28th November 1999
The Editors' Guild of Sri Lanka yesterday hammered at the government accusing it of unleashing the CID to use strong-arm tactics in grilling Thinakural Editor A. Sivanesaselvan on Wednesday.
In a hard-hitting statement, the Guild said it was appalled and disturbed at the manner in which a senior Tamil journalist had been treated and grilled for more than seven and half hours over certain reports published in his newspaper.
The Guild also reitierated its rejection of the censorship on war news and appealed to the government to restore a policy of trust and cooperation with the independent media.
The Guild said:
"It is with deep anxiety that The Editors Guild of Sri Lanka records the deplorable manner in which one of its founder members and senior journalist, A. Sivanesaselvan, Editor of the 'Thinakural' was summoned to the CID, and detained for over seven and a half hours on Wednesday, November 24.
"Mr. Sivanesaselvan was questioned on certain publications in the Thinakural relating to the suffering fellow Sri Lankans are undergoing in and around Madhu and the Wanni.
"When Mr. Sivanesaselvan requested that he go to his office to bring his own records, the CID sent along two constables, evidently not trusting him to come back.
"Mr. Sivanesaselvan who was released at 9.30 p.m. on that day had pointed out that the CID translation into Sinhala, of the Tamil publications had been inaccurate.
"Mr. Sivanesaselvan is the President of the Tamil National Journalists' Association as well as being a member of the National Library Services Board.
"The Guild is appalled that the CID was unleashed in the first instance in this case when the Government has gazetted the appointment of the Director of Information as the Competent Authority to censor such news.
"The Guild reiterates its condemnation of the ongoing censorship which is an attempt to sweep the mismanagement of the war under the carpet, and once again calls upon the Government to take the media into its confidence rather than adopt the strong arm tactics as was shown on Wednesday in the case of Mr. Sivanesaselvan."
Mr. Sivanesaselvan in an interview with The Sunday Times also hit out at the manner in which he was treated by the CID.
He rejected any charge that he had violated any censorship regulations and said the CID's translation of the Tamil stories published in his newspaper was inaccurate.
Among the articles that he was questioned on was a statement made by TULF parliamentarian Joseph Pararajasingham asking for a Presidential Commission to investigate into the shelling in Madhu and the editorial which said that the present confrontations and fighting should not be used for political and military gain, he said.
The CID had taken in Mr. Sivanesaselvan and a sub-editor on the premise that they had violated emergency regulations by publishing these and other stories. Statements were recorded from the editor on 14 stories.
The Free Media Movement also hit out at the CID saying it appeared to have acted on a censorship matter without consulting the Competent Authority as required by regulations.
It urged the Competent Authority to take immediate action to instruct the CID and other law enforcement officials that no steps should be taken against journalists without proper procedures on matters relating to the censorship.
By Shelani de Silva
The Commissioner of Examinations has appealed to all election candidates to refrain from conducting political meetings close to centres where them GCE O/L examinations are being held from December 6 to 17.
Commissioner A. W. Amerakoon told The Sunday Times that using loudspeakers at election rallies will definitely disturb the students.
"This is a serious problem. I have discussed it with the Elections Commissioner. I have decided to appeal to all candidates to conduct their campaign rally away from examination centres. I hope all candidates will take this seriously," he said.
He added that election rallies which generally takes place in the evenings will be held at the same time as exam papers scheduled for the evening.
Since there is no law to stop conducting election rallies close to examination centres it is up to the candidates to take a decision. It is unlikely that the candidates will adhere strictly to the appeal.
The Indian High Commission has changed its procedure for issuing business visas as part of its effort to streamline the issue of visas to the increasing number of Sri Lankans visiting India.
From December 1 business visa counters will be open between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. on every working day and passports will be returned the next working day between 12 noon and 12.30 p.m. Applicants will not have to obtain prior appointments or obtain entry tokens.
Senior DIG H.M.G. B. Kotakadeniya said yesterday he had no more problems except for finding his office locked when he reported for work on Thursday after the Court of Appeal stayed on his transfer pending the final determination on his petition.
DIG Kotakadeniya was temporarily transfered from his post as DIG in charge of crimes on November 7 when he received a telephone message to that effect form the IGP. He was moved to the criminal record office and technical branches.
He filed a petition in the Court of Appeal citing IGP Lucky Kodituwakku and Defence Secretary Chandrananda de Silva among others as respondents, saying his transfer was not fair or valid.
In his petition Mr. Kotakadeniya said the IGP's decision amounted to a demotion and disciplinary action without valid reason. The case is to be heard again on Januray 20.
