“Patta Pal Boru” so said the President in a telephone conversation he initiated to the Chairman of this newspaper on Tuesday July 19, refering to the main story carried in The Sunday Leader of July 17, 2011. He added that this newspaper was attacking him personally and he could also do so. An eerie reminder of his call to the founder Editor of The Sunday Leader the late Lasantha Wickrematunge, which he recorded verbatim, was not lost on his brother. Lasantha was murdered on his way to work more than two and a half years ago. One of the suspects arrested, Kandegedara Piyawansa of Nuwara Eliya was released on bail by the Mt Lavinia Magistrate on July 21, with the Attorney General’s Department not objecting to bail when the application was made in a higher court. Kandegedara Piyawansa was arrested with garage owner Jesudasan, whose national identity card was used to obtain five sim cards which were allegedly used by five persons along the route the late Lasantha Wickrematunge drove on that fateful day. Piyawansa made remarks in open court that he was instructed by senior military officers to implicate Sarath Fonseka with Lasantha’s murder in return for financial aid and even facilitation to settle down overseas. His statement, due to an application by lawyer for late Lasantha’s family Shiral Lakthilake, was recorded in camera by the Mt. Lavinia Magistrate but was not made public. The statement has been forwarded to the Inspector General of Police for further inquiry, but no further report on that has been filed in court as yet.
On Friday the 22, the walls along Templers Rd, Mt Lavinia were inundated with posters scrawled in Sinhala warning The Sunday Leader not to lie and that the Gods will take care of them in an appropriate manner. This newspaper got information that a protest would be held against the newspaper on Friday 22, led or organised by the enfant terrible from Kelaniya, which was confirmed as correct by a senior police officer from the Mt Lavinia Police. The CEO of the newspaper wrote to the SSP Mt Lavinia seeking protection. Readers would recall that The Sunday Leader had been repeatedly attacked, the presses burnt down, shut under Emergency Regulations, called traitors, and the founder Editor murdered. These actions have drawn international attention and even country reports of the powerful nations have highlighted the treatment meted out to this newspaper. But the planned protest did not take place. The Police at Mt Lavinia promised to provide security but did not turn up. Perhaps they knew the protest was called off just as they did know that it was planned.
Rights to Information a need
Meanwhile, the main opposition party, the UNP has started spearheading the campaign to educate people on why a Right to Information Bill is required in this country. The UNP Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya’s draft on this bill was shot down by the government using the two thirds majority it has in parliament, purely on orders from the top echelons. The government used the excuse that they would bring forth a similar Bill but past experiences show that this would be another lie perpetrated on a public who are known to forget what consisted of yesterday’s meal. The canard that this Bill would only benefit journalists access to government files, was blown wide open when Prof Rohan Samarajiva, an eminent academic not known to have any political affiliations, explained at a seminar the immense benefit it would have on the ordinary people of this land. His article appears elsewhere in this newspaper.
Northern election malpractices
With 65 local governments going to the polls yesterday the lead up was lukewarm in most areas due to the plethora of elections held in the recent past. From a political perspective the northern province seemed the most significant to President Rajapaksa and of course the TNA. Rajapaksa, took time out to vigorously campaign in the northern province underscoring the importance of a robust showing, if only to showcase it to the rest of the world. The Tamil people will have to give the TNA a mandate if they are to lead the way to a political solution, instead of the economic solution that is touted by the government as the alternative.
The TNA campaign was controlled by the government in an innovative but oppressive manner. The Tamil National Alliance campaigners were closely shadowed by the Police and the Military, ostensibly to ensure their security but the subtle message was that there would be the presence of these two arms if the TNA were to play a vital role in the Province. Keen observers would be the Tamil diaspora whose wings will be clipped if the government shows up well, provided the elections are free and fair. The first blot that it would not be fair was seen when the Chavakachcheri Police requested TNA chief organiser for Chava to call over at the Police Station on July 20 just two days prior to the elections. K Arundabalan of the TNA was arrested and is reported to be brought to Colombo before the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) for further grilling though the charges are not yet known.
