he took it as a normal occurrence,' Mr. Ekanayaka said.

The CID also regularly visited the Satana office on the second floor of the supermarket building at Borella. The last visit was on September 1 when three CID officers called over at the office saying they wanted to question Mr. Kumara about the articles on the controversial channel 9 episode.

Apart from the CID, Mr. Kumara was also haunted by persons who were seen loitering close to his office.

On July 15, the day the UNP held a protest rally, a group of Satana employees selling the newspaper at Town Hall were confronted by a group of members of the Presidential Security Division (PSD) and one person who was mistaken for Mr. Kumara was attacked, Mr. Ekanayake said.

A week later Mr. Kumara and three others who were travelling in a van carrying posters on the channel 9 issue were confronted by four heavily armed persons at Rajagiriya. They blocked the way and threatened him, he said.

On Tuesday, Mr. Kumara called his wife around 7.30 p.m and told her that he was coming home with dinner.

He left in a threewheeler which he always hired.

The threewheeler driver had noticed a vehicle following and told Mr. Kumara to see whether they were continuing to follow them. 

The threewheeler driver had warned him to take precautions as his life was under threat.

Meanwhile, the gunmen were waiting for Mr. Kumara at Pengiriwatta Road, Mirihana. Minutes before that UNP Colombo District Parliamentarian Premaratna Gunasekera who was on his way for a function had seen the vehicle parked on the road to Mr. Kumara's home.

The threewheeler had arrived about 10 minutes later. The waiting car had blocked his way and someone from it fired 11 shots at Mr. Kumara. He was killed instantly while the driver ran away.

Mr. Kumara's widow told 'The Sunday Times' they had received several threatening calls on Tuesday.

'Unlike other journalists, he was practising a different type of journalism. But if my husband was doing anything wrong, why could they not take legal action against him without killing in a brutal way,' Gayani asked.

Britain sees shootout as criminal act

The case of suspected LTTE supporter, B. Velauthan, who was charged over a shootout in London more than two weeks ago was taken up on Thursday and put off for October with Britian saying the clash is more a criminal offence than a terrorist act. 

Mr. Velauthan was charged with possession of a Section 1 firearm, grievous bodily harm and theft and is currently in remand, a spokesperson for the British High Commission said.

She however refused to go into further details on the grounds that the matter was sub-judice. 

The incident occurred on August 30 at the Annual Tamil Cricket and Sports Festival in Southall, West London attended by about 2000 people, where a man was shot in the leg. 

The shooting which gave rise to violent street battles involving about 100 youths resulted in drawing more than 100 police officers, police dogs, special units with riot gear and two armed police response units to the site. 

The British High Commission earlier said it was treating the incident as criminal rather than terrorist-related, as initial indications suggested the fighting was between two rival criminal gangs. The High Commission has also said that where there was evidence that individuals in Britain were committing terrorist acts or were conspiring to commit terrorist acts abroad, the British Government would not hesitate to take action against them. 

Outside Politics 

By Epicurus
Hameed: that dusty old file 

The UNP's one time Chairman and long time Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka, Abdul Cader Shahul Hameed, passed away, quite unexpectedly last week. 

Thousands of Muslims and other communities thronged Akurana, the one time school principal's constituency of four decades, for the funeral. Mourners got to know that the veteran politician had aggravated bronchitis which led to heart failure, and his ultimate demise. 

But doing the rounds and Hulftsdorp, and at Sri Jayawardenapura, Kotte, is a different story about that of a State Prosecutor who had once grilled the senior politician (which made Mr. Hameed terribly angry) was still at it despite the fact that the Commission that probed the ex-Minister is being probed itself for allged transgressions of the law. The prosecutor had called for the dusty old file. For what? Was it the work of the Government that was using Mr. Hameed for peace talks, or was the personal interest of an individual. 

While we can find that out, we will never know if it was really the bronchitis that killed Mr Hameed. 

Fun bun 

A bald though not that bold UNP MP, bowled a recent bride over in an unusual way. Through his wedding gift to the couple. The young bride opening her gifts found, in addition to the "real" present, a supplement by way of the MP's wife's hair-bun. What fun !! 

Wild raids 

Has the Army, now responsible for the Yala National Park, been told not carry out raids on illicit meat dealers in the area? Has it been done on the grounds that it is not their task to carry out those tasks which belong to the Police? 

Reports say this is one of the main reasons for the profileration of illicit meat - Wild Boar, Deer and Sambhur - in and around Tissamaharama and Hambantota areas. 