DIG Kotakadeniya and the IGP are known to have been at odds over the past few months over several matters.
By Ayesha R. Rafiq
A top lawyer spoke out yesterday against the indiscriminate use of criminal defamation laws to restrict the freedom of the media and called for a more responsible policy where criminal defamation would only be resorted to in extreme cases.
Addressing the National Law Conference yesterday to mark the Silver Jubilee of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka, eminent lawyer and former Law College principal R.K.W. Goonesekere said that while the right to reputation was recognised and important, the right to freedom of speech, expression and publication was equally important.
He said the right to debate and dissent could only be exercised by the people if they had the necessary information before them. The media played an important role in presenting information to the public and part of this role was to comment on public figures.
Mr. Goonesekere, who headed a government committee on media law reforms, said that while it was not always possible to test the accuracy of a story as quick publication increased the value of the story, if running such a risk presented the possiblity of criminal defamation it would lead to a chilling effect on reportage and an unnecessary restriction on the freedom of expression and publication.
Questioning the need to use arbitrary criminal defamamtion when the constitution upheld the freedom of speech, expression and publication, Mr. Goonesekere said it would be better to leave defamation action to civil defamation and regard criminal defamation as an unnecessary and unwarranted restriction.
He said that leaving disciplinary action to a Press Council or similar watchdog of the media was bound to prove more effective than resorting to criminal defamation.
Mr. Goonesekera said the 1980 amendments to the criminal procedure code meant that criminal defamation which should be seriously considered before prosecution could instead be used by individuals to avoid the fuss of being cross-examined etc., and persuade the Attorney General to indict the alleged offender.
India's Attorney General Soli Sorabjee who also attended the conference said that as the media played an important role in uncovering corruption, its role as a watchdog of the people should be guaranteed more effectively.
He also said that curbing media freedom by unleashing the threat of criminal defamation should be avoided.
The northern city of Vavuniya is fast returning to normal after suffering jitters owing to the threats of attack by the LTTE.
Schools, banks, shops, transport and even government institutions are back to full steam, and officials here predict that the entire district will be fully back to normal in a day or two.
During a visit to this town, situated dangerously close to the battle fronts of the Wanni, Sunday Times reporters found that things had changed dramatically for the better in little over a week, since the threats from the LTTE had all but ceased.
It is only those living close to police and military camps who are still nervous about returning, as these areas are obvious targets of the LTTE's long-range field guns, officials said. Other than that, it is a bustling Vavuniya town, they said.
However there still appears to be a little uncertainty as the sound of artillery shells fired by the army towards LTTE positions further up in the north continues to filter into the main town's square and its surroundings.
On the whole however, people are getting used to this pattern of life and are happy to be a part of the town's activities.
"There is no shortage of food and other essential items since the convoys from Colombo have kept rolling in, except for a brief period earlier this month," Additional Government Agent S. Ragunathapillai said.
The only sign of tension is when dusk falls as the streets go deserted and shop owners and traders put up their shutters purely as a precautionary move which is understandable, he said.
The LTTE on the other hand appears to have ceased its threats to the town and the military along with the police para-military units have taken control of the security matters in the area.
By Tania Fernando
The Soysapura Housing Scheme where more than 15,000 people live was in shock and anguish over the horrifying way in which a 93-year-old grandmother had allegedly been pushed to her death from her top floor window.
A daughter-in-law is alleged to have pushed her mother-in-law to her death from their flat on the 3rd floor, on Tuesday.
Roslin Clera Jayasuriya, who has seven children lived with her son, who is in remand at present over a theft, and daughter-in-law R Gunawathie at Soysapura Flats, Katubedda, police said.
They said Gunawathie who regularly argued with their mother-in-law over various issues had at the end pushed her to her death.
The Sunday Times spoke to a daughter of Roslin Clora who said that her grand mother was fit and healthy at her age and was able to move about on her own.
According to her, most of her mother's relatives were living in this flat and she feels that though her grandmother on many occasions had threatened to jump out of the window, she was pushed in order that her mother would have the flat to herself.
An eyewitness said that the 45-year old R Gunawathie, now in remand, had with the help of her sister and son from a previous marriage, made the old woman stand on a chair and allegedly pushed her out of the window of their flat. On Monday the old woman who had attended a pinkama at the Sri Bodhiratnaramaya temple had refused to go back to the flat she shared with her daughter-in-law.
The chief incumbent monk, Gonadeniya Sumanaratne had taken Roslin around 12.30 am in a three-wheeler to the house of daughter who lived in close proximity. As she was going out, the daughter had dropped her mother back at the flat in the morning.
