Media Freedom

Corona and curtailed Human Rights

First published on 3rd May 2020 at http://www.commonviews.org/corona-and-curtailed-human-rights/

As fears and concerns persist about spread of COVID19 in Sri Lanka, there are rising fears and concerns about declining democracy and rising threats to rule of law and rights violations. Rights are being restricted, powers of the executive, police, military, and government officials are increasing and checks and balances and possibilities of legal remedies for victims are decreasing. Governments, some media, and others with vested interests are seeking to propagate that these must be tolerated at the time of crisis. In any crisis, the politically, economically and socially vulnerable and marginalized become even more vulnerable and marginalized.  In Sri Lanka, they include COVID19 patients and their families, families of those who died, survivors and families of past victims of past rights violations, ethnic and religious minorities, those with disabilities, women, children, elderly, refugees, prisoners, farmers, fisherfolk, factory workers, estate workers and workers in the informal sector etc. Below are some significant rights concerns amidst the fight against COVID19 in Sri Lanka.

1. Stigmatizing and degrading treatment to the deceased, patients and the poor

The first Sri Lankan COVID19 infected person was identified on 11th March. Since then some TV stations and social media had publicized false information about the patients, suspected patients, and even the dead. They had invaded the privacy of patients and suspected patients, those being quarantined, often in the presence police and military, and with their tacit support. It was only after around six weeks of this drama that the Secretary to the Ministry of defense appealed to stop this after about 250 military personnel were infected. On 17th April, police lined up over 300 beggars in Colombo and compelled them to have a bath in the open air without any privacy, with media being allowed to film and take photographs, resulting in this being a splash on national TV stations newspapers and social media. Photos and videos indicated some men having collective showers, without maintaining physical distance. Disinfecting of both men and women was also done in public, in front of cameras. Some media used the term “watte” to describe an area in Colombo where large numbers of COVID19 infected patients were found. This term implies low-income areas with small and basic houses close to each other with basic facilities, such as shared toilets. The lady who was believed to be the first patient from this community was particularly targeted, being referred to as the “Coronona lady”, thereby setting the area on “COVID fire”.

2. Hostility towards Muslims and Christians

Muslims have been blamed for being responsible for COVID19 and were the target of hate speech, and much of this was based on false news. On two occasions, police had arrested some persons, but most seemed to get away with hate speech and false news. The World Health Organization’s guidelines pertaining to the disposal of bodies of those who die of COVID19 provide for both cremation and burial, which was reflected in Sri Lankan Health Ministry guidelines of 27th March. But officials hurriedly cremated the first Muslim in Sri Lanka who died of COVID19, being indifferent to the wishes of the family and Muslim community leaders and then amended their guidelines to allow only cremations, without any explanation for the changes. On one occasion, constant reference by many media, especially Tamil media, to religion and occupation of one infected person as a “Pastor” has created an environment where there could be hate and hostility towards the Christian community of that person or to Christians more broadly.

3. Prisoners and Refugees 

Even before COVID19 deaths in Sri Lanka, two prisoners died of shooting, in COVID19 related tensions in a prison. Sri Lankan prisons have a capacity to accommodate 10,000 people but are overcrowded, with about 26,000 inmates at present, making them high-risk places for COVID19, with no possibility for social distancing and hygienic practices. The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka and civil society groups were demanding the release of prisoners. The government had released about 3000 by early April, and the Attorney General had advised the police on schemes of releasing more prisoners. However, some inmates, such as those detained for long periods under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), without having been charged and trials being completed are not included in these schemes. Detainees who were released last month had reported of beatings, severe overcrowding, and unhygienic conditions, and lack of adequate medical facilities in detention facilities. As visits by families and well-wishers have been stopped, detainees are unable to get even their basic needs from outside.

Refugees and asylum seekers living in Sri Lanka temporarily are not included in assistance schemes by the government and various UN agencies. In the context of curfews in the country and lockdowns across the world, they also find it difficult to receive money from their friends and relatives, which had been crucial for their survival. Amidst widespread stigmatization of Sri Lankan Muslims, refugees also fear being perceived as being Muslims and being targeted, similar to the way they faced physical attacks and evictions after Easter Sunday bombings. And in the long term, they fear that their already delayed resettlement to 3rd countries such as the USA and Canada may be further delayed.

4. Right to food, emergency assistance and workers

With the imposition of island-wide curfew for one month, food became a major concern, particularly for poorer sections of society. The government announced a relief package of Rs. 5000 per family, focusing on daily wage owners and other low-income earners, but there have been widespread allegations of officials charging money for applications, long lines of people to collect the Rs. 5,000, allegations of being left out unfairly, tensions between beneficiaries and officials. The assistance scheme is said to be in favor of government supporters. Many migrant workers from far away districts had been stranded, without income or food, but had not received any government assistance. Calls to designated numbers and meetings with local officials and police had not brought any relief. In the North and East, there were allegations that the Governors (representative of the President) were not approving the use of emergency funds by local government officials and local government officials had sought the help of civil society groups to provide humanitarian assistance to people in need. There have been several reports of those distributing humanitarian assistance being obstructed, facing intimidation, threats from politicians, police, and military, and some being arrested. Some workers had not received wages for work done before the sudden imposition of curfew and some employers are demanding amendment of labor laws that provide protection to workers from arbitrary termination.

5. Repression of free expression and impunity for hate speech, false and misleading news

One of the biggest blows to free expression was when online activist Ramzy Razeek was arrested on 9th April for a Facebook post calling for an ideological struggle using a pen and keyboard and media. He has been a consistent advocate of ethnic harmony and challenged extremism within the Muslim community and against Muslims. He has been remanded till 14th May and the police have implied intentions to charge him under the ICCPR Act. Ramzy had received death threats online and had complained to the police about these before his arrest, but no one has been arrested for death threats made against him.

On 1st April, the police announced that those criticizing and pointing out shortcomings of government officials would be arrested and have legal actions taken against them. Several people who had criticized the government were reported to have been arrested, faced intimidation and discrediting online. The media reported that Police were seeking to arrest 40 persons for spreading false information and there had been other reports that 17 had been arrested by 17th April.

However, the process of such arrests appears to be discriminatory targeting individuals who seem to be critical of the government with small outreach, whereas persons and media institutions supporting the government with massive outreach such as some TV stations and newspapers, seem to enjoy impunity for publishing false and misleading information. The “Sunday Observer”, a state-owned and controlled newspaper reported the Health Minister saying that “by April 19 all possible COVID-19 patients in Sri Lanka will disappear and the people who had it without any symptoms or with mild symptoms will completely recover”. Another leading newspaper, “Lankadeepa”, published headlines on its front page quoting the Director-General of Health Services as saying the risk of corona was over. This was corrected and an apology offered 2 days later, but with less prominence than the false headline. The media group “Ada Derana” published a hugely misleading graph about numbers of COVID19 patients in Sri Lanka. In early April, the Sri Lanka Tea Board reported that they had devised a plan to promote Ceylon black tea as a drink that could prevent COVID19, but the Director of the Sri Lanka Medical Research Institute was reported to have confirmed that there is no research on the benefits of drinking tea for Covid-19 patient and that it cannot be touted as a preventive measure or a treatment in the case of Covid-19. On 21st March, the former Governor of Western Province and National List candidate for upcoming Parliament elections from the President’s Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna, Dr. Seetha Arambepola, was quoted as having said that the State Pharmaceutical Corporation had ample stocks of a secret medication for Corona, and that it could be used after approval from specialist doctors.

6. Militarization

The response to COVID19 in Sri Lanka is excessively militarized, with the Army Commander being appointed as the head of the National Operations Centre on COVID19. The Secretary to the Ministry of Defiance, a retired senior Army officer, features prominently and regularly on national media on matters relating to COVID19 than any other Ministry Secretary. A Presidential Task Force in charge of Economic Revival and Poverty Eradication is also packed with military officers. The military has been involved in running a large number of quarantine centres and in the heavily militarized war-ravaged north, the military is also involved in curfew pass issuing activities.  This militarization is in context of the military personnel in Sri Lanka having been convicted and still standing accused in pending cases for massacres, killings and abductions by Sri Lankan courts and facing allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity from the UN and international human rights groups, with the present Army Commander having been banned from entering the United States of America earlier this year. On one occasion, soldiers had removed a family from a village facing a high risk of COVID19 without the knowledge of the health authorities. People in the North protested in fear about schools in the North being used for quarantining military personnel, and later, the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence said that schools will be used to accommodate soldiers and not as quarantine centres. Surveillance of activists and journalists by intelligence agents, which was common in Sri Lanka during and after the war, may expand during and post COVID19 operations by the military, with the Secretary to Ministry of Defence claiming that he has details of all COVID19 victims in his mobile phone.

7. Rule of Law and Political crisis

While accepting the need for curfew, at least one senior lawyer and others have pointed out the lack of legal basis for the curfew the government had announced since 20th March. More than 42,000 people have been arrested and more than 10,000 vehicles were taken into custody, and legality of this is also not clear. In Colombo and Jaffna, there have been allegations of people having been beaten up by police and the army for being on the street. The Coastal Conservation Department has been criticized for lack of environmental and social considerations in its Mount Lavinia beach development project and un-democratic, not-transparent action while the country was under lockdown due to COVID19.

There has also been widespread condemnation about the lack of due process in the arrest of prominent lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah on 14th April. He had had very limited access to family and lawyers, the specific reasons for his arrest are not clear and the Attorney General and the police failed to turn up in courts when a habeas corpus application by his family was taken up in courts on 30th April.

The curfew had also restricted people’s access to courts to seek remedies for violations and imminent violations, particularly for those from poorer sections of society, for whom access to lawyers and legal remedies have always been limited, even prior to COVID19. Due to the limited number of court staff, it had become difficult for lawyers to obtain court proceedings and confer with detained clients, both of which can affect the preparation for court hearings.

In the early stages of curfew, President granted a pardon to a soldier convicted of the massacre of 8 Tamil civilians, including children. There has also been a report that the soldier had been paid back wages for the time he had been imprisoned and that the Army had accompanied him back home from prison.

On 2nd March, the President dissolved parliament advancing 6 months ahead of the schedule. However, the Election Commission postponed the elections and subsequently rescheduled it for 20th June. This will mean Sri Lanka will be without a parliament for more than the constitutionally allowed period of 3 months. This has led to some lawyers and politicians stating that the dissolving of parliament is invalid and old parliament has sprung back to life, as the presidential power to dissolve parliament early is subject to a condition of parliament re-convening within 3 months. Opposition politicians have also claimed the parliament needs to approve expenditure from 1st May onwards, but the government has insisted the President has constitutional powers to draw from the consolidated fund.

Conclusion

The number of COVID19 infected patients and deaths have been relatively less in Sri Lanka than many other countries, including in Asia. But the numbers of patients are rising, and so are fears, uncertainties, and economic woes, including food security, livelihoods, and unemployment. Reducing militarization and politicization and respect for rule of law, human rights, especially freedom of expression, rights of minorities, workers, and environmental justice will be crucial in determining Sri Lanka’s post COVID19 progress. Reviving long term struggles for justice, such as by communities whose lands were occupied by the military and families of those who disappeared will also pose a challenge.

#COVID19 අතරතුර රම්සි රසීක් [ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ ප්‍රකාශනයේ නිදහස, වෛරී ප්‍රකාශ සහ සාවද්‍ය පුවත් ]

First published on 3rd May 2020 at https://www.vikalpa.org/?p=37491

අප්‍රේල් 2 වැනිදා, රම්සි රසීක් තම ෆේස්බුක් වෝලය මත “චින්තන ජිහාදයක්” නොහොත් “මතවාදී අරගලයකට” ඇති අවශ්‍යතාවය ගැන සටහනක් තැබුවේය. ජිහාදය යනු මතභේදකාරී වචනයක් වන අතර විවිධ විද්වතුන්ට අනුව, “ජිහාදය” යනු “අරගලය” වන නමුත්, එය බොහෝ විට සන්නද්ධ යුද්ධය හෝ ත්‍රස්තවාදය ලෙස වැරැදි ලෙස තේරුම් ගැනේ. ඔහුගේ පෝස්ටුවේ දී, රම්සි නිශ්චිතවම කියන්නේ “ජාතිවාදී කල්ලි විසින් මුස්ලිම්වරුන්ට එරෙහිව ගෙන යනු ලබන සූක්ෂම වෛරී ප්‍රචාරණවලට එරෙහිව” “පෑන සහ පරිගණක කීබෝඩය අවිය කර ගනිමින්”, “ප්‍රධාන මාධ්‍ය සහ සමාජ මාධ්‍ය ඇතුළු පවතින සෑම අවකාශයක්ම” යොදා ගනිමින් “ජනතාවට සත්‍ය අවබෝධ කර දීම සඳහා කළ යුතු “මතවාදී” අරගලයක් ගැනය.

මෙම පෝස්ටුවට අමතරව රම්සිගේ පෙර ෆේස්බුක් පෝස්ටු ද කියවා බැලූ කල පැහැදිලිව පෙනෙන්නේ රම්සි යනු දිගු කලක් තිස්සේ ජාතිවාදයට එරෙහිව, ප්‍රජාවන් අතර සමගිය, සමානාත්මතාවය සහ සාධාරණත්වය නගා සිටුවීම සඳහා හඬ නැගූ පුද්ගලයෙක් බවයි.

ඔහු විසින් අප්‍රේල් 01 වැනිදා කොවිඩ්19 නිසා මිය ගිය පුද්ගලයෙකු ආදාහනය සම්බන්ධයෙන් විවේචනාත්මක පෝස්ටුවක් පළ කර ඇත්තේ ඒ වන විට සෞඛ්‍ය අමාත්‍යාංශයේ මාර්ගෝපදේශ විසින් කොවිඩ්19 මළ සිරුරු වල දැමීමට අවසර දුන් තත්වයක් යටතේ වුවත්, සංශෝධිත රජයේ රීතින් පිළිබඳ සඳහන් කරමින්, ඔහු කීවේ සෞඛ්‍ය විද්‍යාත්මක හේතු මත වලදැමීම මහජන සෞඛ්‍යයට හානි කර බව නිවැරැදි යැයි ඔප්පු වන්නේ නම් මළ සිරුරු ආදාහනය පිළිබඳ තීරණය මුස්ලිම්වරු විසින් පිළිගත යුතු බවයි.

“චින්තන අරගලය” පිළිබඳ පෝස්ටුව පළ කිරීමෙන් දිනකට පසු, අප්‍රේල් 03 වැනිදා, පළකළ වෙනත් ෆේස්බුක් පෝස්ටුවකින් රම්සි කියා සිටියේ තමන් ස්වයං වාරණයක් පටන් ගන්නා බවත්, මෙයින් අනතුරුව සිංහල බසින් දේශපාලන හෝ ජාතික ප්‍රශ්න සම්බන්ධයෙන් පෝස්ටු ලිවීම සිදු නොකරන බවත්ය. මෙයට හේතු ලෙස ඔහු දැක් වූයේ තමන්ගේ දරුවන්ගේ ජීවිත අනතුරේ හෙළිය නොහැකි බවයි. “මගේ පෝස්ටුවට ලැබුණු ප්‍රතිචාර සහ නානඳුනන පුද්ගලයන්ගෙන් ලැබුණු ඉන්බොක්ස් මැසේජ් දුටු මගේ වැඩිමහල් දුව කම්පනයටත් බියටත් පත් වී සිටී. ඇයට දුන් පොරොන්දුවක් සහ මට ආදරය කරන තව බොහෝ දෙනෙකුගේ ඉල්ලීම මත තවදුරටත් දේශපාලන හෝ ජාතික ගැටලු සම්බන්ධ කිසිදු පෝස්ටුවක් සිංහල භාෂාවෙන් පලනොකිරීමට තීරණය කළෙමි.” යැයි ඔහු තවදුරටත් සඳහන් කළේය. තවමත් මෙම අවසන් පෝස්ටුව ඔහුගේ ෆේස්බුක් වෝලය මත දැකිය හැකිය.

තවමත් අන්තර්ජාලයේ පෙනෙන්නට තිබෙන, ඔහුට එල්ල කළ මරණ තර්ජන ගැන ඔහු විසින් පොලිසියට පැමිණිල්ලක් කරන ලද අතර, අප දන්නා තරමින් එසේ මරණ තර්ජන සිදු කළ කිසිවෙක් අත්අඩංගුවට ගැනීමට පොලිසිය විසින් තවමත් කිසිදු පියවරක් ගෙන නැත.

අත්අඩංගුවට ගැනීම සහ ICCPR පනත

වාර්තා වෙන පරිදි ඔහු විසින් අප්‍රේල් 2 වැනිදා පළ කළ පෙර කී පෝස්ටුව සහ 2019 දී පළකළ වෙනත් පෝස්ටු කිහිපයක් නිසා ඔහු අත්අඩංගුවට පත් වී ඇත. අප්‍රේල් 10 වැනි දින අත්අඩංගුවට පත් ඔහු පළමුව අප්‍රේල් 22 වැනිදා දක්වා ද, අනතුරුව අප්‍රේල් 30 වැනිදා දක්වා ද, නැවතත් මැයි 14 වැනිදා දක්වා ද රිමාන්ඩ් භාරයට පත් කර ඇත. ඔහුගේ නීතිඥයන්ට අනුව පොලිසිය විසින් ඔහු අත්අඩංගුවට ගත් නීති ලෙස දක්වා ඇත්තේ සිවිල් හා දේශපාලන අයිතිවාසිකම් ප්‍රඥප්තිය (ICCPR) පනත සහ පරිගණක අපරාධ පනතයි. ICCPR පනතට අනුව පොලිසියට පුද්ගලයකු අත්අඩංගුවට ගෙන රඳවා තබා ගත හැකි අතර, ඇප දීමේ බලයක් මහේස්ත්‍රාත්වරයකුට ඇත්තේ නැත. පසුගිය වසරේ, ICCPR පනත යටතේ ලේඛකයකු වූ ශක්තික සත්කුමාර අත්අඩංගුවට ගෙන ඇප ලබා නොදී මාස 4ක් දක්වා රැඳවුම් භාරයේ තබා ගැනීමෙන් පසු මහාධිකරණයෙන් ඇප නියම කරන ලදී.

