14th November 1999
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Editors tell Govt: take media into its confidence

The Editors' Guild of Sri Lanka has condemened the re-imposition of the censorship on war-related news, describing it as an effort to sweep the inefficient management of the war under the carpet.

The Guild said that it 'deplores the familiar trend of re-imposing censorship on military related news in the Northern and Eastern provinces whenever there is a serious set-back'.

"Despite open challenges by the media, the Government has been unable to show a single instance of the media's coverage of the war hindering military operations, or being detrimental to the war effort.

"On the other hand what we see is a clear case of an effort to sweep the inefficient management of the war under the carpet and an attempt to deprive the people of this country of legitimate information on the sovereignity and unitary character of the State - the most crucial issues before us today," the statement said.

The Guild re-iterates its call to the government to take the media into its confidence, and to come to some working arrangement with it which will have a positive impact on the reportage of the war. 

Lift the censorship, CPJ tells President

The Committee to Protect Journalists has urged President Chandrika Kumaratunga to lift the censorship regulations and keep to her promises made during the 1994 election campaign.

"The CPJ is deeply dismayed by your administration's recent expansion of censorship regulations on media coverage of the civil war between the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE," it said.

Noting that the censorship regulations were exceptionally harsh, and all the more troubling because of the military's direct role in deciding what is censored, as a non-partisan organisation of journalists dedicated to the defence of press freedom around the world, the CPJ said it deplores the government's attempts to control media coverage of Sri Lanka's 16 year old civil war.

"We believe that no democratically elected government should resort to such authoritarian tactics to suppress the news. With the Presidential election scheduled for December 21, it is specially crucial that matters of vital public interest be addressed openly.

"We urge the President to lift these censorship regulations immediately, and to make good on the promises you made in 1994, when you came to power on a platform championing civil liberties, including press freedom," it said.

Censhorship: a blanket on polls issues

By Farah Mihlar
The re implementation of censorship on media coverage of the war has drawn sharp criticism from journalists and rights groups who see it as a move whereby the military is trying to win a battle, the government is trying to wins an election and the biggest loser is democracy and the people's right to information.

Media groups and editors of newspapers say by slamming censorship on war related news just before the election the public has been denied information that could affect their voting pattern.

"During a presidential election in a country where there is a war the main topic of discussion is war and peace," says Victor Ivan, editor of the Ravaya.

"This government has claimed they have fought the war correctly, now this has become a lie, so they have to censor the news on the war," he said.

Soon after the government announced imposition of censorship the Free Media Movement (FMM) and the New York based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) came out strongly against the move accusing the government of being anti democratic.

The CPJ while expressing dismay on the government's move says: "We believe that no democratically elected government should resort to such authoritarian tactics to suppress the news."

Meanwhile Government Censor and Information Director Ariya Rubesinghe, says the tightening of censorship has nothing to do with the elections and has been done purely on the grounds of national interest. According to Mr. Rubesinghe the censorship has been effective from June 1998 and was not something that came into effect last week.

The Defence Ministry in a statement issued on Wednesday, accused the media of distorting facts by saying a new censorship had been imposed. The ministry statement said, the 1998 gazette notification on the imposition of censorship in its Sinhala version failed to incorporate the words 'past military operations' while the English version left out the words 'present military operations.' It said, regulations published last week only rectified these two omissions. 

Journalists however say though censorship has been effective since last year it was never fully implemented. "Practically speaking there was no censorship. Last week the censor didn't call us up and ask us not to take some story but this week it happened," says Sunanda Deshapriya Editor of the Yukthiya. 

Mr. Rubesinghe said that it was the discrepancies in the previous gazette notification that resulted in the ineffective implementation of the censorship. "Because of the missing words I couldn't do anything earlier, so it was amended." 

Mr. Deshapriya said, in the short term people would become uninterested in national issues because they would not know what was happening. "They become onlookers and not participants." He said the long term impact was more fearful, because the government would become trapped within the war project.

FMM calls for lifting of censorship

The Free Media Movement has called on the government to lift the censorship which it said was an infringement on the people's right to information.

It said in a statement:

"The FMM strongly condemns the censorship of war news, re-imposed by the Government on November 7 1999, as an act against democracy. By censoring war news, the people of this country are being thwarted from making an informed decision at the forthcoming Presidential election.