The newly appointed Elections Commissioner, Mahinda Deshapriya vowed to play a straight bat. He admits that there remains a huge gap between the top job and the next tier. Apart from annulling a result, the Elections Commissioner could do nought. The enforcement of laws largely depend on the Police who have shown reluctance to go against the ruling party politicians whilst some have shown downright partisanship.
The United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Tamil Nadu was watched closely by political analysts in Sri lanka. The Information and Public Relations Department of the Tamil Nadu State Government released the foregoing statement after her visit.
“During the discussion on the issues concerning Sri Lankan Tamils, the Hon’ble Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu Selvi J Jayalalithaa stated that even though the war in Sri Lanka was over two years ago, the Sri Lankan Tamils in the Jaffna area are still in camps and unable to go back to the original places where they used to live. The US Secretary of State Ms. Hillary Rodham Clinton shared the concern of the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu and said that the U.S. Government is looking at some innovative and creative ideas in breaking this impasse and enabling the Sri Lankan Tamils in camps to get back to their own homes. While discussing the Sri Lankan refugees in Tamil Nadu, the Hon’ble Chief Minister explained that they have been provided with all the facilities that are available to the local citizens by the Government of Tamil Nadu.” Close behind this statement India had cause for concern when Rajapaksa made reference to her at a meeting in Killinochchi during his campaign in the north. President Rajapaksa said that Sri Lanka did not need instructions from European or other countries. A senior External Affairs Ministry official in India said that India was likely to respond to the statement.
Mahinda Rajapaksa takes on India and the US responds
The President had also said that the main concern of some was the implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. It was this reference that has irked India. Even as late as last week, India had asked Sri Lanka for it’s response to the Darusman Report and Rajapaksa’ statement in Killinochchi was seen to be his response. It is obvious that relations between the two neighbouring countries pushed together in being friends due to geographical realities, is under strain due to the President’s stubborn stance.
The United States too is concerned about the tardy manner in which President Rajapaksa is setting about after the Darusman Report and the Channel 4 video in responding to calls for introspection and an internal investigation. The LLRC is near finalising their interim report but the international community may not be enamoured with it. A US Congressional Committee discussed Sri Lanka and the following report was carried by AFP.
“A US congressional committee voted to ban aid to Sri Lanka unless the nation shows “accountability” over the bloodshed in the final stages of its civil war in 2009. In a voice vote, the House Foreign Affairs Committee approved a measure that would ban all US government funding to Sri Lanka except for humanitarian aid and demining and activities to promote democracy and governance.
The measure – sponsored by the top member of President Barack Obama’s Democratic Party, Howard Berman on the panel – would only allow aid once the administration certifies progress by Sri Lanka on key concerns.
The concerns include “accountability for those involved in violations of human rights and war crimes at the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war,” including members of the defeated rebel Tamil Tigers.
Other criteria include an improved climate for freedom of the press (emphasis added), an end to emergency regulations and information from the government on the fate of people unaccounted for at the end of the civil war.
The US Agency for International Development had requested close to $13 million for Sri Lanka in the 2010 fiscal year.
While the House measure enjoyed broad support, it will not immediately take effect as it was in the form of an amendment for spending in the next fiscal year starting in October. A final package will come through lengthy negotiations between the House of Representatives and Senate.”
Meanwhile, the government announced that the Criminal Investigations Department would be fully equipped and officers trained to track down cyber crimes. What the announcement did not say was from where the technology was derived. The media with an ear to the ground guessed that the Chinese were being used in this instance as well. Many a web site has got under the skin of the Rajapaksa regime and this maybe the official ruse to jam them. This is going to be a futile exercise. It would make these sites more popular and would yet be accessed through proxy servers.
The chinks in the government armour are beginning to show with groups of Ministers voicing discontent at the ruling family’s grip on everything that is in government. Even within the family, divisions have deepened and is being leaked out to the Ministers, which in turn filters to the public domain. An increasingly defiant President is resorting to muscle in on a free media despite previous examples that it is counter productive and example abounds in the region. Criminal Defamation was removed from the Statute Books by Ranil Wickremesinghe when he was Prime Minister. That was the last action, if not the only, by a politician to show sincerity towards media freedom.
A blind person asked Swami Vivekanand, “Can there be anything worse than losing eye sight?” He replied: “ Yes. Losing a vision !!! “