ICCPR පනතේ 3(1) වගන්ති යටතේ වැරැදි වන යුද්ධය ප්‍රවර්ධනය කිරීම හෝ සතුරුභාවය, වෙනස්කොට සැලකීම හෝ ප්‍රචණ්ඩත්වය ඇවිස්සෙන ආකාරයේ වෛරී ප්‍රකාශ සිදු කිරීම යන කිසිවක් රම්සි විසින් සිදු කළ එකදු පෝස්ටුවක් හෝ කොමෙන්ටුවක් අපට නම් හමු වූයේ නැත. රම්සි අත්අඩංගුවට ගැනීමේ දී, පොලිසිය විසින් ICCPR පනතේ වෛරී ප්‍රකාශ වරදවල් සම්බන්ධයෙන් අත්අඩංගුවට ගැනීම සම්බන්ධයෙන් ශ්‍රී ලංකා මානව හිමිකම් කොමිසම විසින් සම්පාදනය කළ විස්තරාත්මක නිර්දේශ නොසලකා හැර ඇති බව පෙනේ. එම නිර්දේශ ව්‍යවස්ථාවේ සඳහන් මූලික අයිතිවාසිකම් වන අදහස් ප්‍රකාශනය සහ ‘පැතිරවීම’ හා ‘පෙළඹවීම’ සම්බන්ධ අංශ හයකින් යුතු පරීක්ෂණය සහ ආරිය රූබසිංහට එදිරිව සුනිලා අබේසේකර මුලික අයිතිවාසිකම් නඩු තීන්දුවට අනුව නීත්‍යානුකූලභාවය සැපිරීමට තිබිය යුතු නීත්‍යානුකූලභාවය, සමානුපාතභාවය සහ අවශ්‍යතාවය යන තුන්කොන් පරීක්ෂණය ආදී විවිධ කාරණා සලකමින් සකසා ඇත.

රම්සිගේ සෞඛ්‍ය තත්වය සහ රැඳවුම් ස්ථානවල තත්වයන්

රම්සි පෙර කෘෂිකර්ම දෙපාර්තමේන්තුවේ සේවය කළ අතර, ඔහු නියමිත කාලයට කලින්ම විශ්‍රාම ගත්තේ ඔහුගේ පිරිහෙන සෞඛ්‍ය තත්වය නිසාය. ඔහුට දෛනිකව බෙහෙත් ගැනීම අවශ්‍ය වන අතර, අත්අඩංගුවට ගන්නා අවස්ථාවේ ඔහුට නිලධාරීන් විසින් කියා තිබුනේ එක් දවසකට පමණක් අවශ්‍ය බෙහෙත් රැගෙන එන ලෙසයි. ඔහුට දැන් සති තුනක පමණ කාලයක් තිස්සේ අවශ්‍ය බෙහෙත් නොමැතිව කල් ගත කිරීමට සිදු වී ඇතැයි පවුලේ අය දුක් වෙති.

සෙනග පිරි රැඳවුම් මධ්‍යස්ථානවල භෞතික දුරස්ථභාවයට සහ මූලික සනීපාරක්ෂක පහසුකම්වලට අවම අවස්ථා සහිතව රඳවා තැබීම නිසා රැඳවුම් භාරයේ සිටින අලුත් සහ පරණ රැඳවුම්කරුවන්ට සෞඛ්‍ය අවදානම්වලට ද මුහුණ දීමට සිදු වේ. ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ සහ අනෙකුත් රටවල සිරකරුවන් නිදහස් කිරීමට කටයුතු කර තිබෙන්නේ කොවිඩ්19 පැතිරීම වැළැක්වීමේ ක්‍රියාමාර්ගයක් වශයෙනි.

සමාජ මාධ්‍යයේ වැරැදි පුවතක් පළ කිරීම සම්බන්ධයෙන් අත්අඩංගුවට පත් වූ ජනමාධ්‍යවේදියකු තමා රිමාන්ඩ් වී ගත කළ සති දෙක ගැන අත්දැකීම් ගැන සමාජ මාධ්‍ය හරහා වීඩියෝවක් නිකුත් කරමින් ප්‍රකාශ කළේ කොළඹ බන්ධනාගාර දැනට සිරකරුවන්ගෙන් පිරී පවතින නිසා තමා සති දෙකක ‘නිරෝධායනය’ සඳහා පල්ලන්සේන තරුණ වරදකරුවන් සදහා වූ විශෝදන මධ්‍යස්ථානය වෙත යොමු කළ බවයි. මෙහිදී වර්ග අඩි16ක් වැනි ඉඩක් තුළ පුද්ගලයන් 8ක් පමණ වන කුටි 10ක පුද්ගලයන් රඳවා සිටි බවත්, එම සියලු දෙනාට තිබුනේ පොදුවේ භාවිතා කළ හැකි වැසිකිළි 2ක් පමණක් බවත්, කොවිඩ්19 සම්බන්ධයෙන් තබාගත යුතු මූලික භෞතික දුරස්ථතතාවය හෝ වෙනත් සෞඛ්‍ය ක්‍රියාමාර්ග සඳහා අවශ්‍ය පහසුකම් නොතිබූ බවත්ය. එසේම රැඳවුම් මධ්‍යස්ථානයේ දරුවන් හා වැඩිහිටි සිරකරුවන් මිශ්‍ර කිරීම නිසා රැඳවුම් මධ්‍යස්ථානය තුළ දරුවන් විසින් මත්ද්‍රව්‍ය භාවිතා කළ සිද්ධියක්ද ඒ නිසා වැඩිහිටි සිරකරුවන්ට පහරදුන් අවස්ථාවක් ගැන ද ඔහු සඳහන් කර තිබුණි.

අප්‍රේල් 18 වැනිදා මීගමුවේ පල්ලන්සේන රැඳවුම් මධ්‍යස්ථානයේ (ගම්පහ දිස්ත්‍රික්කයේ) රඳවා සිට නිදහස් වූ තවත් පුද්ගලයෙක් වාර්තා කළේ රම්සි රඳවා සිටින්නේ ද එම රැඳවුම් මධ්‍යස්ථානයේ බව සහ අවශ්‍ය සෞඛ්‍ය පහසුකම් සහ ප්‍රවේශවිය හැකි (කොමඩ් එකක් සහිත) වැසිකිළි පහසුකම් නොමැති වීම සහ සනීපාරක්ෂක නොවන තත්වයන් හේතුවෙන් රම්සි ඉමහත් කරදරවලට මුහුණ පාන බවත් ය. නිදහස් වූ පුද්ගලයා රැඳවුම් පහසුකම්වල සෙනග වැඩිපුර සිටීම, වැසිකිළි අඩුවීම, සහ අවුරුදු 18ට අඩු සිරකරුවන්, වැඩිහිටි සිරකරුවන් සමග එකට සිටීම ගැටළු ලෙස මතු කළේය. එහි සිටි අත්අඩංගුවට ගත් බොහෝ අය මත්ද්‍රව්‍ය සම්බන්ධ වැරැදි කළ අයය. රැඳවියකු ජේලර්වරයකු විසින් තදින් පහර දීමට ලක් වෙනු ඔහු දුටු අතර ඔහු ප්‍රකාශ කළේ එවැනි සිදුවීම බහුල බවය. මෙම කාරණා ශ්‍රී ලංකා මානව හිමිකම් කොමිසමේ අවධානයට අප්‍රේල් 18 වැනිදා යොමු කරන ලදී.

රම්සි අප්‍රේල් 9 වැනිදා අත්අඩංගුවට ගැනීමෙන් පසු, ඔහු සිටින ස්ථානයට පැමිණීමට කතා කිරීමට අවස්ථාවක් පවුලේ අයට ලැබී නැත. ඔහුගේ නීතිඥයන්ට අනුව, මහේස්ත්‍රාත්වරයා විසින් ඔහුට නිසි සෞඛ්‍ය රැකවරණ පහසුකම් ලබා දෙන ලෙස ඉල්ලා ඇතත්, ඔහුට සෞඛ්‍ය රැකවරණ පහසුකම් ලබාදෙන ආකාරය ගැන පවුලේ අය දැනුවත් කර නැති අතර, පවුලේ අය දුක් වන්නේ ඔහුගේ සෞඛ්‍ය තත්වය පිරිහී තිබෙනු ඇතැයි කියාය. රැඳවුම් කැඳවුරේ සිට අප්‍රේල් 18 දා නිදහස් වූ පුද්ගලයාගෙන් ලැබුණු තොරතුර හැරුණු විට, රම්සි කොහේ නවත්වා ගෙන සිටින්නේ දැයි පවුලේ අයට දැනුම් දී නැත.

ප්‍රකාශනයේ නිදහස හා වෛරී ප්‍රකාශ, නොමග යවන සුළු සහ සාවද්‍ය පුවත් සහ හැඳි දෙකකින් බෙදීම

ත්‍රිකුණාමලයේ රජයේ නිලධාරියකු විවේචනය කළ පුද්ගලයෙක් පොලිසිය විසින් අත්අඩංගුවට ගෙන ඇති අතර, රජය ගැන විවේචනාත්මක අදහස් ඉදිරිපත් කළ විශ්ව විද්‍යාල ශිෂ්‍යයකුගේ නිවසට පොලිසියෙන් පැමිණ ඇත. කාත්තන්කුඩි හි දී රජයේ නිලධාරියකු විවේචනය කිරීම සම්බන්ධයෙන්තවත් 8 දෙනෙකු අත්අඩංගුවට ගෙන ඇති බව වාර්තා වේ. රජයෙන් ලබා දෙන සහනාධාර ඉල්ලමින් විරෝධතාවයක නියැලුනු තවත් විරෝධතාකරුවෙක් එසේම අත්අඩංගුවට ගෙන රඳවා ගෙන තිබේ එසේම රුපියල් 5000 බෙදාදීමේ දී සිදු වූ අසාධාරණකම් ගැන කතා කළ තවත් පුද්ගලයෙක් අත්අඩංගුවට ගනු දැක ඇත. අප්‍රේල් 17 වන දාතම ලිපියකින්, රජයේ වෛද්‍ය නිලධාරීන්ගේ සංගමය(GMOA) විසින් සෞඛ්‍ය සේවා අධ්‍යක්ෂක ජනරාල් වෙතට පැමිණිලි කර ඇත්තේ යාපනයේ ප්‍රජා වෛද්‍ය විශේෂඥයකුගේ “මතභේදකාරී සහ ජාතිවාදී පෙර අතීතය” ගැන සහ ඔහු විසින් “සෞඛ්‍ය දෙපාර්තමේන්තුවට සහ ශ්‍රී ලංකා හමුදාවට අනර්ථකාරී අදහස්” ඉදිරිපත් කිරීම ගැනයි. මඩකලපුවේ ඇතැම් ජනමාධ්‍යවේදීන් චෝදනා කළේ මඩකලපුව දිස්ත්‍රික්කයේ මානුෂික ආධාර බෙදීමේ දී සිදුවූ අසාධාරණතා ගැන වාර්තා කිරීම නිසා තමන්ට එරෙහිව වෛරී ප්‍රකාශ සහ කමෙන්ටු ෆේස්බුක්හි තිබූ බවය. මඩකලපුව දිස්ත්‍රික් ජනමාධ්‍යවේදීන්ගේ සංගමය මේ ගැන විවෘත ලිපියක් ජනපතිට යොමු කරමින් ප්‍රාදේශීය රජයේ නිලධාරීන්ගේ සහ නියෝජිතයන්ගේ ක්‍රියා හෙළා දකින ලදී.

මාර්තු 17 වැනිදා මාධ්‍ය වාර්තා කළේ පොලිසිය විසින් සාවද්‍ය පුවත් ප්‍රචාරය කරන 40 දෙනෙක් අත්අඩංගුවට ගැනීමට පරීක්ෂණ ආරම්භ කර ඇති බවයි. අප්‍රේල් 17 වන විට අඩුම තරමින් 17 දෙනෙකු අත්අඩංගුවට ගත් බවට තවත් වාර්තාවක් පළ වී තිබුනි. කෙසේ වුවත්, එම අත්අඩංගුවට ගත් ක්‍රියාදාමය වෙනස් කොට සලකන ආකාරයකින් යුතු අතර, කුඩා බලපෑමක් ඇති රජය ගැන විවේචනය කරන පුද්ගලයන් ඉලක්ක කර අත්අඩංගුවට ගත් බවක් පෙනෙන අතර, රජයට සහාය ලබා දෙන අතිවිශාල බලපෑමක් කළ හැකි මාධ්‍ය ආයතන-රූපවාහිනී නාලිකා සහ පුවත්පත් හා පුද්ගලයන් විසින් නොමග යවන සුළු, සහ අසත්‍ය පුවත් පළ කිරීම සම්බන්ධයෙන් කිසිදු දඩුවමකට ලක් නොවූ බවක් පෙනේ. උදාහරණ ලෙස :

• රජයට හිමි, රජයෙන් පාලනය වන, “සන්ඩේ ඔබ්සවර්” පුවත්පත විසින් “අප්‍රේල් 19 වැනිදා වන විට ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ සුළු රෝග ලක්ෂණ සහ රෝග ලක්ෂණ නොපෙන්වන අය ඇතුළුව සියලු කොවිඩ්19 රෝගීන් හඳුනා ගෙන සම්පූර්ණයෙන්ම සුව කරන බව” සෞඛ්‍ය අමාත්‍යවරිය විසින් ප්‍රකාශ කළ බව වාර්තා කරන ලදී .

• තවත් ප්‍රධාන පුවත්පතක් වන, “ලංකාදීප” විසින් සෞඛ්‍ය සේවා අධ්‍යක්ෂක ජෙනරාල් උපුටා දක්වමින් පුවත්පතේ මුල් පිටුවේ සිරස්තලයේ සඳහන් කළේ “කොරෝනා අවදානම ඉවරයි” යනුවෙනි. එය දින දෙකකට පසුව පෙර අසත්‍ය සිරස්තලය තරම් ලොකුවට නොපෙනන ලෙස පළකල සමාව ඉල්ලීමකින් එය නිවැරැදි කරන ලදී.

• “අද දෙරණ” මාධ්‍ය ජාලය කොවිඩ්19 රෝගීන් සංඛ්‍යාව සම්බන්ධයෙන් අතිශයින් නොමග යවන සුළු ප්‍රස්තාරයක් පළ කරන ලදී .

• අප්‍රේල් මාසය මුල දී, ශ්‍රී ලංකා තේ මණ්ඩලය වාර්තා කළේ ලංකා කළු තේ (සිලොන් බ්ලැක් ටී) ප්‍රතිශක්තිකරණ පද්ධතිය වැඩිදියුණු කිරීමට උදව් වෙන කොවිඩ්19 වළක්වන බීමක් ලෙස ප්‍රවර්ධනය කිරීමේ සැලසුමක් සකස් කර ඇති බවයි. එසේ වුවත් ශ්‍රී ලංකා වෛද්‍ය පර්යේෂණ ආයතනය කියා සිටියේ කොවිඩ්19 රෝගීන්ට තේ බීමෙන් ගුණයක් ඇති බවක් කිසිදු පර්යේෂණයකින් ඔප්පු වී නැති බවත්, එය කොවිඩ්19 රෝගය නිවාරණය කිරීමේ හෝ ප්‍රතිකාර කිරීමේ ක්‍රමයක් ලෙස හුවා දැක්විය නොහැකි බවත්ය.

• මාර්තු 21 වැනිදා, හිටපු බස්නාහිර පළාත් ආණ්ඩුකාර සහ පොදු ජන පෙරමුණේ එන පාර්ලිමේන්තු මැතිවරණයේ ජාතික ලැයිස්තු අපේක්ෂක වෛද්‍ය සීතා අරඹේපොල උපුටා දක්වමින් පළ කර තිබුනේ රාජ්‍ය ඖෂධ සංස්ථාවට කොරෝනා සඳහා ගන්නා රහසිගත ඖෂධවල ඇති තරම් තොග ඇති බවත්, විශේෂඥ වෛද්‍යවරුන්ගේ අනුමැතියෙන් පසු එය භාවිතා කළ හැකි වනු බවත්ය.

• අප්‍රේල් 2වැනි දා, සෞඛ්‍ය අධිකාරීන් විසින් කොවිඩ්19 පරීක්ෂණ සම්බන්ධයෙන් මුස්ලිම් පල්ලියක කැඳවූ රැස්වීමක් මුස්ලිම් ආගමික නායකයන් විසින් ඇඳිරි නීති කාලයේ කැඳවූ රැස්වීමක් ලෙස සමාජ මාධ්‍යවල බහුලව හුවමාරු විය.

• දෙරණ රූපවාහිනී නාලිකාවට අනුබද්ධ චතුර අල්විස් නිවේදකයා විසින් “සිංහල අවුරුදු කන්න නැතිකළේ නාත්තන්ඩිය, අකුරණ, බේරුවල 3 දෙනෙක්” යැයි කියමින් සිංහල සහ දෙමළ අයට අප්‍රේල් අලුත් අවුරුද්ද සැමරීමේ අවස්ථාව අහිමි කිරීමට මුස්ලිම් ජනතාව වගකිව යුතු යැයි අදහසක් පළ කළ බවට චෝදනා එල්ල වී ඇත.

• එසේම තවත් රූපවාහිනී සාකච්ඡාවක සජීවීව විකාශනය වූ විවේකකාලයේ දර්ශන අතරතුර මුස්ලිම් ජනයාට එරෙහිව ජාතිවාදී ප්‍රකාශ කිරීමේ චෝදනාවක් ද ‘චතුරට’ එල්ල වී ඇත.

පොලිසිය විසින් මුස්ලිම් ජනයාට විරුද්ධව වෛරී ප්‍රකාශ සහ අසත්‍ය පුවත් පළ වූ අවස්ථාවලදී නීතිමය ක්‍රියාමාර්ග ගත් අවස්ථාවන් සම්බන්ධයෙන් අඩුම ගණනේ කැපී පෙනෙන උදාහරණ දෙකක් ඇත. වසරකට පමණ ඉහත 2019 වර්ෂයේ මුස්ලිම් පල්ලියක පැවැත්වූ ආගමික මෙහෙයක වීඩියෝවක් සමාජ මාධ්‍ය හරහා සංසරණය වූයේ 2020 මාර්තු මාසයේ ඇඳිරි නීතිය පවතින විට එය පැවැති බවක් අඟවමිනි. පොලිසිය මෙම වීඩියෝව බෙදා හරි පුද්ගලයන් දෙදෙනෙක් අත්අඩංගුවට ගන්නා ලදී. එම වීඩියෝව මාර්තු 27 වැනි දින හිරු රූපවාහිනියේ ප්‍රවෘත්ති හරහා ද විකාශය වූ නමුත්, එම රූපවාහිනියට සම්බන්ධ කිසිවෙක් අත්අඩංගුවට ගැනීම හෝ වෙනත් පියවරක් ගැනීමක් ගැන වාර්තා වූයේ නැත. පොලිසිය එසේම මුස්ලිම් පුද්ගලයන් සුපිරි වෙළෙඳසැල්වල ආහාරවලට කෙළ ගසන්නේ යැයි ද, සිංහල අය වෙතට ලිංගික අවශ්‍යතා ඉටු කිරීමට කාන්තාවන් එවන බවද, මුස්ලිම් කඩවලින් භාණ්ඩ මිලදී නොගන්නා ලෙස ද කියැවෙන හඬපටයක් සමාජ මාධ්‍ය හරහා බෙදා හැරි පුද්ගලයකු ද අත්අඩංගුවට ගන්නා ලදී . හඬපටියේ කතා කරන පුද්ගලයා කීවේ තමන් බුද්ධිඅංශයේ වැඩකරන බවත්, මෙය බුද්ධි අංශවල රැස්වීමක දී ලබා දුන් තොරතුරක් බවත්ය.