Some politicians in the area say a PA politico was also angry over the constant raids. His strong supporters complained they were being deprived of their livelihood. 

It was only a month ago, a Wild Life Department official was fired upon and was badly injured in the leg. This was after he apprehended a group of poachers, well inside the park. 

Second phase shows up bones of nine

By Chris Kamalendran
A total of nine skeletal remains were unearthed from the mass grave-sites at Chemmani as the second phase of the excavation process continued, reports from the area said. 

Skeletal remains of eight persons were recovered within the week while one of them was recovered yesterday evening. 

The remains found yesterday are believed to be of a female's. The excavations which are being conducted under the supervision of international observers are expected to continue until the end of the month. 

Representatives of the Physicians of Human Rights, Dr. William Haglund, Dr. Melissa Connor and Dr. Robert Stair, who are scheduled to make public their preliminary observations today. 

Woman bled to death after abortion

By Faraza Farook and Nilika de Silva
With illegal abortions going on unabated, doctors have found a piece of a saline tube in the vaginal tract of a young mother who died after an abortion at a private clinic, an inquest was told. 

Thirty-year-old Viraani, a mother of a 13 month-old child, died of acute renal failure following septic abortion. 

On August 28, Viraani and her husband went to a private clinic in Horana to perform the abortion to get rid of a 10-week-old foetus because they thought they were not ready to have another child so soon. Within 15 minutes the abortion was completed and they paid Rs. 4,500 and returned home.But after returning home, Virani complained of bleeding. 

She was admitted to the Khethumathi Hospital in Panadura from where she was transferred the Castle Street Women's Hospital where she died, her husband told the inquest. 

As doctor told the inquest they found a piece of the saline tube in the vaginal tract, and confirmed that death was due to septic abortion.

City of Peace: Big day for Trinco on Tuesday

Trincomalee will be declared as the city of peace in Sri Lanka on Tuesday keeping with a UN concept to promote Culture and Peace in the new millennium. 

The declaration of Trinco as the city of peace will coincide with the UN declaring next year as the International Year for Culture and Peace.

Government decided on Trincomalee as the city of peace for its large multiple ethnicity in the district, Dr. Premadasa Udagama, Secretary General of the Sri Lanka National Commission for UNESCO said. 

He said a plan to build a Palace of Culture in Trincomalee had been approved by the government. 

The celebrations on Tuesday will be chaired by the Governor of the North -East Province and representatives of different ethnicity. 

The Education and Higher Education Ministry has asked all schools to observe September 14 as the International Day of peace and to use the 2000 Manifesto for school ceremonies. 

"Trincomalee will be the flagship of the celebrations on 14 September," Dr. Udagama said. 

UN expert at BASL seminar

The Human Rights Committee of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka has organized a seminar on Freedom of Expression and the Independence of the Judiciary on Saturday, September at 4 pm at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute. 

Param Cumaraswamy, United Nations Special Rapporteur of the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, is to make the keynote address. 

The seminar is open to Judges and members of the BASL. 

Abid Hussein, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, leading lawyers from India, Pakistan and Britain are also likely to be present at the seminar at which a discussion on Dato Cumaraswamy's address will take place. 

2 new MPs

Two new members of parliament were sworn in this week Mavai Senathirajah of the TULF and Gemunu Abeysundera of the UNP.

Mr. Senathirajah replaced Neelan Tiruchelvam who died in a suicide attack in July while Mr. Abeysundera replaced Kandy district UNP Parliamentarian A.C.S. Hameed who died last Friday. 

Janak yet to surrender

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti
Two suspects who were allegedly involved in the assault, abduction and stripping of a senior CEB official in Kekirawa surrendered to the Kekirawa police yesterday while the main suspect, SLFP MP Janak Mahendra Adikari, is still evading arrest. 

Two special police teams from Anuradhapura arrived in Colombo to arrest the parliamentarian on Friday but to no avail, sources said. 

Meanwhile, SLFP parliamentarians angry over the blatant breach of party discipline by the new MP who allegedly led the attack over a failure to provide security lights to his residence have urged Prime Minister and SLFP leader Sirimavo Bandaranaike to immediately inquire into the incident and take appropriate action. 

Meanwhile, Kekirawa Magistrate Deepthi Amaratunge has issued a warrant of arrest for the MP. Ms. Bandaranaike has already informed Mr. Adikari about the decision to suspend his membership. Mr. Adhikari entered Parliament three weeks ago replacing Berty Premalal Dissanayake who resigned to assume office as the Chief Minister of the North Central Province. 

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