An eyewitness said that Roslin who had broken both legs in the fall had raised her head and cried out before a passerby had informed the chief monk who had rushed her to Kalubowila Hospital where she died 15 minutes after admission. Her daughter-in-law who has alleged to have pushed her had accompanied her to the hospital.
While the case of R Gunawathie and her sister who are in remand will be heard on November 29, the third accomplice, her son, is absconding at present.
By Faraza Farook
Some doctors from Vavuniya, Batticaloa and Ampara are demanding that they be released from their work stations to non risk areas, saying they had worked in the Northern and Eastern provinces for more than a year.
Though the Ministry of Health and the GMOA agreed that service in risk areas should be limited to one year, most doctors working in these stations say they have been kept their for much longer.
Initially, the Government has been transferring doctors from risk areas to non-risk areas every six months, but this process has suddenly been stopped, the doctors claimed.
These doctors who were in Colombo last week to complain of their grievances to their parent body, the GMOA, said the Association will take this issue as one of the reasons for their trade union action scheduled for December 3.
Some of them even after receiving transfer orders are unable to proceed, because the Ministry had failed to find replacements for those posts.
The delay in transfers and replacements was attributed to the lethargy of the Ministry. "This is due to delay in advertising and poor administration," the doctors alleged.
The GMOA decided at their general committee meeting last Saturday (21) on trade union action for December 3, if the Health Ministry fails to find solutions to their grievances by the end of this month.
Their demands include the implementation of the national policy on health, pay compensation to doctors whose properties were damaged by organised gangs during the 17-day strike in June, solving problems of doctors working in the North and East, absorbing intern medical officers to the state sector and replacement of the Director General of Health Services.
The six member committee appointed to look into the possibilities of implementing the national policy within the constitutional framework have drawn up recommendations last week. The GMOA insists that President Chandrika Kumaratunga implement the national policy immediately (before Dec. 1).
But the Health Ministry said that the Committee would submit its recommendations to the President tomorrow (Nov. 29).
The GMOA reported that the President had called for a meeting with them on December 1 at 7 p.m. to discuss this issue.
The Ministry said that the GMOA was rushing matters while it has asked for six to ten weeks time. "This is not a private firm, so there are procedures that will take time," Secretary to the Ministry C. Abeygunewardena said. Having served for more than a year, these doctors alleged that in addition to going through all the risks they had also to put up with lack of basic facilities. "No water, no toilets, no quarters," they said.
The medical officers also receive demands from the LTTE, such as requests for drugs and a payment if they own a car, etc.
Some doctors from Vavuniya and Mannar who are now reporting to the Health Ministry, had to vacate their stations after threats from the LTTE of an attack on their hospitals.
"The biggest risk is travelling. You don't know when a shell will land on you", they said.
The 4000 strong Bank Officers Federation of Sri Lanka has decided to take trade union action from tomorrow.
According to the Federation President S. Kariyawasam, they will start a work-to-rule and non co-operation campaign with the management. Their main demand is the restructuring of their salaries and the signing of the collective agreement covering the period January 97 - December 31, 1999.
He said President Kumaratunga had promised in 1997 the federation to restructure their salaries within three months and to appoint a committee to look into their other grievances as well.
This discussion was held at Temple Trees and Ministers S.B.Dissanayake, Jeyaraj Fernandopulle and John Seneviratne were present, while the Chairmen of the People's Bank, Bank of Ceylon and the National Savings Bank represented the federation, he said.
Again at a meeting with federation representatives in April this year the President .agreed to have the recommendations of the committee on the salaries by an independent consultancy firm and adopt it. However this has yet to see the light of day, Mr Kariyawasam said.
Meanwhile the Ceylon Bank Employees Union (CBEU) has also made the following demands.
The union has also suggested that recruiting staff to the banks, should be restricted claims that 750 were recruited after 1994 by the PA government.
The Association for Families of Servicemen Missing in Action has decided to write to world heads of states urging them to intervene to get information on their family members.
Chairperson of the Association Druki Martenstyn told The Sunday Times that it is only through international pressure that the families could obtain information on their loved ones.
"We have tried to get information every other way and failed. I wrote to the LTTE through the ICRC requesting them to grant permission for me to visit them, but it was denied. I even visited the LTTE offices abroad to get an appointment but they refused to see me. It is only if a foreign country intervenes that we can get any details," she said.
The Association will write to Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and other heads of state.
The Association has also decided to write to the Presidential candidates with signatures from the family members urging them to take some action.