පසුගිය අප්‍රේල් 25 වැනි දින මානව හිමිකම් කොමිසම විසින් වැඩබලන පොලිස්පති වෙත ‘ප්‍රජාතන්ත්‍රවාදයක අදහස් ප්‍රකාශනය සීමා කිරීම: නෛතික සමබරතාවය තබා ගැනීමේ අවශ්‍යතාවය’ නමින් ලිපියක් යොමු කර තිබුනි. මෙම ලිපියේ සාවද්‍ය තොරතුරු ප්‍රකාශ කිරීම යටතේ සිදු කළ අත්අඩංගුවට ගැනීම් සම්බන්ධයෙන් ප්‍රශ්න කර තිබුනු අතර, විවේචනය හා අදහස් ප්‍රකාශනයේ නිදහස සහ වෛරී ප්‍රකාශ සම්බන්ධයෙන් වෙනස්කම් නොවන ආකාරයෙන් නීතිමය පියවර ගැනීමේ අවශ්‍යතාවය මතු කර තිබුණි. එම ලිපියට අනුව නඩුවල බී වාර්තාවලට අනුව පුද්ගලයන් අත්අඩංගුවට ගෙන තිබුනේ දණ්ඩ නීති සංග්‍රහය (120 වගන්තිය), පරිගණක අපරාධ පනත, පොලිස් ආඥාපනතේ 98 වගන්තිය, නිරෝධායන ආඥාපනත (4 සහ 5 උපවගන්ති), සහ ව්‍යසන කළමණාකරණ පනතේ 24 වැනි වගන්තිය යටතේ ය. නිරෝධායන ආඥාපනත යටතේ, සහ ව්‍යසන කළමණාකරණ පනත යටතේ සාවද්‍ය අදහස් ප්‍රකාශනය සම්බන්ධයෙන් අත්අඩංගුවට ගැනීම් සිදු කිරීමේ දී එම ආඥාපනතේ අඩංගු නීති වගන්ති කෙසේ කඩවන්නේ ද යන්න අපැහැදිලි බවත්, නිලධාරීන් රාජකාරි ඉටු කිරීමේ දී එම රාජකාරිවලට බාධා වන්නේ නම් පමණක් එම නීති යොදා ගත හැකි බවත්, රට තුළ පාර්ලිමේන්තුව විසින් අනුමත කළ ව්‍යසන තත්වයක් ප්‍රකාශ නැති බැවින් ව්‍යසන කළමණාකරණ පනතේ 24 වැනි වගන්තිය යොදා ගත නොහැකි බවත් එහි සඳහන් කර තිබුණි.

එසේම එක් බී වාර්තාවක කිසිසේත්ම අත්අඩංගුවට හේතු වූ නෛතික පදනම සඳහන් නොවන බවද සඳහන් කර තිබුණි. අවංක අත්වැරදීම්, යහපත් චේතනාවෙන්, පොදු යහපත සඳහා කරන ලද ප්‍රකාශ සහ සිතාමතා සිදුකරන වැරැදි ප්‍රකාශ වෙන් වෙන්ව හඳුනා ගත යුතු බව ද එම ලිපියේ තවදුරටත් සඳහන් කර තිබුණි. එසේම වෛරී ප්‍රකාශ සම්බන්ධයෙන් කටයුතු කර ප්‍රජාවන් අතර සහ-පැවැත්ම ආරක්ෂා කිරීමේ වුවමනාව හඳුනා ගන්නා අතරම, වෛරී ප්‍රකාශවලට එරෙහිව ICCPR පනත වෙනස්කම් නොවන ආකාරයෙන් භාවිතා කර නොමැති බවද එම ලිපියේ තවදුරටත් මතු කර තිබුණි.

අදහස් ප්‍රකාශනයේ සහ විසම්මුතියේ නිදහස වෙනුවෙන් අපි පෙනී සිටිය යුතු වන්නේ ඇයි?

2013 වසරේ දී, පිරිසිදු ජලය ඉල්ලා සිදු කළ රතුපස්වල පැවැති උද්ඝෝෂණයට යුද හමුදාව විසින් වෙඩි තබා පුද්ගලයන් තිදෙනෙකු ඝාතනය කරනු ලැබුනි. දැන් පොලිසිය සිරගත කරන්නේ ආහාර සහ රජයේ සහන ඉක්මනින් සහ, සමාන ලෙස බෙදා හරින ලෙස ඉල්ලා සිටින අය සහ ඒ සම්බන්ධයෙන් රජයේ නිලධාරීන් ගැන විවේචනය කර අය ය. පසුගිය වසරේ සම්මාන දිනූ ලේඛකයෙක් මාස 4ක් පමණ සිර ගත වූයේ කෙටි කතාවක් ලිවීම නිසා වන අතර තවමත් ඔහු වසර 10ක් දක්වා සිර දඩුවමකට ලක් විය හැකි චෝදනාවලට ලක්ව සිටී. පසුගිය අප්‍රෙල් 9 වැනිදා රම්සි අත්අඩංගුවට ගැනුනේ අන්තර්ජාලය තුළ අදහස් ප්‍රකාශ කිරීමෙන් පසු, ඔහුට සහ ඔහුගේ පවුලේ අයට එල්ල වූ මරණ තර්ජන සම්බන්ධයෙන් ස්වයංවාරණයක් ප්‍රකාශ කර සිටිය දීය.

අපේ ව්‍යවස්ථාවේ සඳහන් යාම් ඊම් පිළිබඳ නිදහස, සහ එක්රැස්වීමේ නිදහස ආදී මූලික හිමිකම් සම්බන්ධ සීමාවන් කොවිඩ්19 සන්දර්භය තුළ අවශ්‍ය වේ. ඇතැම් තත්වයන් තුළ දී අදහස් ප්‍රකාශනයේ නිදහස සම්බන්ධයෙන් ද ව්‍යවස්ථාව විසින් සීමාවන් සපයන අතර, එවැනි සීමාවන් නීතියෙන් නියම කළ හෝ නීතිය පදනම් කර ගත් සීමා කිරීම් විය යුතු බව තවදුරටත් ව්‍යවස්ථාව සඳහන් කරයි. කොවිඩ්19 ලංකාවේ පැතිරීමට පටන් ගෙන දැන් මාස එකහමාරක් පමණ ගත වී ඇති නමුත්, අයිතිවාසිකම් සීමා කරනු ලබන එවැනි නීති හෝ රටේ හදිසි තත්වයක් ජනාධිපති විසින් ප්‍රකාශයට පත් කිරීම ව්‍යවස්ථාවට අනුව සිදු කර නොමැත.

ඒ වෙනුවට, මෙම මස මුල අප දුටුවේ රජයේ නිලධාරින්ගේ සුළු අඩුපාඩු විවේචනය කරනු ලබන අය අත්අඩංගුවට ගෙන නීතිය ක්‍රියාත්මක කරන බවට පොලිසිය විසින් සිදු කළ බලහත්කාරී ප්‍රකාශයකි. මේ ප්‍රකාශයට අනුව විවේචනය කිරීම හා සුළු අඩුපාඩු පෙන්වා දීම යන කරුණු අසත්‍ය පුවත් පළ කිරීම, වෛරී ප්‍රකාශ සිදු කිරීම හෝ නිලධාරින්ගේ රාජකාරියට බාධා කිරීම යන ඒවාට සමාන කර තිබෙන බවක් පෙනේ.

කොවිඩ්19 සම්බන්ධයෙන් ගත් ඇඳිරි නීතිය පැනවීම, බන්ධනාගාරවල සීමාවන් සහ උසාවිවල සීමා කරන ලද කටයුතු නිසා රැඳවුම් භාරයේ සිටින අයට නීතිමය සහන ලබා ගැනීම දුෂ්කර වී තිබේ. රැඳවුම් භාරයේ සිටින අයට සහ ඒ අයගේ පවුල්වල අයට නීතිඥයන් වෙත ප්‍රවේශය අපහසු වී ඇති අතර, නඩුවල වාර්තා ලබා ගැනීම ද අපහසු වී තිබේ. අන්තර්ජාතික සිවිල් හා දේශපාලන අයිතිවාසිකම් ප්‍රඥප්තිය පනත(ICCPR Act) වැනි ඇප ලබා ගැනීමේ දී ඉහළ උසාවියකට යා යුතු අවස්ථාවල දී නීතිඥයකුට පවා ඉහළ උසාවි වෙත ළගා වීම තවදුරටත් දුෂ්කර වී තිබේ.

කොවිඩ්19 වැනි අර්බුදයක දී අදහස් ප්‍රකාශනය සහ විවේචනය යන්න වඩාත්ම අවදානමට ලක්ව සිටින පුද්ගලයන්ගේ හඬ සහ දුක් ගැනවිලි ප්‍රකාශ කිරීමටත්, විශේෂයෙන්ම බඩගින්නේ සිටින අය, වෙනස්කමට, වෛරී ප්‍රකාශවලට සහ තර්ජනවලට ලක්වෙන පුද්ගලයන් සහ ප්‍රජාවන් නොසලකා කටයුතු කිරීමෙන් වළක්වා ගැනීටත් අත්‍යවශ්‍ය වේ. නිලධාරීන් විවේචනය කළ අනෙකුත් අය සහ රම්සි අත්අඩංගුවට ගැනීම අප හෙළා දැකිය යුතු වන්නේ මේ නිසාය. කොවිඩ්19 අර්බුදය සහ එහි ආර්ථික, සමාජ සහ දේශපාලන පැතිකඩ සම්බන්ධයෙන් කටයුතු කිරීමේ දී අදහස් ප්‍රකාශනයේ නිදහස ආරක්ෂා කිරීම අත්‍යවශ්‍ය එකකි. අදහස් ප්‍රකාශනයේ නිදහස ආරක්ෂා කිරීම තුළින්, මෙම අර්බුද සමයේ ජනතා විවේචන නිසා නිලධාරීන් සහ ආයතන ඔවුන් ගන්නා ක්‍රියාමාර්ග සම්බන්ධයෙන් වගවීමට ලක් කරන අතර, බලයේ සිටින පුද්ගලයන්ට ඒ නිසා කොයිතරම් අපහසුතා සිදු වුවත්, ඒ සඳහා පුරවැසියන්ට තමන්ගේ නිදහසෙන්, සෞඛ්‍යයෙන් සහ ජීවිතවලින් වන්දි ගෙවීමට සිදු නොවිය යුතුය. රම්සිගේ අත්අඩංගුවට විරුද්ධව අපි සියලු දෙනා හඬ නැගිය යුතු වන්නේ ද ඒ නිසාමය.

*(මෙම ලිපියට අදාල Foot Note සහිතව වැඩිදුර තොරතුරු සහ දත්තයන් සදහා පිවිසීමට මෙයට පිවිසෙන්න)

 

 

Freedom of Expression vs. Hate Speech, Fake and Misleading News

First published on 3rd May 2020 at https://groundviews.org/2020/05/03/freedom-of-expression-vs-hate-speech-fake-and-misleading-news/

Today, 3rd May, is World Press Freedom Day. It is a good day to assess state of Freedom of Expression, and we will focus on importance of ensuring freedom of expression while addressing hate speech, fake and misleading news, especially in context of COVID19.

The arrest of Ramzy Razeek

Ramzy was arrested on 9th April 2020 for some Facebook posts. Amongst the offending ones is believed be a post on 2nd April[i] in which he had called for an ideological jihad or ideological struggle, with “pen and keyboard”, through “social and mainstream media”, “on behalf of the county and all its citizens” and “to help people understand the truth” in context of “hate propagated against Muslims”.

Ramzy has regularly advocated against racism and extremism on Facebook, while advocating for inter-ethnic and inter-religious harmony, women’s rights and democracy. He has also been a regular critique of practices of some Muslims. Below are some of his posts this year:

  • On 1st April, he talked of persons living in hunger, and urged everyone to think of a neighbor who maybe hungry and do whatever is possible to assist them, and went on to say we must be ashamed as a nation if even one person goes hungry[ii].
  • On 18th March, he advocated with Muslims to offer the Batticaloa campus and large Mosques as place for screening in struggle against COVID19, based on teachings of Allah[iii].
  • On 17th March, he had warned of dangers of COVID19 being spread through Mosques[iv].
  • On 1st April, he had criticized the cremation of a Muslim COVID19 victim at a time Health Ministry guidelines allowed burials[v], but referring to reports of subsequently amended government regulations which made cremations compulsory[vi], he called on Muslims to accept cremations if its proved through health science that burials are bad for health or if the government has made a reasonable decision not to allow burials for public good[vii].
  • On 28th March, he referred to Muslims who are happy about spread of corona in the USA and Sinhalese who want to know about ethnicity of curfew violators as those carrying germs and should be quarantined[viii].
  • On 9th February, had said Muslim women are victimized by Sinhalese – Buddhist nationalists and fundamentalist Muslim Mullahs, and that both have no right to force Muslim women to wear any type of dress and that women must decide which part of her body to expose and cover[ix].
  • On 18th February, he highlights the importance of challenging unacceptable statements made by Muslim religious leaders about women, in context of debates about comments made by a Buddhist Monk about women’s roles[x].
  • On 11th March, he has advocated for dismantling patriarchal practices in Muslim society without giving in to Western feminism[xi].
  • On 16th February, he had said that those demanding an all Sinhalese parliament and all Muslim Urban Council are primitives who are rotting in same place[xii].
  • On 28th February, he questioned a video which was suggesting that Moulavis should not be questioned or criticized since if Moulavi’s go on strike then Jummah cannot be performed[xiii].
  • On 6th January, he criticizes USA’s killing of Iranian General Suleimani, while insisting that Suleimani is a war criminal responsible for killing of civilians in Iran, Iraq and Syria[xiv].

Death threats, self-censorship and arrest under the ICCPR Act

On 3rd April, Ramzy announced a self-censorship – that he will not make future posts related to politics or national problems in Sinhalese, as he doesn’t want to endanger his children’s life[xv]. He explained that some of the responses to his post on 2nd April had included death threats and calls for his arrest and that his eldest daughter had been traumatised and fearful after seeing these. That statement of self-censorship is the last visible post on his Facebook wall.

Ramzy has been remanded till 14th May 2020. His lawyer said that the Magistrate had asked the police to report whether there is actual grounds to arrest and remand him. According to his lawyers, the police had cited the ICCPR Act[xvi], that gives discretion for the police to arrest and detain a person and Magistrates don’t have discretion in providing bail. Last year, a writer arrested under the ICCPR Act was imprisoned for more than four (4) months until a High Court judge gave him bail[xvii].

We have not seen any post or comment by Ramzy that would amount to the propagation of war or advocating hatred leading to incitement to hostility, discrimination or violence which is prohibited by Article 3 (1) of the ICCPR Act. When arresting Ramzy, it appears the police has not considered the detailed recommendations by the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) on balancing the ICCPR Act provisions on hate speech with constitutional guarantees for free expression, six-point threshold test and the three-pronged test of legality, proportionality and necessity from Sri Lanka’s fundamental rights jurisprudence[xviii].

Some of Ramzy’s posts had generated heated debate online about extremism and inter-ethnic harmony. We have not seen any evidence however, that any of these debates have led to any hostility, discrimination or violence. Before being arrested, Ramzy himself had complained to the police about death threats, but it doesn’t seem that the police had taken any actions against those who made these death threats.

Ramzy’s health situation and conditions in detention

According to the family, Ramzy has serious medical concerns and had retired prematurely from his government job due to health complications. He needs daily medication, but at the time of arrest, he was told by arresting officers to bring only one day’s medicine and the family worries that he had been without medication now for more than 3 weeks. A person who was released from detention facility in Pallansena, Negombo (Gampaha district) reported that Ramzy is being detained in that detention facility and that he is undergoing extreme difficulties without the needed healthcare, accessible toilet and unhygienic conditions. The released person had reported severe overcrowding, with some detainees being below 18 years while others are adults. He says most are detained for drug related offenses. He also reports seeing a detainee being badly beaten by a jailer and says beatings of detainees by jailers is common. Another person who had been released from the same detention facility has reported through a video posted on Facebook about beatings, lack of hygienic conditions, difficulties to practice physical distancing and other COVID19 related protection measures[xix].

Other than the update from person released from the detention facility, the family has no information about Ramzy – they have not been given any opportunity to visit or talk with Ramzy since his arrest.  His lawyers had brought his health condition to the attention of the Magistrate, who had asked him to be given proper healthcare. Health concerns of Ramzy and detention conditions in the Pallansena detention facility has also been brought to the attention of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka on 18th April.

Double standards in dealing with hate speech, fake and misleading news                

A person who had criticized a government official was arrested and police had visited the home of a university student who had posted a comment critical of the government[xx]. A protester who had participated in a protest demanding government assistance was also arrested and detained[xxi] and another person was seen been arrested for speaking out against irregularities in distribution of Rs. 5,000[xxii]. Another right (8) persons were reported to have been arrested for criticizing a government official[xxiii]. In a letter dated 17 April, the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA), had complained to the Director General of Health Services about a Jaffna based Consultant Community Physician’s “controversial and racist previous history” and that he had expressed “views detrimental to the Health Department and Sri Lanka Army”[xxiv]. Some journalists in Batticaloa alleged that there were hate posts and comments against them on Facebook, due them reporting about injustice regarding the distribution of humanitarian assistance in the Batticaloa district, leading to the the Batticaloa District Tamil Journalists Association writing a letter to the President of Sri Lanka condemning the actions of local government officials and representatives[xxv].