"The aim of the censorship appears to be to prevent the public being informed about the grave consequences of the separatists' attack on the security forces since November 1. It is an infringement on the people's right to information.

"During the five year spell of the present government, this is the fourth censorship imposed on the reporting of war news. The people of this country, who contribute billions of rupees in defence levy, towards the conduct of the war, have a right to know the truth. The censorship violates this fundamental right as well as the democratic right of the media to report the facts."

Family's fruitless bid to stave off execution

By Lawrence Machado in Dubai and Leon Berenger
They did it their way with the help of an eight-man firing squad in the court yard of a high security jail deep in the desert of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Gamini Perera, 29, a father of an eight-year-old daughter was finally put down during the early hours of Monday, a little more than a year after he stabbed a 17-year-old Arab youth to death, in what the final court ruling said was a 'premediated murder of the first degree.'image

A bus driver, Perera had been employed in Dubai for the past eight years and lived in that country along with his wife, mother and younger brother.

On that fateful evening on October 8 last year Perera stormed into his employer's home in a fit of rage and went on a rampage. In the scuffle that followed his bosses' son was stabbed to death.

The scuffle broke out after the son had told his parents that the driver had torn up parts of the Quran, a charge Perera was later to vehemently deny. On hearing what his son had said, the father dismissed Perera from service on the same day.

It was later learnt that the boy along with his brother and Arab friends were in the habit of teasing Gamini, and in a fit of rage he may have insulted someone, but the Quran tearing charge is totally false, his mother says.

The court ruled that the finger-prints on the murder weapon belonged to Perera, but his mother, S.A. Premawathie Perera thinks otherwise.

The court did not hesitate to pass the death penalty on Perera who was unaware of the verdict since the proceedings were carried out in Arabic, a language he did not understand.

But before the verdict was delivered the fight to save Gamini had already begun in Dubai and at his native place Angoda.

His mother, who works as a minor employee at a primary school in Dubai, used her entire savings of nearly Rs. 300,000 towards retaining a lawyer who kept assuring her that Gamini would be spared the firing squad and instead serve a jail term.

However the Jordanian lawyer Abdul Munir knew all along that this was not possible since the teenager's father was insisting on an eye-for-an--eye punishment which meant that the Lankan must die for the murder of his son.

The father even brushed aside the offer of 'blood money' which is allowed according to Sharia laws in exchange for mercy for the convict.

What made Perera's case even more difficult was that his boss was a confidential peon to the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohamed, who is also the defence minister of the seven Emirates that make up the UAE.

The mother alleged that as the peon of the Sheikh he wielded plenty of authority and this may have finally influenced the judgment.

Messages sent by various international life groups and other organisations pleading for clemency for the prisoner apparently never went to the Sheikh as the peon was able to effectively intercept those messages, Premawathie alleged.

But above all it is the country in which Gamini was born that let him down most, during his lonely stay behind bars at the central jail in Dubai, his mother alleged.

The Sri Lankan consulate in Dubai and the embassy in Abu Dhabi are 'white elephants' which care little about the welfare of the Sri Lankan workers in that country, charged Premawathie.

Repeated requests to the consulate and embassy for intervention on behalf of her son, whose fate by this time was hanging dangerously in the balance fell on deaf years, the mother alleged.

While the mother took up the battle in the scorching desert heat, Gamini's sister W.A. Asoka, who is also the eldest in the family of one girl and five boys, took up the struggle in Colombo to save her brother.

At the Foreign Office in Colombo it was always the same old story. "We have sent faxes to our embassy in Abu Dhabi and are waiting for a report is all they had to stay when we inquired about the developments regarding my brother's fate", Asoka said.

At the SLFEB the story was even sadder. The family was told that nothing could be done to help their brother since Gamini Perera was not on the Bureau's insurance list.

'They are going to kill me tomorrow' the convicted driver had told his sister by telephone the day prior to the execution. Inmates on death row in that country are provided with such facilities.

That night, the entire family went to the Bellanwilla Temple and offered flowers to the Buddha until dawn.

"But little did we know that around this same time my brother was being taken out from his cell on death row and marched to the execution ground. We were given the grim information by relatives who had received the message from Dubai," Asoka said.