DNA testing for victims
By Ayesha R. Rafiq
Investigations into the alleged Chemmani mass graves are set to take a new turn with investigators likely to use DNA testing to identify the exhumed bodies of victims, Attorney General's Department sources told The Sunday Times.
The Attorney General's representative at the investigations, State Counsel Yasantha Kodagoda said that the investigators were looking at the possibility of using DNA testing as a final methodology to establish the identities of those victims whose personal belongings were not found in the graves, and as such whose provisional identities would be practically impossible to establish.
Mr. Kodagoda said that while Sri Lanka had the facilities necessary for DNA testing, considering the number of tests that may have to be carried out and the expense involved for each test, resource and financial constraints would make it more viable to look towards using foreign facilities instead. Professor Niriellage Chandrasiri who is heading the forensic team said that identifying the victims through DNA testing using bone marrow and teeth samples would cost approximately 250 pounds sterling or over Rs. 29,000 each.
Only six of the 13 bodies exhumed in the second phase of the investigations were found with personal belongings. Mr. Kodagoda said that DNA testing may have to be used for the remaining seven bodies as well as any more that may be exhumed, as complaints with regard to 283 supposed victims have been lodged.
Samples of skeletal remains such as bone and teeth would have to be obtained from the victims and then matched with blood samples or samples of mouth scrapings of maternal relatives of the supposed victims. Of the 15 bodies exhumed in both the pilot and second phase of the investigations, 14 are those of males.
Mr. Kodagoda said that on December 6 when the preliminary representations of the forensic scientists were due to be presented to the Jaffna Magistrate, the investigative parties would request the Magistrate for using DNA testing.
He said that while the report summarising the findings of the scientists and criminal investigators would not be conclusive in nature, its primary concern would be to evolve the method and cause of death and establish the provisional identities of the victims who were found with personal effects such as clothing.
In an attempt not only to generate employment but also to give the necessary boost to the local industry, President Chandrika Kumaratunga has directed Ministers not to present Cabinet papers for the import of items that could be manufactured locally.
According to sources, these items range from buses to plastic items and textiles. This decision was taken as a result of many industrialists complaining that the local market was flooded with items that could be and are manufactured locally, sources said.
The recent import of onions, potatoes and rice too came in for criticism from the local farmers as well, as they could not sell their produce at a profit.
MPS in these areas had to face a tough time in explaining matters to the farmers as to why these items were imported, even as farmers were agitating to stop imports, sources said.
Meanwhile, a Cabinet paper to import 700 buses at a cost of Rs 1.2 billion was also not approved by the President, sources added.
By Shelani de Silva
The LTTE released seven soldiers held captive last morning to the ICRC to mark the LTTE Hero's Remembrance Day.
ICRC Spokesperson Harsha Abeywardene told The Sunday Times that the soldiers were brought by ship to Mannar.
"Since the road line is closed the soldiers were brought by ship to Mannar. They will be handed over to the Sri Lanka Army at Madawachiya," he said.
The soldiers surrendered to the LTTE during the military offensive in the Wanni region recently.
The seven soldiers are H.B.S.Tilakaratna, V.H.KS. Dharshana Pushpakumara, A.N.Jayaratna, P.V. Hemachandra, W.P.R Upali Dharmaratne, W.H.P Bandula and H.F Ranasinghe.
Acting Elections Commissioner D. M. P. B. Dassanayake has issued directives to the state and private electronic media related to the coverage of upcoming presidential election — but there still appears to be some confusion.
The Sunday Times learns that at an all-party meeting on Friday, Mr. Dassanayake said he would issue a directive to state and private electronic media that all candidates be given equal time and fair treatment.
His decision came amidst a controversy over a move by the government and the newly appointed Special Assignment Minister Sarath Amunugama to impose restrictions on election coverage by the private TV and radio.
Dr. Amunugama claimed there was provision for such restrictions under the Presidential Elections Act but private TV and radio said they would defy any ban or restriction.
At Friday's meeting, some parties also protested that state TV Rupavahini was not observing the law and was acting as a propaganda tool for the PA. Mr. Dassanayake said he would look into this and take action against Rupavahini if it breaks the rule. Swarnavahini Programs Director Rosmund Senaratne told The Sunday Times they were awaiting the commissioner's guidelines to take a decision.
"We will have to first study them and then decide. If the guideline says each candidate should be given equal time, it could mean all of them could give speeches. We won't agree to that. But we will allow live debates," he said.
TNL News Editor Namal Perera claimed they were playing fair by all and would continue with live debates.
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