Media reported on 17th March that Police was seeking to arrest 40 persons for spreading false information[xxvi] and there had been other reports that at least 17 had been arrested by 17th April[xxvii]. However, the process of such arrests appear to be discriminatory and target individuals who seem to be critical of the government with small outreach, whereas persons and institutions supporting the government, including media with massive outreach, seem to enjoy impunity, despite publishing false and misleading information and hate speech. Below are some examples:

  • The “Sunday Observer”, a leading state owned and controlled newspaper reported the Health Minister to have said that “by April 19 all possible COVID19 patients in Sri Lanka will appear and the people who had it without any symptoms or with mild symptoms will be completely recovered”[xxviii].
  • Another leading newspaper, “Lankadeepa”, published headlines on its front page quoting the Director General of Health Services as saying the risk of corona was over, but corrected this and offered an apology 2 days later, though with less prominence than the false headline[xxix].
  • The media group “Ada Derana” published a hugely misleading graph about numbers of COVID19 patients in Sri Lanka[xxx].
  • In early April, the Sri Lanka Tea Board reported that they had devised a plan to promote Ceylon black tea as a drink that could prevent COVID19 by improving the immune system, but the Director of the Sri Lanka Medical Research Institute was reported to have confirmed that there is no research on the benefits of drinking tea for COVID19 patients and that it cannot be touted as a preventive measure or a treatment in the case of Covid-19[xxxi].
  • On 21st March, the former Governor of Western Province and National List candidate for upcoming Parliament elections from the President’s Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna, Dr. Seetha Arambepola, was quoted as having said that the State Pharmaceutical Corporation had ample stocks of a secret medication for Corona, and that it could be used after approval from specialist doctors[xxxii].
  • On 2nd April, a gathering convened by health authorities for testing related to COVID19 in a Mosque was misinterpreted as the Mosque leaders calling people amidst the curfew and shared widely in social media[xxxiii].
  • In a TV program on Derana TV, the President of the Public Health Inspectors (PHIs) association and the host, Chathura Alwis, had implied patients from Nattandiya, Akurana and Beruwela are responsible for them and others not being able to celebrate the traditional Sinhalese and Tamil New year[xxxiv].
  • Chathura Alwis and some politicians had also been accused of racist remarks against Muslims during a talk show on Derana TV, including the intermission[xxxv].

There have been at least two striking examples of police taking actions on hate speech and fake news against Muslims. When a video of a religious service in a Mosque in 2019 was circulated in social media, implying that the religious service was held in March 2020 during curfew, with a large gathering of people, police had arrested two persons who had circulated this video[xxxvi]. However, it’s not known whether any action has been taken against “Hiru TV” which had also broadcasted this[xxxvii]. This news had provoked hostile comments against Muslims online. The police had also arrested a person who had circulated an audio clip, accusing Muslims of spitting on food items at supermarkets, sending Muslim women amongst Sinhalese men offering sexual intimacy and asking not to make purchases from Muslim businesses[xxxviii]. The person speaking on the audio clip had implied he was from intelligence agency, and that this was result of a briefing by intelligence personnel.

Limiting Freedom of Expression in a Democracy: The Need to Strike a Lawful Balance

The above was the title of a letter from the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) to the Acting Inspector General of Police on 25th April 2020[xxxix]. The letter noted a spate of recent arrests on the basis of statements made over social media and an increasing number of such arrests since the issuing of a letter on 1st April 2020 by the Media Division of the Police, which according to the HRCSL, clearly conveys the message that criticism of officials will not be tolerated.

The HRCSL has insisted that the right to comment on and criticize the performance of public officials or of anyone else or any policy is a fundamental aspect of a democratic society and that it is through criticism and commentary that we improve governance and strengthen democracy. Citing judgments of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka, the HRCSL had categorically stated that arrests for the mere criticism of public officials or policies would be unconstitutional.

The letter also recognized the urgent need to quell hate speech through the law, especially by invoking section 3 of the ICCPR Act against those who were attempting to incite religious division and hatred in the context of the current health crisis. The HRCSL said this must be done in a nondiscriminatory manner, in order to protect all communities and preserve peaceful co-existence among diverse communities.

The HRCSL had also recognized the need to lawfully curb misinformation that can cause panic and pose a serious threat to public order and public health, but emphasized that such arrests must be legally valid, must not be arbitrary and disproportionate and must not be carried out in a discriminatory manner. It had also pointed out that a careful differentiation must be made between genuine mistakes, statements made in good faith or the public interest and those statements that are intentionally calculated to cause mischief.

The police’s communique of 1st April appears to equate criticism and pointing out shortcomings with false news, hate speech and obstructing duties of officials, with an explicit threat to arrest and take legal action against those engaging in criticism.

Free expression and criticism is essential in crisis such as COVID19, to ensure voices and grievances of most vulnerable are heard – especially of persons and communities which are hungry, subjected to discrimination, hate speech and threats. The right to free expression is also crucial in fighting COVID19 and its spillover into economic, social, political crisis. Citizens should not have face reprisals for exercising their right to free expression and for holding public authorities accountable for their actions in this crisis, however inconvenient they may be to those in power.

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[i] https://www.facebook.com/ramzy.razeek.5/posts/3367204646642916

[ii] https://www.facebook.com/ramzy.razeek.5/posts/3364673773562670

[iii]https://www.facebook.com/ramzy.razeek.5/posts/3330483826981665

[iv] https://www.facebook.com/ramzy.razeek.5/posts/3328150383881676

[v] This was probably a reference to a Muslim who died on 29th March due to COVID19 who was reported to have been cremated on 30th March, and Ministry of Health guidelines dated 27th March 2020 which allowed burials.

[vi] Amendment of above regulations by Ministry of Health is reported to have been done on 31st March 2020, limiting disposing of dead COVID19 bodies to only cremation

[vii] https://www.facebook.com/ramzy.razeek.5/posts/3364071620289552

[viii] https://www.facebook.com/ramzy.razeek.5/posts/3355276837835697

[ix] https://www.facebook.com/ramzy.razeek.5/posts/3240121682684547

[x] https://www.facebook.com/ramzy.razeek.5/posts/3262977887065593

[xi] https://www.facebook.com/ramzy.razeek.5/posts/3313213948708653

[xii] https://www.facebook.com/ramzy.razeek.5/posts/3257933654236683

[xiii] https://www.facebook.com/ramzy.razeek.5/posts/3284983198198395

[xiv] https://www.facebook.com/ramzy.razeek.5/posts/3159181757445207

[xv] https://www.facebook.com/ramzy.razeek.5/posts/3369814303048617

[xvi] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Act no. 56 of 2007. This is the domestic incorporation in Sri Lanka through a parliamentary act, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, one of the nine core international human rights treaties, through which states commit to promote and protect a range of rights including freedom of expression. Sri Lanka is party to this international convention.

[xvii] http://www.ft.lk/news/Writer-Shakthika-released-on-bail/56-683408

[xviii] http://www.hrcsl.lk/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/LEGAL-ANALYSIS-OF-THE-SCOPE-OF-SECTION-3-OF-THE-ICCPR-ACT-NO.56-OF-2007-_-English.pdf

[xix] https://www.facebook.com/nuwan.nirodha.756/videos/168225927973393/

[xx] https://groundviews.org/2020/04/14/free-expression-hunger-and-racism-in-context-of-covid19/

[xxi] Ibid

[xxii] https://www.facebook.com/faiz.abdullah.12914/videos/772578029936890/

[xxiii] http://www.pagetamil.com/118642/

[xxiv] http://www.ft.lk/opinion/Free-speech-hate-speech-and-COVID-19-Why-are-we-silent/14-699164

[xxv]https://www.facebook.com/shashi.punniyamoothy/posts/3393571910670745 and https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=3710050712370176&set=a.544817275560218&type=3&theater

[xxvi] https://www.newsfirst.lk/2020/03/17/investigations-underway-to-arrest-40-suspects-for-spreading-fake-news-on-social-media/

[xxvii] http://www.dailymirror.lk/breaking_news/Another-woman-arrested-over-false-info-on-COVID-19/108-186761

[xxviii] http://www.sundayobserver.lk/2020/04/12/news/covid-19-hang-until-april-19%E2%80%93-pavithra

[xxix] https://www.facebook.com/ethicseye/posts/1125216077833448

[xxx] https://twitter.com/shiharaneez/status/1251536170585952261

[xxxi] http://www.themorning.lk/ceylon-tea-to-be-promoted-as-corona-blocker/

[xxxii] https://www.lankanewsweb.net/sinhala/127-general-news/58715-%E0%B6%9A%E0%B7%9C%E0%B6%BB%E0%B7%9D%E0%B6%B1%E0%B7%8F-%E0%B6%B8%E0%B6%A9%E0%B7%92%E0%B6%B1-%E0%B6%96%E0%B7%82%E0%B6%B0%E0%B6%BA%E0%B6%9A%E0%B7%8A-%E0%B6%AD%E0%B7%92%E0%B6%BA%E0%B6%B1%E0%B7%80%E0%B7%8F–%E0%B6%92%E0%B6%9A-%E0%B6%AD%E0%B7%8F%E0%B6%B8%E0%B6%AD%E0%B7%8A-%E0%B6%BB%E0%B7%84%E0%B7%83%E0%B6%9A%E0%B7%8A—%E0%B7%83%E0%B7%93%E0%B6%AD%E0%B7%8F-%E0%B6%85%E0%B6%BB%E0%B6%B9%E0%B7%99%E0%B6%B4%E0%B7%9C%E0%B6%BD

[xxxiii] https://factcheck.afp.com/misleading-claim-circulates-muslims-ignored-covid-19-curfew-sri-lankan-mosque

[xxxiv] https://www.lankanewsweb.net/sinhala/124-gossip/59970-%E0%B7%83%E0%B7%92%E0%B6%82%E0%B7%84%E0%B6%BD-%E0%B6%85%E0%B7%80%E0%B7%94%E0%B6%BB%E0%B7%94%E0%B6%AF%E0%B7%94-%E0%B6%9A%E0%B6%B1%E0%B7%8A%E0%B6%B1-%E0%B6%B1%E0%B7%90%E0%B6%AD%E0%B7%92%E0%B6%9A%E0%B7%85%E0%B7%9A-%E0%B6%B1%E0%B7%8F%E0%B6%AD%E0%B7%8A%E0%B6%AD%E0%B6%B1%E0%B7%8A%E0%B6%A9%E0%B7%92%E0%B6%BA–%E0%B6%85%E0%B6%9A%E0%B7%94%E0%B6%BB%E0%B6%AB–%E0%B6%B6%E0%B7%9A%E0%B6%BB%E0%B7%94%E0%B7%80%E0%B6%A7-3-%E0%B6%AF%E0%B7%99%E0%B6%B1%E0%B7%99%E0%B6%9A%E0%B7%8A–%E0%B6%B8%E0%B6%A7-%E0%B7%84%E0%B6%BB%E0%B7%92-%E0%B6%9A%E0%B7%9A%E0%B6%B1%E0%B7%8A%E0%B6%AD%E0%B7%92%E0%B6%BA%E0%B7%92—%E0%B6%AF%E0%B7%99%E0%B6%BB%E0%B7%99%E0%B6%B1-%E0%B6%A0%E0%B6%AD%E0%B7%94%E0%B6%BB

[xxxv] https://twitter.com/Welikumbura/status/1245366610451365889 and https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/derana-tv-chathuras-double-standards-exposed-citizens-enraged-over-racist-slurs-of-derana-tv-anchor/

[xxxvi] https://economynext.com/sri-lanka-police-arrests-two-suspects-over-fake-curfew-violation-video-63047/

[xxxvii] https://srilanka.factcrescendo.com/2020/03/30/fact-check-a-year-old-image-being-shared-as-recent-from-beruwala/

[xxxviii] http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=221142

[xxxix] http://www.hrcsl.lk/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Letter-to-IGP-Freedom-of-Expression.pdf

ප්‍රගීත් එක්නැළිගොඩ පැහැර ගෙන දස වසරකි: සත්‍යය සහ යුක්තිය සෙවූ ගමනක පිය සටහන්

First published on 24th January 2020 at https://sinhala.srilankabrief.org/2020/01/%e0%b6%b4%e0%b7%8a%e2%80%8d%e0%b6%bb%e0%b6%9c%e0%b7%93%e0%b6%ad%e0%b7%8a-%e0%b6%91%e0%b6%9a%e0%b7%8a%e0%b6%b1%e0%b7%90%e0%b7%85%e0%b7%92%e0%b6%9c%e0%b7%9c%e0%b6%a9-%e0%b6%b4%e0%b7%90%e0%b7%84%e0%b7%90/

අද 2020 ජනවාරි 24 දින මාධ්‍යවේදී සහ කාටූන් ශිල්පී ප්‍රගීත් එක්නැළිගොඩ අතුරුදහන් වී වසර 10 කි. ඔහුගේ බිරිඳ වන සන්ධ්‍යා එක්නැළිගොඩ සහ තරුණ පුතුන් දෙදෙනාගේ සත්‍යය සහ යුක්තිය උදෙසා වසර 10 ක අරගලය ද අද දින සනිටුහන් කරයි.

අපරාධ විමර්ශන දෙපාර්තමේන්තුව (සීඅයිඩී) හෝාගම මහේස්ත්‍රාත් අධිකරණයට කළ විමර්ශන වාර්තාවල දැක්වෙන්නේ එක්නැළිගොඩ කොළඹ දිස්ත්‍රික්කයේ රාජගිරියේ සිට හමුදා බුද්ධි අංශ නිලධාරීන් විසින් පැහැරගෙන ගොස් පොළොන්නරුව දිස්ත්‍රික්කයේ ගිරිතලේ හමුදා බුද්ධි කඳවුරට රැගෙන ගිය බවයි. එහිදී රාජපක්ෂ පවුලට, ජනාධිපති ගෝඨභය සහ හිටපු ජනාධිපති මහින්ද ඇතුළත්, සම්බන්ධ පොතක් ගැන ඔහුගෙන් ප්‍රශ්න කර තිබුණි. යුද හමුදා බුද්ධි අංශ සාමාජිකයින් ගණනාවක් සැකකරුවන් ලෙස අත්අඩංගුවට ගෙන ඇප මත මුදා හැර තිබේ. යුද හමුදාව අධිකරණයට, අසත්‍ය තොරතුරු සපයන බවත්, සාක්ෂි සන්තකයේ තිබෙන බව ප්‍රතික්ෂේප කරන බවත්, සාක්ෂි ඉදිරිපත් කිරීම ප්‍රමාද මින් විමර්ශන සහ අධිකරණ නොමඟ යවන බවත් රහස් පොලීසිය මෙන්ම නීතිපති දෙපාර්තමේන්තුව වෙනුවෙන් නඩුව මෙහෙයවන රජයේ නීතිවරයා දිගින් දිගටම කියා සිටි තිබේ. විමර්ශන සඳහා හමුදාවේ සහයෝගීතාවයේ අඩුවත් සහ සාක්ෂිකරුවන් බිය ගැන්වීම ද ඔවුන් විසින් වාර්තා කර තිබුණි. 2010 ජනවාරි 25 වන දින ගිරිතලේ කඳවුරේදී එක්නැළිගොඩව දැක ප්‍රශ්න කළ ප්‍රධාන සාක්ෂිකරුවෙක්, ගිරිතලේ කඳවුරෙන් තම ජීවිතයට හානි කිරීමේ කුමන්ත්‍රණයක් ඇතැයි පොීසියට පැමිණිලි කර තිබේ.

නඩු විභාගය

2010 ජනවාරි සිදු වූ පැහැරගෙන යාම පිළිබඳ නඩු විභාගය 2019 නොවැම්බරයේදී කොළඹ ත්‍රීපුද්ගල විශේෂ මහාධිකරණකදී ආරම්භ විය. විත්තිකරුවන් නව දෙනෙකුට එරෙහිව නඩු විාගය කෙරීගෙන යයි. ඊට ස්වාධීනව, 2009 දී ප්‍රගීත් පැහැරගෙන යාම සම්බන්ධයෙන් 2019 දෙසැම්බර් මාසයේදී හෝමගම මහාධිකරණයේ නඩු විභාගයක් ද ආරම්භ විය.

සුගීර්දරාජන්

ප්‍රගීත් පැහැර ගැනීමට වසර හතරකට පෙර, 2006 දී, ජනවාරි 24 වන දින, එස්එස්ආර් ලෙස ජනප්‍රිය ව සිටි දෙමළ භාෂා දිනපතා සුදර් ඔලී පුවත් පත වෙනුවෙන් සේවය කළ අර්ධකාලීන ප්‍රාදේශීය මාධ්‍යවේදියෙකු වූ සුගර්රාජන්, ඝාතනය කරන ලදී. ප්‍රගීත් මෙන් ඔහු දරුවන් දෙදෙනෙකුගේ පියෙකි. ඔහුට වෙඩි තබන ලද්දේ නැගෙනහිර ආණ්ඩුකාර කාර්යාලයේ සිට මීටර් 100 කට වඩා අඩු දුරකින් සහ ඔහුගේ නිවසේ සිට මීටර් 200 ක් පමණ දුරක දී ය. ඝාතනයට පෙර, එස්එස්ආර්ට අනාරක්ෂිත බවක් දැනී ඇති අතර වෙනත් ස්ථානයක ආරක්ෂිත නිවසක් සොයා ගැනීමට අවශ්‍ය වී තිබුණි.

එවැනි නිවසක් හදුනාගෙන තිබුණත් ඔහු පදිංචියට යාමට පෙර ඔහු මරා දමන ලදී. ඊට හේතුව, 2006 ජනවාරි 2 වන දින ත්‍රිකුණාමලය මුහුදු වෙරළේ දී ඝාතනය කරන ලද තරුණයන් 5 දෙනෙකුගේ ඡායාරූපයන් ය. එම ඝාතන දැන් “ත්‍රිකුණාමළයේ 5 දෙනාගේ නඩුව” ලෙස හැඳින්වේ. ඝාතනයෙන් පසු කිසිවෙකු, තරුණයින්ගේ පවුල් පවා මෘත ශරීරාගාරය වෙත යාම වැළැක්වීමට හමුදාව උත්සාහ කළ නමුත් එස්එස්ආර් ජනමාධ්‍යවේදියකු ලෙස එම අයිතිය ලබා ගත්තේ ය. ඔහු ගත් ඡායාරූප 2006 ජනවාරි 4 වන දින “සුදර් ඔලි” පුවත්පතෙහි පළ විය. ඒවායේ පැහැදිලිව හිසට තබන ලද වෙඩි පහරවල් දක්නට තිබුණි. එම නිසා තරුනයින්ට වෙඩි තබා ඝාතනය කර නොමැති බවට බලධාරීන් කළ ප්‍රකාශ බිඳ වැටුණි.

ඔහුගේ ඝාතනයට පෙර දින, ත්‍රිකුණාමල කලාපයේ ඊපීඩීපී ඇතුළු දෙමළ පැරාමිලිටරි කන්ඩායම් විසින් සිදුකරන ලද අපයෝජනයන් පිළිබඳව ද එස්එස්ආර් දීර් වශයෙන් වාර්තා කර තිබූ බව බව “දේශසීමා නැති වාර්තාකරුවන්” (ආර්එස්එෆ්) සංවිධානය සඳහන් කර තිබේ. ත්‍රිකුණාමලයේ එස්එස්ආර්ගේ මිතුරු මාධ්‍යවේදියෙකු පැවසුවේ ප්‍රවෘත්තිය ඇසූ විට තමා ද වහාම ඝාතනය සිදු වූ ස්ථානයට පැමිණ ගිය නමුත් පසුව, දේහයන් බැලීමට රෝහලට හෝ අවමංගල්‍ය කටයුතු සඳහා පවා යාමට බියක් ඇති වූ බවය.