At present the body is lying wrapped in bureaucratic red tape in Dubai. Perera's wife who is also employed there will accompany the coffin to Colombo.

SLFEB chairman Jayantha Liyanage said he was in the dark on the Gamini case, saying that officials handling the case at the Foreign Ministry had not informed his office. "I only learnt of the execution from the newspapers on Tuesday," Mr. Liyanage said. Meanwhile, the Perera home in Angoda is getting ready for the funeral and through their grief and tears they are trying to cheer up Deduni, the young daughter by saying that her father was coming home, with no mention of the coffin.

Verdict against bribery commissioners soon

By Ayesha R. Rafiq
Some allegations against the Bribery and Corruption Commissioners have been proved while others dismissed, according to a Parliamentary Select Committee report which is expected to be submitted to the Speaker within two weeks.

Committee member and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle said the committee chaired by Minister Dharmasiri Senanayake after more than one year of investigation had proved some of the charges while dismissing others for lack of evidence.

According to Mr. Fernandopulle, once the report is presented to the Speaker, it would be tabled for debate after one month, meaning the debate will take place after the present Bribery Commission's term expires on December 15. 

The allegations of corruption against the two commissioners Rudra Rajasingham and T.A.D.S. Wijesundera were made over a year ago.

Meanwhile UNP parliamentarians Tyronne Fernando and John Amaratunga who are also in the 10-member committee said they were in the dark as to the progress of the Select Committee and had no idea of a report being submitted to Parliament.

Mr. Fernando said that after the conclusion of the evidence the Commissioners had been asked to hand in their defence submissions over six weeks ago. Mr. Fernando said the Committee had not met since and as such it was not possible to hand in any report as the Select Committee had not come to any conclusion yet.

Mr. Amaratunga said the UNP members of the commission were "waiting to see the defence comments and also to make their comments for the report."

He said any report submitted to Parliament could not be an ex-parte one made only by the Chairman of the Committee and his party members.

The other members of the Committee are Ministers G.L. Peiris, C.V. Gooneratne, M.H.M. Ashraff and MPs Ronnie de Mel and R. Sampanthan.

Thousands pay final tribute to Mahanayake

By Shane Seneviratne
Amidst national mourning, thousands of people joined political leaders and diplomats to pay their final tribute to Asgiriya's long serving Mahanayake Thera who was cremated at the Police grounds in Kandy yesterday.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike in messages read out on their behalf hailed the decades of service rendered to Sri Lanka and the world by the Ven. Palipana Chandanada Mahanayake Thera who passed away on Monday at the age of 86.

The president was not present for security reasons and her message was read out by Speaker K.B. Ratnayake while Chief Minister Nandimithra Ekanayake read out the message of the Prime Minister who is ill. On Friday the President visited the International Buddhist Centre in Kandy and paid her respects to the late prelate whose body was lying in state there. 

Opposition UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe who attended the funeral said he had closely associated with the Mahanayake Thera for several years and he believed that the best tribute to him would be for all to rise above petty differences and act in the highest interest of the country.


Not black 'S. African man' but Black American sorry

In accordance with a settlement reached with the Parliamentary Committee on Privilege, it has been agreed to publish the following:

"Mangala Samaraweera, M.P., Minister of Posts, Telecommunications and the Media, has raised a privilege issue in Parliament on November 19, 1997, on our article titled "Debating or debasing" which appeared in "The Sunday Times" newspaper on November 16, 1997.

"The reference to a "black South African man" therein should have read "black American man". We apologise for this inadvertent error in our report and any pain of mind caused to the Minister as a result."

PA show today

The People's Alliance will hold a convention today at 9 am at the Old Racecourse grounds in Colombo. 

The convention presided by President Kumaratunga will be attended by leaders and members of all constituent parties.

New members for Law Commission 

The new members of the Law Commission were appointed with effect from November 1 on the recommendations of President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and Justice Minister G.L. Peiris.

The Commission is chaired by Supreme Court Justice A.R.B. Amarasinghe. The other members are Legal Draftsman Nalin Abeysekera, Arthur Samarasekera, Faiz Mustapha, K. Kanag-Iswaran, M.S Aziz, Nihal Jayamanne, Dr. Jayatissa de Costa, Jayantha de Almeida Gunaratne, Lalanath de Silva and Ruana Rajapakse.


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