දින දෙකකට පසු, ඔහුට “සතුරා විනාශ කරන බලවේගය” නම් කණ්ඩායමකින් ලිපියක් ලැබුණි. “න්නි කොටින්ටසහාය ලබා දීමට තැත් කරන බවට එම ලිපියෙන් ඔහුට චෝදනා කරමින් කියා තිබුණේ, එවැනි පුද්ගලයින් තිදෙනෙකු හඳුනාගෙන ඇති බවත්, ඉන් එක් පුද්ගලයෙකු වූ සුගර්රාජන් තීන්දුව ලබා දී ක්‍රියාත්මක කර ඇති බවත් . තව ද ඔහු දෙවැන්නා වනු ඇති බැවින් ඔහු දින ගණන් කරමිින් ජීවත් වන ලෙසත් අනතුරු හඟවා තිබුණි.

මරණ තර්ජන

2020 ජනවාරි 23 වන දින, මඩකලපුවේ නැගෙනහිර දිස්ත්‍රික්කයේ දෙමළ මාධ්‍යවේදින් හත් දෙනෙකුට මාර තර්ජනයක් එල්ල විය. ඔවුහු වහාම පොලිස් පැමිණිල්ලක් ඉදිරිපත් කළ නමුත් පොලිසිය කිසිදු ආරක්ෂාවක් ලබා දුන්නේ නැත. අදහස් ප්‍රකාශ කිරීමේ නිදහසට තර්ජනයක් වන සිදුවීම් 30 ක් පමණ 2019 දී මෙරමාධ්‍යයන්හි වාර්තා වී ඇත. ඒ අතර මාධ්‍යවේදීන් හා වේදිනියන්, මාධ්‍ය සේවකයින්, ලේඛකයින්, කලාකරුවන් අත්අඩංගුවට ගැනීම, ප්‍රශ්න කිරීම, පහරදීම්, තර්ජන, බිය ගැන්වීම් සහ සීමා කිරීම් සහ සහ මාධ්‍ය කාර්යාල වැටලීම් ද වෙයි.

එසේම 2019 දී හිටපු ජනාධිපතිවරයාගේ පාලන සමයේදී රජය සතු රූපවාහිනි නාලිකාව වන “රූපවහිනි” ආරක්ෂක අමාත්‍යාංශය යටතට ගත් බව වාර්තා වූ අතර අයිසීසීපීආර් පනත ලේඛකයින්ට එරෙහිව භාවිත කරමින් ඉදිරියටත් එසේ කරන බවට තර්ජනයන් ද කෙරුණි. ජනාධිපතිවරණයෙන් පසු දැන් ස්වයං වාරණය නැවත මතුව තිබේ.

නව අභියෝග

ප්‍රගීත්ට යුක්තිය සොයා යාමේහි යම් ප්‍රගතියක් සිදුවී ඇතත්, මේ වන විට ආරම්භ වී ඇති නඩු විභාග දෙක තුළින් ලබා ඇති ප්‍රගතිය නොනැසී පවතිනු ඇත්දැයි අවිනිශ්චිතතාවයක් සහ බියක්ඇති වී තිබේ. නඩු විභාගය ආරම්භ කිරීමට හැකිවන පරිදි හෝමගම උසාවි වෙත විමර්ශන සහ වාර්තා ඉදිරිපත් කළ රහස් පොලිසියෙහි 2019 නොවැම්බරයේ පැවති ජනාධිපතිවරණයෙන් පසුව, විශාල වෙනස්කම් සිදු කර තිබේ. රහස් පොලසියේ ඉහළ පෙළේ විමර්ශකයෙකු රටින් පලා ගොස් ඇති අතර රහස් පොලසියේ අධ්‍යක්ෂකවරයා මාරු කර යවන ලදී. ජනාධිපතිවරණ ප්‍රචාරක ව්‍යාපාරය තුළ දී වත්මන් ජනාධිපතිවරයා සියලු රණවිරුවන් නිදහස් කරන බවට ප්‍රතිඥා දී තිබුණි.

එක්නැළිගොඩ හා සසඳන විට, එක්නැළිගොඩ අතුරුදහන් වීමට වසර හතරකට පෙර ඝාතනය කරන ලද සුගර්රාජන් පිළිබඳ ජාතික හා ජාත්‍යන්තර උනන්දුවක් ඇත්තේ අල්ප වශයෙන් බව කිව යුතු ය. ඉදින්, විමර්ශනයන්හි ප්‍රගතියක් සහ අත්අඩංගුවට ගැනීමක් නොමැති වීම පුදුමයට කරුණක් නොවේ. වෙනත් මාධ්‍යවේදීන් ඝාතනය කිරීම් සහ දස දහස් ගණනක් ශ්‍රී ලාංකිකයන් අතුරුදහන් වීම සම්බන්ධයෙන් මෙන්ම සුගර්රාජන් වෙනුවෙන් යුක්තිය ඉටුවනු වනු ඇතියි සිතීම උගහට .

ගෝටාභය ප්‍රකාශය

2020 ජනවාරි 17 වන දින, නව ජනාධිපතිවරයා, හිටපු අගමැති රනිල් වික්‍රමසිංහගේ අඩිපාරේ යමින්, අතුරුදහන් වූ ශ්‍රී ලාංකිකයන් මියගොස් ඇති බවට අනියම්, සංවේදී හා වගකීම් විරහිත ප්‍රකාශක් ළේ ය. එමගින් පවුල්වලට එම අතුරුදහන් වූ අය මිය ගියේ කෙසේ ද, කොහි දී , කවදා ද සහ කාගේ අතින් ද යන්න පිළිබඳ විස්තර සැපයෙන්නේ නැත. ඔහු, නව ජනාධිපති ගෝඨාභය රාජපක්ෂ, අතුරුදහන් වූවන්ගේ පවුල්වල උත්සාහයන් නොසලකා හරින බවක් පෙනේ. සමහර දෙමළ පවුල් වසර තුනකට ආසන්න කාලයක් තිස්සේ උතුරේ වීදි දෙපස උද්ඝෝෂනයන්හි යෙදී සිටිති, තවත් සමහරු උතුරේ සහ දකුණේ අධිකරණ ක්‍රියාමාර්ගයන්ට එළඹ ඇත. අයෙක් හිටපු ජනාධිපති ඇතුළු දේශපාලන නායකයන් සමඟ සාකච්ඡා පැවැත්වූහ. මේ ජනයා අතුරුදහන් වූ ඔවුන්ගේ පුතුන්, දියණියන්, සහෝදරයන්, සහෝදරියන්, ස්වාමිපුරුෂයන් සහ මුනුබුරු මිනිබිරියන් ගැන සත්‍යය දැන ගැනීම සඳහා විවිධ මුල පිරීම්වල නිරත වූහ.

ජනාධිපතිවරයා තොරාගෙන ඇත්තේ මේ බව අතුරුදහන්වූවන්ගේ පවුල් වලට නොව එක්සත් ජාතීන්ගේ මෙරට නේවාසික සම්බන්ධීකාරකවරියට පැවසීමට . “ඔවුන්ගෙන් වැඩි දෙනෙක් එල්ටීටීඊය විසින් බලහත්කාරයෙන් අල්ලාගෙන හෝ බලහත්කාරයෙන් බඳවාගෙන තිබෙනවා” යනුවෙන් ද ජනාධිපතිවරයා පවසයි. එල්ටීටීඊය බොහෝ දෙනෙකු රැගෙන ගොස් ඇති බව සත්‍යයකි, නමුත් අතුරුදහන් වූ බොහෝ අයගේ පවුල් සිය පවුලේ සාමාජිකයන් සහ ඔවුන් දන්නා අනෙක් අය යුද්ධය අවසානයේ යටත් වීමෙන් පසු හමුදාව විසින් රැගෙන නු පෞද්ගලිකව දැක ඇත. මෙළෙස ගෙන ගිය අය අතරට ළමයින් සහ කතෝලික පූජකවරයෙක් ද ඇතුළත් ය. ඔවුන් මේ බව ප්‍රකාශ කර ඇත්තේ ගෝඨාභයගේ සහෝදරයා වන මහින්ද රාජපක්ෂ විසින් පත් කරන ලද ජනාධිපති විමර්ශන කොමිෂන් සභාවලට සහ ශ්‍රී ලංකා අධිකරණවල දී. ‍

මරණ සහතික නිකුත් කරන බවට ජනාධිපතිවරයාගේ ප්‍රකාශය ද කණස්සල්ලට හේතු වෙයි. මන්ද යත්, පවුල්වලට මරණ සහතික ලබා ගැනීමට අවශ්‍ය වන්නේ, තම පවුලේ සාමාජිකයා මියගොස් ඇති බව ස්ථිරවම දැන ගැනීමෙන් පසුව නාසා ය. එනම් සිරුර දැකීමෙන්, දේහයේ ඉතිරි කොටස් හි අනන්‍යතාවය තහවුරු කර ගැනීමෙන් හෝ මිය ගියේ කෙසේ දැයි දැන ගැනීමෙන් පසුව ය. නාධිපතිවරයාගේ එකී ප්‍රකාශය, 2010, අංක 19 දරන මරණ ලියා පදිංචි කිරීමේ ( තාවකාලික විධි විධාන) පනත, අතුරුදහන්වූවන්ගේ ඉරණම සම්බන්ධයෙන් කරුණූ තහවුරුවන තුරු නොපැමිණීමේ සහතික (“certificates of absence”) ලබා දීමට හැකිවන සේ 2016 දී කරන ලද සංසෝධනය ආපසු හැරවීමකි.

බලාපොරොත්තුවේ ලකුණූ

මෙම අඳුරු වාතාවරණය තුළ, බලාපොරොත්තුවේ සංඥා ද තිබේ. ජනමාධ්‍යවේදීහු සහ වෙනත් අය අසීරු සත්‍යයන් හෙළිදරව් කරති. අසීරු ප්‍රශ්න අසීමින් බලවත් හා ධනවතුන්ට අභියෝග කිරීනඅතරම සහ දූෂණය, හමුදාකරණය, පාරිසරික ගැටලු, ආගමික මර්දනය සහ අතීත සහ අඛණ්ඩව සිදුවන අපයෝජනයන් දිගටම හෙළිදරව් කරති. ජනමාධ්‍ය නිදහස් සංවිධාන විසින් ජනවාරි 28 වන දින වාර්ෂිකව පැවැත්වෙන “කළු ජනවාරි” සැමරුම මෙවර ද සංවිධානය කර තිබේ. භීතීන් නොතකා, අභියෝග කිරීමත් සහ විරුද්ධකම් පෑමත් ජීවමාන . එය පෝෂණය කළ යුතුය.

ප්‍රගීත් එක්නෙලිගොඩගේ බිරිඳ, සන්ධ්‍යා එක්නැළිගොඩ යනු ප්‍රතික්ෂේප කිරීම, විරුද්ධකම් දැක්වීම සහ යුක්තිය පිළිබඳ අපේක්ෂාවන්ගේ නිරූපකයකි. බල රහිතයන්ගේ දුර්වලතා ජය ගන්නා, අවදානමට ලක් වූවන්ගේ බලයේ සංකේතයකි.

ඇය තමාට හා දරුවන්ට එල්ල වූ මරණීය තර්ජන, බිය ගැන්වීම්, සත්‍යය සහ යුක්තිය ලබා ගැනීමට දරණ ප්‍රයත්නයන් අපකීර්තියට පතකිරීම යනාදිය නෙබා නැගී සිටී. ඇයට එරෙහිව පොදු ස්ථානවල සතුරු පෝස්ටර් අලවා තිබුණි. අඇය අන්තර්ජාලයෙහි දරුණු ප්‍රහාරයන්ට ලක් ව ඇත. 2012 දී පමණ නීතිපති දෙපාර්තමේන්තුවේ නියෝජ්‍ය සොලිසිටර් ජෙනරාල්වරියකු විසින් උසාවියේදී ඇය තම සැමියා වෙනුවෙන් සත්‍යය සහ යුක්තිය සෙවීම රට අපකීර්තියට පත් කරන බව අඟවමින් දැඩි ප්‍රශ්න කිරීම් වලට ලක් කරනු ලැබුවාය.

වධහිංසාවට එරෙහි එක්සත් ජාතීන්ගේ කමිටුවේ එවකට රජයේ නියෝජිත කණ්ඩායමේ ප්‍රධානියා වූ මොහාන් පීරිස් මහතා ප්‍රගීත් විදේශගතව සිටින බව ප්‍රකාශ කළ විට, සන්ධ්‍යා කමිටුවට ලිපියක් යවමින් ඒ බව වැඩිදුර පරීක්ෂා කිරීම සඳහා ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේදී පීරිස් මහතා උසාවියේදී සාක්ෂි දීමට කැවිය යුත බවට බල කළා ය. යුද හමුදා බුද්ධි අංශවල (සහ ඔවුන්ගේ ආධාරකරුවන්ගේ) සැකකරුවන්ගේ සහ චූදිතයන්ගේ සතුරුකම් නොතකා ඇය 100 වතාවකට වඩා සමහර විට තනිවම, උසාවියේ පෙනී සිට ඇත. බෞද්ධ භික්ෂුවක් වන බොදු බාල සේනා නායක ගලබොඩ අත්තෙ ඥණසාර හිමි විසින් ඇයට උසාවිය තුළදී තර්ජනය කළ විට ඇය පොලසියට පැමිණිලි කළ අතර පසුව නඩුව “සමථයකට” පත් කිරීමට ගත් උත්සාහයන්ට විරුද්ධ විය. එවකට සිටි මහේස්ත්‍රාත්වරයා ද එදින උසාවියේ දී භික්ෂුවගේ හැසිරීම ගැන පැමිණිලි කළ අතර භික්ෂුව නඩු දෙකම සම්බන්ධයෙන් වරදකරු කරනු ලැබීය. හිටපු ජනාධිපතිවරයා එකී භික්ෂුවට සමාව දුන් නමුත් සන්ධ්‍යා දැන් එම සමාව දීම අධිකරණය හමුවෙහි අභියෝගය කර තිබේ.

සන්ධ්‍යා නම් උදා තරුව

මවක් සහ බිරිඳක් ලෙස සන්ධ්‍යා එවකට ජනාධිපති මහින්ද රාජපක්ෂගේ බිරිඳට ලිපියක් යවමින් ප්‍රගීත් සොයා ගැනීමට ජනාධිපති ආර්යාවගේ මැදිහත්වීම ඉල්ලා සිටියේය. ඇය තම යෞවන පුතා සමඟ පාර්ලිමේන්තුවෙන් පිටත සිටගෙන පාර්ලිමේන්තු මන්ත්‍රීවරුන්ට අභියාචනා බෙදා දුන්නාය. ඇය සහ ඇගේ පුතා ගාලු සාහිත්‍ය උළෙලට ගොස් ලේඛකයින්ට ආයාචනා කළහ. ඇය කොළඹ බොහෝ විරෝධතා හා සුපරීක්ෂාකාරී සංවිධාන සංවිධානය කිරීමට මූලිකත්වය ගත්තාය. විමර්ශකයින්, නීතිපති දෙපාර්තමේන්තුව සහ උසාවි සමඟ හමුදාව සහයෝගය නොදක්වන බව පැහැදිලි වූ විට, සන්ධ්‍යා එවකට යුධ හමුදාපතිවරයා හමුවී උපකාර ඉල්ලා සිටියේය.

සත්‍යය සහ යුක්තිය සෙවීම සඳහා ජාත්‍යන්තර සහයෝගය ජනනය කිරීම සඳහා ඇය රාජ්‍ය තාන්ත්‍රිකයින්, එක්සත් ජාතීන්ගේ නිලධාරීන්, ජාත්‍යන්තර සංවිධාන සහ විදේශීය මාධ්‍යවේදීන් හමුවූවා ය. ඇය ඔහුගේ ලිපි සහ කාටූන් සමඟ පොත් ප්‍රකාශයට පත් කිරීමට ප්‍රගීත්ගේ මිතුරන් හා අදාළ පුද්ගලයින් සමඟ වැඩ කළාය. ඇයගේ අරගලවලදී අතුරුදහන් වූ දෙමළ පවුල්වලට සහයෝගය දැක්වූ ඇය, උතුරේ විරෝධතාවලට පැමිණ ඔවුන් හා එක්වීම සහ ඇයගේම වැඩ වලදී ඔවුන්ගේ අරගල ගැන කතා කළා ය. මේ සියල්ල සමඟම, අතුරුදහන් වූ පියාගේ හිඩැස පිරවීමට උත්සාහ කරමින් ඇගේ යෞවන පුතුන් දෙදෙනා, දැන් තරුණ වැඩිහිටියන් බවට ඇති දැඩි කිරීමට ද ඇයට සිදු විය.

මම කවදාවත් ප්‍රගීත්ව පෞද්ගලිකව දැන නොසිටියෙමි. එසේ වතුදු පසුගිය අවුරුදු දහය තුළ මම සන්ධ්‍යා සමඟ සැලකිය යුතු කාලයක් ගත කර ඇත්තෙමි. බොහෝ විට මම ඇය සමඟ වීදි පහන් පූජා, විරෝධතා, ආගමික උත්සව කොළඹ දී පමණක් නොව උතුරේ ද අතුරුදහන් වූ දෙමළ පවුල් සමඟ උසාවිවල දී , සම්මන්ත්‍රණවල දී , රැස්වීම්වල දී එක්සත් ජාතීන්ගේ සංවිධානයේ සහ රාජ්‍ය තාන්ත්‍රිකයන් සමඟ විදේශීය මාධ්‍යවේදීන් සමඟ ද සම්බන්ධ වී ඇත්තෙමි. සමහර විට ඇය වෙනුවෙන් පරිවර්ථනයන්ළෙමි. ඒ වගේම ඇගේ ගෙදර දී.

සන්ධ්‍යා සමඟ වසර දහයක් තිස්සේ ඇසුරු කිරීම ඉතා අභියෝගාත්මක ය. ඇගේ ශක්තිය, ක්‍රියාශීලීත්වය හා නිතය ලෙස කැරෙන මුලපිරීම්, ධෛර්යය, අධිෂ්ඨානය ගමන් කිරීම දුෂ්කර තරම් . එසේ වෙතත් මේ වනාහී ක්‍රියාකාරිකයෙකු ලෙස මා ලද වඩාත්ම තෘප්තිය ලබා දෙන සහ ප්‍රබෝධමත් අත්දැකීමක් විය.

(ඉංග්‍රිසියෙන් ලියන ලද ලිපියක සිංහලානුවාදය ශ්‍රී ලංකා බ්‍රීෆ් වෙතිනි)

எக்னலிகொட, சுகிர்தராஜன், ஜனவரி 24

First published on 28th January 2020 at https://maatram.org/?p=8309

பல வருடங்களாக இலங்கையில் சுதந்திர ஊடக இயக்கம் மற்றும் சுதந்திரமாக கருத்துகளை வெளிப்படுத்துபவர்கள் ஜனவரி மாதத்தை “கறுப்பு ஜனவரி” என்று பெயரிட்டுள்ளனர். ஜனவரி மாதத்தில் பல்வேறு ஊடகவியலாளர்கள் கொல்லப்பட்டமை, காணாமல் ஆக்கப்பட்டமை, துன்புறுத்தல்கள் மட்டுமன்றி ஊடக நிறுவனங்களுக்கு தாக்குதல்கள் நடாத்தப்பட்டமை அதிக அளவில் இடம்பெற்றதாலேயே கறுப்பு ஜனவரி என்று குறிப்பிடுகிறார்கள்.

ஜனவரி 24ஆம் திகதி அத்தகையதொரு கறுப்பு நாளாகும். திருகோணமலையை வதிவிடமாக கொண்ட தமிழ் ஊடகவியலாளராகிய சுப்ரமணியம் சுகிர்தராஜன் 2006ஆம் ஆண்டு ஜனவரிள மாதம் 24ஆம் திகதியன்று சுட்டுக் கொல்லப்பட்டார். கொழும்பை வதிவிடமாக கொண்ட சிங்கள கேலிச்சித்திர (கார்டூன்) கலைஞரும் ஊடகவியலாளருமான பிரகீத் எக்னலிகொட 2010ஆம் ஆண்டு ஜனவரி மாதம் 24ஆம் திகதி காணாமலாக்கப்பட்டார்.

நினைவிலிருந்து மங்கிவிடும் பத்திரிகையாளரின் கொலை: சுப்ரமணியம் சுகிர்தராஜன்

SSR என்று அழைக்கப்படும் பிரபலமான ஊடகவியலாளரான சுகிர்தராஜன் தமிழ் மொழி தினசரி சுடர் ஒளி பத்திரிகையின் பகுதி நேர மாகாண மட்டத்திலான பத்திரகையாளராக பணிபுரிந்தார். இவர் இரண்டு குழந்தைகளின் தந்தையாவார். SSR இன் நண்பரும் ஊடகவியலாளருமான ஒருவர் SSR சுட்டுக் கொலை செய்யப்பட்ட இடத்திற்கு என்னை அழைத்துச்சென்றார். அது கிழக்கு மாகாண ஆளுநர் அலுவலகத்திலிருந்து 100 மீற்றர் தொலைவிலும், ஆளுநர் வீட்டிலிருந்து 200 மீற்றர் தொலைவிலும் இருந்தது. கடந்த சில தினங்களாக தான் பாதுகாப்பற்ற தன்மையை உணர்வதாகவும், அதனால்தான் தனக்கு பாதுகாப்பான வீடொன்றை தேடிக்கொண்டிருப்பதாகவும் ஒரு ஊடகவியலாளரான என்னுடைய நண்பர் ஒருவர் கூறினார். உண்மையில் வீடொன்று கிடைக்கப்பெற்றபோதிலும் அங்கு செல்வதற்கு முன்பே சுகிர்தராஜன் கொலை செய்யப்பட்டுவிட்டார். நான் பேசிய அனைவரும் தெரிவித்தது யாதெனில் அவரது படுகொலைக்கு முக்கிய காரணம் “திருக்கோணமலை 5 வழக்கு” எனப்படும் பிரசித்தமான 2006ஆம் ஆண்டு ஜனவரி 2ஆம் திகதி திருக்கோணமலை கடற்கரையில் கொலை செய்யப்பட்ட 5 இளைஞர்களின் புகைப்படத்தை எடுத்ததாலாகும். எனக்குத் தெரிந்த SSR இன் இன்னுமொரு நண்பர், ஜனவரி மாதம் 2ஆம் திகதி அதிகாலை SSR தமக்கு சவக்கிடங்கில் வைக்கப்பட்டுள்ள திருக்கோணமலை கடற்கரையில் கொலை செய்யப்பட்ட 5 இளைஞர்களின் புகைப்படங்களை எடுக்க விரும்புவதாகக் கூறியுள்ளார்.

எனக்குத் தெரிந்த அந்த நண்பர் SSR ஐ புகைப்பட கருவியுடன் வைத்தியசாலையில் கொண்டுசேர்த்துள்ளார். அவரைப் பொறுத்தவரையில் இராணுவம் எவரையும் குறிப்பாக, குடும்ப அங்கத்தவர்களை கூட சவக்கிடங்கிற்கு சென்று சடலங்களை பார்ப்பதற்கு அனுமதி வழங்கவில்லை. ஆனால், SSR பிடிவாதமாக சென்று படம் பிடித்துள்ளார். அவர் எடுத்த புகைப்படங்கள் 2006ஆம் ஆண்டு ஜனவரி 4ஆம் திகதி சுடர் ஒளி பத்திரிகையில் வெளியாகியுள்ளது. இளைஞர்கள் சுட்டுக்கொலை செய்யப்படாத வகையில் வெளியாகியிருந்த புகைப்படங்களை கேள்விக்குட்படுத்தும் வண்ணம் அவர்களின் உடலில் துப்பாக்கி சூட்டு அடையாளங்கள் காணப்படும் புகைப்படங்களை SSR எடுத்திருந்தார். இதன் மூலம் இளைஞர்கள் சுட்டு கொலை செய்யப்படவில்லை என்ற கருத்தை மறுத்தனர். எல்லைகளற்ற ஊடகவியலாளர் அமைப்பு குறிப்பிட்டுள்ளதன் படி, அவர் கொலை செய்யப்படுவதற்கு முதல் நாள் திருகோணமலை பிராந்தியத்தின் ஈ.பி.டி.பி. உட்பட நாடாளுமன்ற உறுப்பினர்களின் துன்புறுத்தல்கள், சித்திரவதைகள் நடவடிக்கைகள் தொடர்பாக அறிக்கையிட்டுள்ளார்.

திருகோணமலையை வதிவிடமாக கொண்ட SSR இன் ஊடகவியலாளர் நண்பர் ஒருவர் தனக்கும் SSRக்கும் இடையிலான தொடர்பு பற்றியும் அவர் கொலை செய்யப்பட்டதற்கு பின்னர் உள்ள சூழ்நிலை பற்றியும் என்னுடன் பேசினார். SSR அவர்களின் கொலை சம்பவம் தெரிந்த உடனேயே தன்னிச்சையாக அவர் கொலை செய்யப்பட்ட இடத்திற்குச் சென்றதாகக் கூறினார். ஆனாலும், பின்னர் அவரின் உடலைப் பார்க்கவோ, இறுதி சடங்கில் கலந்துக்கொள்வதற்கோ, வைத்தியசாலைக்குச் செல்வதற்கோ தமக்குப் பயமாக இருந்ததாகக் கூறினார். இரண்டு நாட்களுக்குப் பிறகு “எதிரிகளை அழிக்கும் படை” என்ற குழுவிடமிருந்து தனக்கும் ஒரு கடிதம் வந்ததாகக் கூறினார். அந்தக் கடிதத்தில் வன்னி புலிப் பயங்கரவாதிகளுக்காக தான் பிரச்சார நடவடிக்கைகளில் ஈடுபடுவதாக குற்றம் சாட்டப்பட்டிருந்தது என்றும், அவ்வாறான 3 நபர்கள் இனங்காணப்பட்டுள்ளனர் என்றும், அதில் ஒரு நபராகிய சுகிர்தராஜனுக்கான தீர்ப்பை நடைமுறைப்படுத்தியுள்ளதாகவும் குறிப்பிட்டு, அடுத்து தனக்கும் இதே தீர்ப்பு வழங்கப்படும் என்றும், அதற்கான நாட்களை கணித்துக்கொண்டிருப்பதாகவும் அக்கடிதத்தில் அச்சுறுத்தப்பட்டிருந்தது என்று கூறினார்.

ஊடகவியலாளர் காணாமல் ஆக்கப்படுதல்: பிரகீத் எக்நெலிகொட

SSR போன்றே பிரகீத் எக்னலிகொடவும் தனது கார்ட்டூன் சித்திரங்கள் மற்றும் கடிதங்கள் மூலமும் பல்வேறு விவகாரங்கள் மற்றும் வெளிப்படுத்தல்களை செய்தமைக்காக அதனோடு தொடர்புடைய நபர்களின் விமர்சனங்களுக்கு உள்ளாக்கப்பட்ட நபராவார். எக்னலிகொட இரு மகன்களின் தந்தையாவார். குற்றவியல் விசாரணை திணைக்களம் ஊடாக நீதிமன்றத்திற்கு சமர்ப்பிக்கப்பட்ட அறிக்கைகளுக்கு அமைய எக்னலிகொட கொழும்பு மாவட்ட ராஜகிரிய பிரதேசத்தில் வைத்து இராணுவ புலனாய்வு பிரிவால் கடத்தப்பட்டு கிரிதல புலனாய்வு பிரிவுக்குக் கொண்டுசெல்லப்பட்டார். அவர் அப்போதைய ஜனாதிபதி மஹிந்த ராஜபக்‌ஷவின் குடும்பம் தொடர்பாக எழுதிய புத்தகம் தொடர்பாகவே அவரிடம் விசாரணை நடாத்தப்பட்டது. குற்றவியல் விசாரணை திணைக்களத்தின் ஊடாக நடாத்தப்பட்ட விசாரணை அறிக்கைகளுக்கமைய, கடத்தல் சம்பவத்தில் ஈடுபட்ட நபர்கள் எந்தவொரு குறிப்புக்களையும், பதிவுகளையும் மேற்கொள்ளாமல் பிரகீத் எக்னலிகொடவை 25ஆம் திகதி தொடக்கம் 27ஆம் திகதி மாலை வரை அக்கரைப்பற்று பிரதேசத்தில் இருந்து கிரிதல வரை கொண்டுசென்றிருக்கிறார்கள்.

சட்டமா அதிபர் திணைக்களத்திற்காக இந்த வழக்கைத் தாக்கல் செய்த குற்றவியல் விசாரணை திணைக்களம் மற்றும் அரச சட்டத்தரணிகளால் மீண்டும் மீண்டும் நீதிமன்றத்தில் தெரிவிக்கப்பட்டது யாதெனில், இராணுவம் தவறான தகவல்களை வழங்குவதாகவும், சாட்சிகள் இருப்பதை மறுதலிப்பதாகவும், சாட்சி வழங்குவதை காலம் கடத்துவதாகவும், விசாரணை நடவடிக்கைகள் அனைத்தும் நீதித் துறையை தவறாக வழிநடத்துகிறது என்பதாகும். விசாரணை நடவடிக்கைகளுக்கு இராணுவம் குறைந்தபட்ச ஒத்துழைப்பை வழங்குவதோடு தடைகளை ஏற்படுத்துவது மற்றும் சாட்சியாளர்களுக்கு அச்சுறுத்தல் விடுப்பதாகவும் அவர்கள் கூறுகிறார்கள். 2010.01.25 அன்று எக்னலிகொடவை கிரிதல இராணுவ முகாமில் தான் கண்டார் என சாட்சியமளித்த நபர் பின்னர் கிரிதல இராணுவ முகாமிலிருந்து தனக்கு உயிர் அச்சுறுத்தல் ஏற்படுத்துவதற்கு சதித் திட்டம் தீட்டப்படுவதாக பொலிஸில் முறைப்பாடு செய்திருந்தார்.

எக்னலிகொட காணாமல் ஆக்கப்பட்ட சம்பவத்துக்கு நீதிகோரி போராடிவரும் அவரின் மனைவி திருமதி. எக்னெலிகொடவுக்கு எதிராக சுவரொட்டி மற்றும் துண்டுப்பிரசுரம் ஆகியன பிரசித்தமான இடங்களில் காட்சிப்படுத்தப்பட்டிருந்தன. சந்தேகத்தின் பேரில் கைது செய்யப்பட்டு பிணையில் விடுதலைசெய்யப்பட்ட அதிகாரிகளின் எதிர்ப்பையும் பொருட்படுத்தாது, அந்தப் பெண் நீதிமன்றத்தின் மேல் முழு நம்பிக்கை வைத்து தனியாக நீதிமன்றத்திற்கு 100 தடவைக்கு அதிகமாகவும் சென்றுள்ளார். எக்னலிகொட காணாமலாக்கப்பட்ட சம்பவத்துடன் தொடர்புடைய சந்தேகநபர்களுக்கு ஆதரவாக இருப்பவர்கள் மூலமாகவும் அந்தப் பெண்ணுக்கு எதிர்ப்புகள் ஏற்பட்டபோது அது தொடர்பாக அவர் பொலிஸ் நிலையத்தில் முறைப்பாடு செய்திருந்தார். இதில் ஒரு முறைப்பாடு பொதுபலசேனா அமைப்பின் தலைவர் கலபொட அத்தே ஞானசார தேரருக்கு எதிரானதாகும்.

கருத்துச் சுதந்திரம்

நான் உணர்ந்த விதத்தில் இலங்கையில் தற்போதைய காலகட்டத்தில் இடம்பெறுவனவற்றைக் குறிப்பிடாமல் இந்த கட்டுரை முழுமை அடையாது போய்விடும். நான் 2017ஆம் ஆண்டு கேள்வி எழுப்பிய சில சம்பவங்களை இதன் ஊடாக குறிப்பிடுவதற்கு முயல்கின்றேன். கொழும்பில் மற்றும் அதனை அண்மித்த சிறைச்சாலைகளில் நடாத்தப்பட்ட கூட்டுப் படுகொலைகளுக்கு எதிராக செயற்படுத்தி வந்த அமைப்பைச் சேர்ந்த ஒருவரின் வீட்டின் மீது துப்பாக்கிச்சூடு நடாத்தப்பட்டமை, இனம்தெரியாத நபர்களினால் மனித உரிமைகள் தொடர்பான சட்டத்தரணி ஒருவருக்கு தொலைபேசி அழைப்பு ஏற்படுத்தி கொலை மிரட்டல் விடுத்தமை மற்றும் சிறுபான்மையினரின் மதங்களுக்கு எதிராக மேற்கொள்ளப்படுகின்ற இன்னல்களுக்கு எதிராக செயற்பட்டு வந்த சடத்தரணி ஒருவரை நீதித்துறை அமைச்சர் மிரட்டல் விடுதல், பல மாதங்களாக தொழிற்சங்க வேலை நிறுத்த நடவடிக்கையில் ஈடுபட்டிருந்த தொழிற்சங்கத் தலைவரை ஒருவரைக் கடத்திசென்றமை, முன்பு நடந்த யுத்தத்தினால் வட மாகாணம் அழிவுக்கு உட்படுத்தபடுத்தப்பட்டமை, போராட்டத்தில் ஈடுபட்டு வந்த காணாமல் ஆக்கப்பட்டவரின் மனைவியொருவருக்கு அழுத்தங்கள் பிரயோகித்தமை, யுத்தத்தின் காரணமாக இறந்தவர்களின் நினைவேந்தல் செய்வதை நிறுத்துதல் மற்றும் ஏற்பாட்டாளர்களை தொந்தரவுக்கு உள்ளாக்குதல் மற்றும் விசாரணைக்கு உட்படுத்தல் மற்றும் அரச நிறுவனமொன்றை புகைப்படம் எடுத்தமை தொடர்பாக இளைஞர்களை அழைத்து விசாரணை செய்து மிரட்டியமை,  ஊடக வியலாளர்களை விசாரணைகளுக்காக அழைத்தல் மற்றும் காணாமலாக்கப்பட்டவர்கள் தொடர்பாகவும் இராணுவமயமாக்கல் தொடர்பாகவும் எழுதுவதை தடுத்துநிறுத்த முற்பட்டமை போன்ற பல சம்பவங்கள் உள்ளன. தன்னிச்சையாக இணையதளங்களை முடக்கி வைத்தல் இவ்வாறான பல விடயங்களை என்னால் பட்டியலிட முடியும். எந்த ஒரு ஊடகவியலாளரும் 2017ஆம் ஆண்டு கொலைசெய்யவோ, காணாமலாக்கப்படவோ இல்லாவிட்டாலும் தெளிவாகவே அந்த வருடமும் கருத்துச் சுதந்திரத்திற்கு தடைகளை ஏற்படுத்திய வருடமாகவே அமைந்தது.

எக்னெலிகொட சுகர்தராஜன் மற்றும் ஏனைய பாதிக்கப்பட்டவர்களின் நீதிக்கான எதிர்பார்ப்புகள்

திருமதி எக்னெலிகொட அம்மையாரின் தைரியமான, உறுதியான போராட்டம், குறிப்பிடத்தக்க தேசிய மற்றும் சர்வதேசத்தின் கவனம், குற்ற விசாரணை திணைக்களத்தின் விசாரணைகள் காரணமாக 2016-2017ஆம் ஆண்டுகளில் எக்னெலிகொட காணாமலாக்கப்பட்ட சம்பவம் தொடர்பாக பலவிதமான தகவல்களை வெளிப்படுத்தக்கூடியதாக இருந்தது. ஆனாலும் இராணுவத்தினரின் குறைந்த பட்ச ஒத்துழைப்பு மற்றும் பொதுவெளியில் சந்தேக நபர்கள் சிறைவைக்கப்பட்டமை தொடர்பாக ஜனாதிபதி கேள்விக்கு உட்படுத்தியமையை அடுத்து பிரதான சந்தேக நபர்களை பிணை வழங்கி விடுவித்தல் போன்ற காரணங்களை அடிப்படையாக கொண்டு வழக்கின் நகர்வு படிப்படியாக பின்னடைவுக்கு கொண்டுசெல்லப்பட்டது. எக்னெலிகொடவின் காணாமல் ஆக்கப்பட்ட சம்பவத்தோடு ஒப்பிட்டுப் பார்க்கும்போது, பிரகீத் காணாமலாக்கப்படுவதற்கு 4 வருடங்களுக்கு முன் சுகிர்தராஜன் கொலைசெய்யப்பட்ட சம்பவத்திற்கு கிடைத்த தேசிய மற்றும் சர்வதேச கவனம் குறைவாகவே இருந்தது. அது தொடர்பாக தொடுக்கப்பட்ட வழக்கு விசாரணை நடவடிக்கைகள் முன்னேற்றம் அடையவில்லை. அது தொடர்பாக எந்த ஒரு நபரும் சந்தேகத்தின் பேரில் கைது செய்யப்படவில்லை என்பது ஆச்சரியத்தை ஏற்படுத்தக்கூடிய விடயமல்ல.

சுகர்தராஜன் கொலை செய்யப்பட்டு 14 வருடங்கள் கடந்து போயுள்ளன. எக்னெலிகொட கானாமலாக்கப்பட்டு 10 வருடங்கள் கடந்துள்ளன. சுகர்தராஜன் மற்றும் எக்னெலிகொட போன்றவர்களுக்கு இழைக்கப்பட்ட துன்புறுத்தல் மற்றும் அநீதிகளுக்கு பொறுப்பு கூறுவதாக உறுதியளித்த  நல்லாட்சி அரசாங்கம் 5 வருடங்கள் கழிந்து ஆட்சியில் இருந்தும் இறங்கியுள்ளது. ஆனாலும், அவர்கள் இருவருக்கும் போலவே, கருத்துக்களை வெளிப்படுத்தும் சுதந்திரத்தை மீறியதற்காக கறுப்பு ஜனவரியில் இரையாக்கப்பட்டவர்களுக்கு எதிராக வழக்குத் தாக்கல் செய்வதாலோ அல்லது குற்றத்தை ஒப்புக்கொள்வதன் மூலமோ ​உண்மை மற்றும் நீதியை ஏற்படுத்துவார்கள் என்ற எதிர்பார்ப்பு ஒரு தொலைதூர கனவாகவே இருக்கிறது

 

ஆசிரியர் குறிப்பு: மனித உரிமை செயற்பாட்டாளரான ருக்கி பெர்ணான்டோ எழுதி 2018 ஜனவரி 24ஆம் திகதி கிரவுண்விவ்ஸ் தளத்தில் Ekneligoda, Sugirtharajan and 24th January என்ற தலைப்பில் வெளிவந்த கட்டுரையின் தமிழாக்கம். கட்டுரையின் ஒரு சில பகுதிகள் காலத்திற்கேற்ப அப்டேட் செய்யப்பட்டுள்ளதென்பதை குறிப்பிட விரும்புகிறோம்.

එක්නැලිගොඩ, සුගීර්තරාජන් සහ ජනවාරි 24

First published on 24th January 2020 at https://www.vikalpa.org/?p=36686

වර්ෂ ගණනාවක් පුරා ශ්‍රී ලංකා නිදහස් මාධ්‍ය ව්‍යාපාරය සහ නිදහස් අදහස් ප්‍රකාශ කරන්නන් විසින් ජනවාරි මාසය “කළු ජනවාරිය” ලෙස නම් කර  ඇත. මෙය විවිධ මාධ්‍යවේදීන්ගේ ඝාතන , අතුරුදහන් වීම්, හිංසා කිරීම් මෙන්ම මාධ්‍ය ආයතන වලට පහර දීම් සියල්ල ජනවාරි මස සිදුවීම සන්දර්භයෙහි ලා සලකනු ලැබීය.

ජනවාරි මස 24 වැනිදා එවැනි අඳුරු දිනයකි. ත්‍රිකුණාමලයෙහි පදිංචි දමිළ මාධ්‍යවේදී සුබ්‍රමනියම් සුගීර්තරාජන්ගේ මහතා 2006 ජනවාරි මස 24 වන දින වෙඩි තබා ඝාතනය කරන ලදී. කොළඹ පදිංචි සිංහල කාටූන් ශිල්පී සහ මාධ්‍යවේදී ප්‍රගීත්  එක්නැලිගොඩ මහතා ද 2010 ජනවාරි මස 24 වන දින අතුරුදහන් විය.

මතකයෙන් ගිලිහී ගිය  මාධ්‍යවේදීයෙකුගේ ඝාතනය : සුබ්‍රමනියම් සුගීර්තරාජන්

SSR ලෙස වඩා ප්‍රකට සුගීර්තරාජන් මහතා දිනපතා පළවන දමිළ පුවත්පතක් වන සුදර් ඔලි හි අර්ධකාලීන ප්‍රාදේශීය  මාධ්‍යවේදීයෙකු ලෙස ක්‍රියා කළේය. ඔහු දෙදරු පියෙකි. තවත් මාධ්‍යවේදියෙකු සහ SSR මහතා ගේ සමීප මිත්‍රයෙකු මා SSR මහතා ට වෙඩි තබා ඇති ස්ථානය ට රැගෙන යන ලදි. එය ආසන්න වශයෙන් ආණ්ඩුකාරවරයා ගේ කාර්යාලයට මීටර් 100ක දුරින් සහ ඔහුගේ ම නිවසට මීටර් 200 ක දුරිනි. SSR මහතා ගේ තවත් මිතුරෙකු වන මාධ්‍යවේදීයෙකු පවසා සිටියේ SSR මහතා මෑතක සිට අනාරක්ෂිත භාවයෙන් පෙළෙමින් සිටි බවත් එම නිසා වෙනත් ස්ථානයක ඇති ආරක්ෂිත නිවසක් සොයමින් සිටි බවය. ඇත්තෙන්ම නිවසක් සොයා ගෙන තිබුණ ද ඔහු එයට පිටත් ව යාමට ප්‍රථමයෙන් ඝාතනය ට ලක් විය. මා කතා කළ සියලුම දෙනා ප්‍රකාශ කර සිටියේ ඔහුගේ ඝාතනය ට ආසන්නතම හේතුව විය හැක්කේ “Trinco 5 Case” ලෙස ප්‍රසිද්ධ වූ 2006 ජනවාරි මස දෙවන දින ත්‍රිකුණාමලය වෙරළේ දී ඝාතනය කරන ලද තරුණයින් පස් දෙනාගේ ඡායාරූප ගැනීම යි. මා හඳුනන SSR මහතා ගේ තවත් මිතුරෙකු ප්‍රකාශ කර සිටියේ ජනවාරි මස දෙවන දින උදෑසන SSR මහතා තමාට මෘතශරීරාගාරයේ තැම්පත් කර ඇති ත්‍රිකුණාමලය වෙරළේ දී ඝාතනය කරන ලද තරුණයින් ගේ මෘත ශරීරවල ඡායාරූප ගැනීම ට අවශ්‍ය බව තමාට පවසා සිටි බවයි. අප පොදු මිතුරා SSR මහතා කැමරාවක් ද සහිතව රෝහලට ඇරලවා ඇත. ඔහුට අනුව හමුදාව විසින් මියගිය තරුණයින් ගේ පවුලේ ඥාතීන් ට තබා කිසිවෙකුටත් මෘත ශරීරාගාරයේ ඇති සිරුරු බැලීමට ඉඩ සලසා නොමැත. නමුත් SSR මහතා විසින් බල කර ඇති අතර ඔහු විසින් ලබා ගනු ලැබූ ඡායාරූප ජනවාරි මස 4වන දින සුදර් ඔලි පුවත්පතෙහි පළ විය. තරුණයින් වෙඩි තබා ඝාතනය නොවූ ලෙස පෙන්නුම් කර තිබූ ඡායාරූප මතභේදයට ලක් කරමින් ඔවුන්ගේ සිරුරුවල තිබූ වෙඩි සලකුණු SSR මහතා ගේ ඡායාරූප වලින් මොනවට පිළිබිඹු වී තිබිණි.  Reporters sans Frontieres (RSF)  විසින්  ප්‍රකාශ කර සිටියේ SSR මහතා ගේ ඝාතනය ට පෙර දින ද ඔහු විසින් ත්‍රිකුණාමලය ප්‍රදේශයේ EPDP ඇතුලු දමිළ පාර්ලිමේන්තු කණ්ඩායම් මඟින් සිදු කරන ලබන විවිධ හිංසා පීඩා කිරීම් සම්බන්ධයෙන් විස්තර කරන ලද බවයි.

ත්‍රිකුණාමලය ප්‍රදේශයේ පදිංචි SSR මහතාගේ මාධ්‍යවේදී මිතුරෙකු මා හට ඔහුගේ සහ SSR මහතාගේ සම්බන්ධය පිළිබඳ වත් ඔහුගේ මරණයෙන් පසු තත්වය පිළිබඳවත් පවසා සිටියේ ය. ඔහු කියා සිටියේ SSR මහතාගේ ඝාතනය දැන ගත් සැනින් ඝාතනය සිදු වූ ස්ථානය ට තමා ගිය බවත් පසුව සිරුර බැලීමට රෝහලට හෝ අවමංගල්‍යයට වත් සහභාගී වීමට බිය වූ බවයි. දින දෙකකට පසු ඔහුට “සතුරන් නැසීමේ බලවේගය” හෙවත් “Force destroying the Enemy” යනුවෙන් වන කණ්ඩායමකින් ලිපියක් ලැබී තිබේ. එම ලිපිය මඟින් තමාට වන්නි කොටි ත්‍රස්තවාදීන් සඳහා ප්‍රචාරක කටයුතු කරන බව ට චෝදනා එල්ල කර ඇති බවත් එවැන්නන් තිදෙනෙක් හඳුනා ගෙන ඇති බවත්, එක් අයෙකු ට (සුගීර්තරාජන් මහතා) තීන්දුව ක්‍රියාත්මක කර ඇති බවත් ප්‍රකාශ කර ඇති අතර තමාට ද ඊළඟ අවස්ථාව ඇති බැවින් දින ගණන් කරමින් සිටින්න යැයි අනතුරු අඟවා ඇත.

මාධ්‍යවේදීයෙකුගේ අතුරුදහන් වීම: ප්‍රගීත්  එක්නැලිගොඩ

SSR මහතා මෙන්ම ප්‍රගීත් එක්නැලිගොඩ මහතා ද තම කාටූන් චිත්‍ර සහ ලිපි මඟින් විවිධ විචාර සහ හෙළිදරව් කිරීම් සිදු කළ බැවින් අදාළ පුද්ගලයන්ගේ උදහසට ලක් ව සිටි අයෙකි. එක්නැලිගොඩ මහතා ද පුතුන් දෙදෙනකුගේ පියෙකි. අපරාධ විමර්ශන දෙපාර්තමේන්තුව CID මඟින්  අධිකරණයට ඉදිරිපත් කරන ලද වාර්තා වලට අනුව එක්නැලිගොඩ මහතා කොළඹ දිස්ත්‍රික්කයේ  රාජගිරිය ප්‍රදේශයේ දී හමුදා බුද්ධි අංශ සාමාජිකයන් විසින් පැහැර ගෙන ගොස් ගිරිතලේ හමුදා බුද්ධි අංශ කඳවුරේ තබා ඔහු විසින් එවකට ජනපති මහින්ද රාජපක්ෂ මහතාගේ පවුල සම්බන්ධව රචනා කරන ලද ග්‍රන්ථයක් පිළිබඳව ප්‍රශ්න කිරීම් වලට ලක් කර ඇත. අපරාධ විමර්ශන දෙපාර්තමේන්තුව මඟින් සිදු කළ විමර්ශන වාර්තාවලට අනුව පැහැර ගැනීම සිදු කළ පුද්ගලයන් විසින් තම ගමන නිසි වාර්තා තැබීමකින් තොරව හා අදාළ ගමන් ගත් වාහන සම්බන්ධයෙන් තොරතුරු  සටහන්නො නොකොට  විසි පස් වන දින සිට විසිහත් වන දින පස්වරුව දක්වා අක්කරෛපත්තුව සිට ගිරිතලේ දක්වා ඔහු රැගෙන ගොස් තිබේ. නීතිපති දෙපාර්තමේන්තුව වෙනුවෙන් මෙම නඩුව පැවරු අපරාධ විමර්ශන දෙපාර්තමේන්තුව සහ රාජ්‍ය නීතිඥයින් විසින් දිගින් දිගටම අධිකරණය හමුවේ කියා සිටියේ හමුදාව මඟින් සාවද්‍ය තොරතුරු සපයන බවත්, සාක්ෂි ඇති බව ප්‍රතික්‍ෂේප කරන බවත්, සාක්ෂි සැපයීම ප්‍රමාද කරන බවත් සහ විමර්ශන කටයුතු සහ අධිකරණය නොමග යවන බවත්ය. ඔවුන් තවදුරටත් ප්‍රකාශ කර සිටියේ හමුදාව විසින් විමර්ශන කටයුතු කෙරෙහි අවම සහයෝගයක් දක්වමින් බාධා එල්ල කරන බව සහ සාක්ෂිකරුවන්ට ද බලපෑම් එල්ල කරන බවත් ය. 2010 ජනවාරි 25 එක්නැලිගොඩ මහතා ව ගිරිතලේ හමුදා කඳවුරේ දී දුටු  සහ ප්‍රශ්න කරන ලද ප්‍රධාන සාක්ෂිකරුවකු විසින් ගිරිතලේ හමුදා කඳවුර තුළදී ඔහුගේ ජීවිතයට හානි සිදු කිරීමට දැරූ ප්‍රයත්නය පිළිබඳව පොලිසියට පැමිණිලි කර ඇත.

එක්නැලිගොඩ මහතා ගේ අතුරුදහන් වීම සම්බන්ධයෙන් සත්‍ය සහ යුක්තිය ඉල්ලමින් සිදු කරන ව්‍යාපාරයේ ප්‍රධාන ක්‍රියාකාරිනියක වන ඔහුගේ බිරිඳ වන සන්ධ්‍යා එක්නැලිගොඩ මහත්මියට විරුද්ධව පෝස්ටර් පත්‍රිකා එවකට ප්‍රසිද්ධ ස්ථාන වල ප්‍රදර්ශනය කොට තිබිණි.  සැකපිට අත් අඩංගුවට ගෙන ඇප මත නිදහස් කරන ලද නිලධාරීන් ගේ එදිරිවාදිකම් ද නොසලකා හරිමින් එතුමිය විසින් අධිකරණය කෙරෙහි පූර්ණ විශ්වාසය තබමින් තනිවම පවා අධිකරණය හමුවට සිය වරකට වඩා ගොස් ඇත. සැකකරුවන් ට පක්ෂ ව සිටින්නන් විසින් ද එතුමියට එදිරිවාදිකම් කර ඇති අතර මේ නිසා එක්නැලිගොඩ මහත්මිය විසින් එම බලපෑම් පිළිබඳව පොලිසියට වාර ගණනාවකදී  පැමිණිලි කර ඇත.  මින් එක් පැමිණිල්ලක් වුයේ බොදු බල සේනා සංවිධානයේ මහලේකම්  ගලබොඩ අත්තේ ඥානසාර හිමිට විරුද්ධ පැවති නඩු  විභාගයයි. මැදිහත් සමාදානයක් හෝ කරුණු සමථයකට පත් කිරීමක් වෙනුවට අධිකරණ ක්‍රියාවලියක් මඟින් සාධාරණය ඉටු කර ගැනීම සඳහා ඇය විසින් මෙම අධිකරණ ක්‍රියාවලියට ඒ අනුව එළඹිණි.

ප්‍රකාශනයේ නිදහස 

මා හට හැඟී යන අයුරින් ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ මෑතකාලීනව ඇති වූ සිදුවීම්  පිළිබඳව සඳහන් නොකිරීමෙන් මෙම ලිපිය අසම්පූර්ණ විය හැක. 2017 වසරේදී මා හට ඉතා ප්‍රබල සහ සැලකිය යුතු තරමේ හැඟීමක් ඇති කළ සිද්ධි කිහිපයක් හරහා මා මෙය සිදු කිරීමට මම ප්‍රයත්න දරමි. කොළඹ  අවට වෙසෙන  බන්ධනාගාර සමූහ ඝාතනයකට විරුද්ධව හඬ නඟන ව්‍යාපාරයක නිරත වන පුද්ගලයෙකු ගේ නිවසට වෙඩි තැබීම,  මානව හිමිකම් නීතීඥයකු ට නාඳුනන දුරකථන ඇමතුම් වලින්  මරණ තර්ජන කිරීම, තවත් එවැනිම මානව හිමිකම්  නීතීඥයකු ට එවකට අධිකරණ අමාත්‍යවරයාගෙන් අන්‍ය ආගම් කෙරෙහි ඇති පීඩන වලට එරෙහි වීම සම්බන්ධයෙන් තර්ජන එල්ල වීම සහ මාස ගණනක සේවක වර්ජනයක් අතරතුර වෘත්තීය සමිති නායකයෙකු ද පැහැර ගෙන ගොස් තිබීම එයින් කීපයකි. උපවාසයේ නිරතව සිටි අතුරුදහන් වූවකුගේ බිරිඳ පීඩාවට ලක් වීම, යුද්ධය නිසා මියගිය අයගේ සැමරුම නැවත්වීම, එහි සංවිධායකයන්ට හිරිහැර කීරීම සහ විමර්ශනයට භාජනය කිරීම , රාජ්‍ය ආයතනයක් ඡායාරූප ගත කිරීම සම්බන්ධයෙන් පොලිසිය විසින් තරුණයින් පිරිසක් ප්‍රශ්න කර තර්ජනය කිරීම, මාධ්‍යවේදීන් ප්‍රශ්න කිරීම් වලට කැඳවීම,  ඔවුන් විසින් අතුරුදහන් වීම සහ හමුදාකරණය සම්බන්ධයෙන් සිදු කෙරෙන විමර්ශන වාර්තා කිරීමෙන් වැළැක්වීම සහ තවත් කරුණු මේ අතර වේ. අත්තනෝමතික ලෙස වෙබ් අඩවි අවහිර කෙරිණි.    කිසිඳු මාධ්‍යවේදීයෙකු 2017 වසරේදී  ඝාතනය හෝ අතුරුදහන් වූවේ නොමැති වුවත් පැහැදිලිවම එය නිදහස් අදහස් ප්‍රකාශනය අවහිර කළ වසරක් ම විය. (මෙහි මුල් ඉංග්‍රීසි  ලිපිය  2018 දී පළ වූ හෙයින් 2017 සිදුවීම් පමණක්  පාදකකොට ගෙන  ලියුම්කරු විසින් මෙය ලියා ඇති බව සළකන්න).

එක්නැලිගොඩ, සුගිර්දරාජන් සහ අනෙකුත් වින්දිතයන්ගේ යුක්තිය වෙනුවෙන් වනඅපේක්ෂාව 

එක්නැලිගොඩ මහත්මිය ගේ ධෛර්යසම්පන්න, අධිෂ්ඨානගත  ව්‍යාපාරය සහ සැලකිය යුතු ජාතික සහ ජාත්‍යන්තර අවධානය සහ අපරාධ විමර්ශන දෙපාර්තමේන්තුවේ  විමර්ශන කටයුතු හේතුවෙන් 2015-2016 වසර තුළදී  එක්නැලිගොඩ මහතා ගේ අතුරුදහන් වීම සම්බන්ධයෙන් විවිධ කරුණු අනාවරණය කර ගැනීමට හැකි විය.  නමුත් හමුදාවෙන් ලද හීන සහයෝගය සහ එවකට ජනපති ප්‍රසිද්ධියේ සැකකරුවන් සිර භාරයේ රඳවා ගැනීම ප්‍රශ්න කිරීමෙන් අනතුරුව මූලික සැකකරුවන් ඇපමත නිදහස් වීම යන කරුණු පදනම් කරහෙන නඩුවේ  වර්ධනය ක්‍රමයෙන් හීන වීමටත් පසුබට වීමටත් ලක් විය. එක්නැලිගොඩ මහතාගේ අතුරුදහන් වීමට සාපේක්ෂ ව ඊට වසර 4කට පෙර සිදු කරන ලද සුගර්තරාජන් මහතා ගේ ඝාතනය ට ලැබුණු ජාතික හා ජාත්‍යන්තර අවධානය අඩුය. ඒ සම්බන්ධයෙන් ඇති නඩුව සහ විමර්ශන කටයුතු වර්ධනයක් නොපෙන්වුවා සේම  ඒ සම්බන්ධයෙන් කිසිඳු සැකපිට අත් අඩංගුවට ගැනීමක් ද නොමැති වීම පුදුමයට කරුණක් නොවේ.

සුගීර්තරාජන් මහතා ඝාතනයට ලක්වී වසර 14 ක් ගත වී ඇත.  එක්නැලිගොඩ  අතුරුදහන් වී වසර 10 ක් ගත වී ඇත. සුගර්තරාජන් සහ එක්නැලිගොඩ  හට සිදු වූ හිංසනයන් වැනි අසාධාරණකම් වලට වගකීමක් පොරොන්දු වූ “යහපාලන” වරම ලද ආණ්ඩුව දැන් තම පාලන කාලය හමාර කොට තිබේ.නමුත් දැන්, ඔවුන් දෙදෙනාට මෙන්ම, කළු ජනවාරියේ සිදුවූ  තවත් බොහෝ අදහස් ප්‍රකාශ කිරීමේ නිදහස උල්ලංඝනය කිරීම් වෙනුවෙන් , නඩු පැවරීමෙනුත්, වරද පිළිගැනීම සිදුවීම හරහාත්  සත්‍යය සහ යුක්තිය උදෙසා ඇති අපේක්ෂාවන් ඉටු වේ යයි සිතීම අඳුරු සහ දුරස්ථ සිහිනයක්ව තිබේ.

සංස්කාරක සටහන:  මානව හිමිකම්රු ක්‍රියාධරයෙකු වන රුකී  ප්‍රනාන්දු විසින් 2018 ජනවාරි 24 දින අප සහෝදර GroundViews  වෙබ් අඩවියට යන ලද Ekneligoda, Sugirtharajan and 24th January   නම් ඉංග්‍රීසි ලිපියෙහි පරිවර්තනයකි. සංස්කාරක මණ්ඩලය විසින් මුල් ඉංග්‍රීසි ලිපියේ සඳහන්  ඇතැම් කරුණු  යාවත්කාලින කොට තිබෙන බව සලකන්න.

Ekneligoda disappearance – 10 years struggle for truth and justice

First published on 24th January 2020 at https://groundviews.org/2020/01/24/ekneligoda-disappearance-10-years-struggle-for-truth-and-justice/

Today, 10th January 2020, is 10 years since the disappearance of journalist and cartoonist Prageeth Ekneligoda. It also marks 10 years of struggle for truth and justice by his wife, Sandya Ekneligoda and two young sons.

Investigative reports by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) to the Homagama Magistrate Courts indicate that Ekneligoda was abducted from Rajagiriya in the Colombo district by Army Intelligence personnel, and taken to Giritale Army Intelligence camp in Polonnaruwa district. There he had been questioned about a book related to Rajapaksha family – which includes present President Gotabhaya and former President Mahinda. Army Intelligence personnel have been arrested as suspects and released on bail. Both the CID and State Counsel leading the case on behalf of the Attorney General’s (AG) department, had repeatedly told courts of the Army providing false information, denying possession of evidence, delaying production of evidence and misleading investigations and courts. They had also reported a lack of cooperation and obstructions towards investigations from the Army, and intimidation of witnesses. A key witness, who had seen and questioned Ekneligoda in the Giritale camp on 25th January 2010, has complained to the Police about a conspiracy to harm his life from the Giritale camp.

The trial for the 2010 January abduction began in November 2019, at a three judge special high court trial at bar, in Colombo. Nine accused are being prosecuted. Separately, in December 2019, trial began in Homagama High Court in relation to abduction of Prageeth in 2009.

Sugirtharajan – killing of Tamil jourmalist on 24th January 2006

Four years before Prageeth’s abduction, in 2006, on the same day, 24th January, Sugirtharajan, popularly known as SSR, a part-time provincial journalist working for the Tamil language daily Sudar Oli, was killed. Like Prageeth, he was a father of two children. He was shot less than 100 meters from the Eastern Governor’s office and about 200 meters from his own house. Before the killing, SSR had been feeling insecure and wanted to find a safer house in a different location. A house had been identified, but he was killed before he could actually move. The reason appears to be the photos he took of 5 youth murdered on the beach of Trincomalee on 2nd January 2006, popularly known now as the “Trinco 5 case”. The military was trying to prevent anyone, even the families of the youth, access to the mortuary to see the bodies, but SSR had persisted. The photos he took were published on “Sudar Oli” newspaper on 4th January 2006. They had shown clear gunshot wounds, thus, disputing the version that the youth had not been shot dead. Reporters sans frontières (RSF) had noted that SSR had also detailed the abuses committed by Tamil paramilitary groups including the EPDP in the Trincomalee region, the day before his murder. One journalist friend of SSR in Trincomalee said he had spontaneously rushed to the spot of the killing when he heard the news, but later, was too scared to go to the hospital to see the body or even for the funeral. Two days later, he had got a letter, from group called “Force destroying the Enemy”. The letter had accused him of canvassing for Vanni Tigers, that 3 such persons had been identified, verdict had been delivered and implemented on one person (Sugirtharajan) and that he should count his days, as he was going to be the 2nd.

Death threats to journalists and continuing violations of free expression

Yesterday, 23rd January 2020, seven Tamil journalists in Eastern district of Batticaloa were threatened with death, through a leaflet left at the Batticaloa Press Club. A police complaint was lodged, but no protection was offered by the police. About 30 incidents threatening freedom of expression had been reported in local media in 2019, including arrests, questioning, assaults, threats, intimidations, and restrictions of journalists, media personnel, writers, artists and raids on media offices. Also in 2019, during the time of the former president, the state owned TV “Rupavahini” was reported to have been brought under Ministry of Defense and the ICCPR Act was used and threatened to be used against writers. Self-censorship has re-emerged after the presidential elections.

New challenges for truth and justice

There has been some progress in perusing justice for Prageeth, but there is also uncertainties and fears that the progress achieved may not be sustained through the two trials which have just began. After the November 2019 presidential elections, there has been dramatic changes in the CID whose investigations and reports to Homagama courts had enable the trial to commence. A top investigator in the CID had fled the country and the Director of the CID was transferred. During the presidential election campaign, the present President had pledge to release all war heroes.

Compared to Ekneligoda, there has been very little national and international interest about Sugirtharajan, murdered four years before Ekneligoda disappeared. Not surprisingly, there is no progress in investigations and no arrests. Justice for Sugirtharajan is unlikely, as it is for killing numerous other journalists and disappearances of tens of thousands of Sri Lankans.

On 17th January 2020, the new President followed in the footsteps of former Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe in making casual, insensitive and irresponsible statements that disappeared Sri Lankans are dead, without providing details of how, where, when and at whose hands they died to families. He seems to be ignoring the efforts of families of disappeared – some Tamil families have been at continuous roadside protests in the North for nearly three years, others have perused court actions in North and South, held discussions with the political leaders including former President, and involved in variety of initiatives to know the truth – about their disappeared sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, husbands and even grandchildren. The President had also chosen to refer to them as “missing” and tell this to the UN Resident Coordinator instead of to the families of disappeared. The President also says “Most of them had been taken by the LTTE or forcefully conscripted”. It is true that LTTE had taken away many, but many families of disappeared have personally seen their family members and others they knew been taken away by the Army after surrendering at the end of the war – this includes children and a Catholic Priest. They have stated this to Presidential Commissions of Inquiry appointed by Gotabaya’s brother Mahinda Rajapakse and also in Sri Lankan courts. President’s statement saying that death certificates will be issued is also very much concerning, as families only want to have death certificates after knowing for sure their family member are dead, such as by seeing the body, ascertaining identity of remains and / or knowing circumstances of the death. It is also a step backwards from the 2016 amending of the registration of deaths (temporarily provisions) Act no. 19 of 2010 to facilitate issuance of temporary “certificates of absence” till fate and whereabouts of disappeared persons are confirmed.

Signs of hope

In this bleak scenario, there are signs of hope – journalists and others who continue to reveal uncomfortable truths, ask difficult questions, challenge the powerful and the rich and expose past and ongoing abuses such as corruption, militarization, environmental problems, repression of religious and ethnic minorities etc. Many survivors, victim’s families and affected communities continue to pursue truth and justice. On 28th January, media freedom organizations have organized the annual “Black January” commemoration. Despite fears, defiance and resistance is alive and must be nurtured.

Prageeth Ekneligoda’s wife, Sandya Ekneligoda is an icon of defiance, resistance and hopes for justice. A symbol of the power of the vulnerable, overcoming the vulnerabilities of the powerless.  She had braved death threats to her and children, intimidations, discrediting to pursue truth and justice. Hostile posters had appeared in public places against her and there has been online vilifications. Around 2012, she was subjected to harsh questioning in courts by a Deputy Solicitor General at the Attorney General’s Department, implying her search for truth and justice for her husband was bringing the country into disrepute. When Mr. Mohan Peiris, the head of the then Government’s delegation to the UN Committee Against Torture claimed that Prageeth was living abroad, Sandya wrote to the Committee to make further inquiries and in Sri Lanka, persisted in getting Mr. Peiris to testify in courts. She has been in courts more than 100 times, sometimes alone, despite the hostility of suspects and accused from Army Intelligence (and their supporters). When she was threatened inside court premises by Buddhist Monk Galaboda Ethhe Gnanasara, leader of the Bodu Bala Sena, she complained to the police, and later resisted attempts to “settle” the case through mediation. The Magistrate at that time, also complained about the Monk’s behavior in courts on that day and the Monk was convicted for both cases. The former President pardoned the monk, but Sandya is now challenging that pardon in courts. As a mother and a wife, Sandya wrote to the then President Mahinda Rajapakha’s wife, appealing for the first lady’s interventions to help find Prageeth. She stood outside the parliament with her teenaged son and distributed appeals to parliamentarians. She and her son went to the Galle Literary Festival and distributed appeals to the writers and others gathered there. She took the initiative in organizing numerous protests and vigils in Colombo. When it became obvious that Army was not cooperating with the investigators, Attorney General’s Department and courts, Sandya met the then Army Commander personally to appeal for help. She also met with diplomats, UN officials, international organizations and foreign journalists to generate international support to seek truth and justice. She worked with Prageeth’s friends and concerned people to publish books with his articles and cartoons. She also supported Tamil families of disappeared in their struggles, visiting and joining them in protests in the North and talking about their struggles in her own work. And alongside all of this, she also had to struggle to bring up her two teenaged sons, now young adults, trying to fill the void of the disappeared father.

Although I never knew Prageeth personally, in the last ten years, I had spent some significant amount of time with Sandya. Often on the streets at vigils, protests, religious events – in Colombo, but also in North with Tamil families of disappeared. Also in courts, at seminars, meetings. At the UN and with diplomats, foreign journalists. Sometimes interpreting for her. And at her house. This ten year long association with Sandya has been very challenging – her energy, proactive and regular initiatives, courage, determination is difficult to keep up with. But it’s also been one of the most rewarding and inspiring experiences for me as an activist.

Sri Lanka’s latest attempt to legalize state terror

First published at https://www.ucanews.com/news/sri-lankas-latest-attempt-to-legalize-state-terror/84751 on 25th March 2019

Replacing one act that tramples on human rights with another that makes potential suspects of us all is no solution

Five years ago on the night of March 16, a Catholic priest called Father Praveen and I were arrested in Kilinochchi, the former capital of the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) in Sri Lanka’s Northern Province. We were detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and subjected to intense interrogation. The reasons given for my arrest included causing discomfort to the government and sending information overseas to earn money. Unlike many other PTA detainees, we were released after 51 hours — probably due to intense national and international campaigns. But the agony continued after our release. I was almost abducted by armed men in civilian clothes who raided the office of a human rights organization where I was doing some work. Later, the chief of the unit that arrested us told me they were his men, and they had been searching for a different terror suspect.

The overseas travel restriction on me has been lifted, but my electronic equipment that was confiscated has not been returned, and the restrictions on my freedom of expression remain in place. In 2009, Shantha Fernando, an activist working for the Commission for Justice and Peace of the National Christian Council, was also arrested and detained under the PTA. His crime? Carrying photos through the airport depicting the humanitarian crisis that unfolded during the last phase of the 26-year civil war, during which time the military stands accused of conducting war crimes. The PTA has led to the prolonged detention of innocents. In 2015, a court reportedly acquitted a Tamil mother after finding her not guilty of the charges leveled against her — after she had already spent 15 years in detention. The PTA has served as a license for reprisals against dissent, enforced disappearances, torture, sexual violence and prolonged detention. The cabinet formally approved and presented the bill to parliament last year. It is known as the Counter Terrorism Act (CTA).

Problems with the CTA

The CTA uses broad definitions that could make almost anyone a terrorist, and any act of dissent a terrorist act, with intention a key factor. Acts associated with terrorism can include gathering information, and distributing or making information available to a person or the public. Journalists could be penalized for not revealing sources. Participating in or organizing a protest, or a trade union strike, could also make one a terrorist suspect. There is no compulsion to protect an arrested person from physical harm, or to convey the information about their arrest in their own language at the time they are apprehended. What needs to be done is for the government to withdraw the CTA. Failing that, parliament must defeat it. The PTA must be repealed separately. There is no need to link the two laws together. Meanwhile, opposition to the two acts is increasing. But barring some disapproving comments by the bishop of Batticaloa and a few priests, the church leadership, including Caritas, have stayed quiet on the CTA. It is time to stand up and say no to both the PTA and the CTA. Any delay could have dire consequences for people’s human rights, dignity and democracy.

 

නව ත්‍රස්තවාදය වැළැක්වීමේ පනත අවනීතියට අලුත් අවසරපතක්ද?

First published on Anidda newspaper of 17th February and also published at https://www.vikalpa.org/?p=34293

රස්තවාදය වැළැක්වීමේ පනත(Prevention of Terrorism Act -PTA) වසර 40කට වැඩි කාලයක් තිස්සේ වද හිංසා පැමිණවීම, ලිංගික හිංසනය, බලහත්කාරයෙන් අතුරුදහන් කිරීම සහ දීර්ඝ කාලීන ලෙස රැඳවුම් භාරයේ තබා ගැනීම සඳහා අවසර පත්‍රයක් ලෙස භාවිතා වී ඇත. ත්‍රස්තවාදී සැකකරුවන් පමණක් නොව ජනමාධ්‍යවේදීන්, සමාජ ක්‍රියාකාරීන් මේ යටතේ අත්අඩංගුවට ගත් අතර, රජයට එරෙහි විවේචනාත්මක අදහස් මර්දනය කිරීම උදෙසා මේ පනත දැඩි සේ භාවිතා වී ඇත. විශේෂයෙන්ම දෙමළ ජනතාවට එරෙහිව මෙය බොහෝ අවස්ථාවලදී වැරදි ලෙස භාවිතා විය.

වත්මන් රජය බලයට පැමිණිමෙන් පසු, මේ මර්දනකාරී ත්‍රස්තවාදය වැළැක්වීමේ පනත ඉවත් කරන බවට සහ අන්තර්ජාතික යහපත් ව්‍යවහාරයනට අනුකූල වන ත්‍රස්ත විරෝධී පනතක් ගෙන එන බවට විවිධ අවස්ථාවල පොරොන්දු ලබා දෙන ලදී. පසුගිය වසරේ සැප්තැම්බර් මාසයේ දී නව ත්‍රස්තවාදය වැළැක්වීමේ පනතේ කෙටුම්පතක් ඉදිරිපත් කරන ලද්දේ මෙහි ප්‍රතිඵලයක් ලෙසය. මෙම කෙටුම්පත ඉංග්‍රීසි භාෂාවෙන් ත්‍රස්ත විරෝධී පනත (Counter Terrorism Act – CTA) ලෙස නම් කර තිබුනත්, සිංහල බසින් පැරණි පනත හැඳින්වූ ත්‍රස්තවාදය වැළැක්වීමේ පනත ලෙසම ගැසට් කර තිබීම එක්තරා ආකාරයක සරදමකි.

ත්‍රස්තවාදය යැයි හැඳින්විය හැකි වැරදි සම්බන්ධයෙන් අදාළ වන පනත් 14ක් ද, දණ්ඩ නීති සංග්‍රහයේ වගන්ති 6 ක් ද ඇතුළුව නීති 20ක් පමණ ශ්‍රී ලංකා නීතිය තුළ පවතී. එසේම හදිසි තත්ත්ව තුළ දී කටයුතු කිරීමට ජනපතිවරයාට හදිසි නීතිය පැනවීමේ හැකියාව ඇත. මෙවැනි තත්වයක් තුළ ත්‍රස්තවාදය සම්බන්ධයෙන් වෙනම විශේෂ නීතියක අවශ්‍යතාවය හුදෙක් සුළුතරයන් සහ රජයට එරෙහි විවේචනාත්මක අදහස් මර්දනය කිරීමක් වන අතර, ත්‍රස්තවාදය මැඩලීමට පවතින නීති ප්‍රමාණවත් වන බව අපගේ මතයයි. පෙර ත්‍රස්තවාදය වැළැක්වීමේ පනත භාවිතා වූ පරිද්දෙන්ම, මෙම නව පනත විසින් ද සාමාන්‍ය ජනතාවට, ජනමාධ්‍යවේදීන්ට, සහ සමාජ ක්‍රියාකාරීන්ට හිරිහැර කිරීමට අවශ්‍ය ඉඩකඩ විධිමත්ව සපයා ඇත.

මේ පනත තුළ පුළුල්, අපැහැදිලි නිර්වචනයක් ත්‍රස්තවාදය ලෙස නම් කළ හැකි වැරැදි සම්බන්ධයෙන් ලබා දී ඇත. මේ හේතුව නිසා මේ නීතිය යොදා ගනිමින් ව්‍යවස්ථාව විසින් ලබා දී ඇති ප්‍රකාශනයේ නිදහස, එක්රැස්වීමේ සහ සමාගමයේ නිදහස සීමාවනට ලක් කිරීමට ඉඩ ඇත. මූලික මිනිස් අයිතිවාසිකමක් පවා “සද්භාවයෙන් ඉටු කළේ නම්” පමණක් ත්‍රස්තවාදී ක්‍රියාවක් ලෙස නොසැලකේ.

මෙම නීතිය යටතේ අත්අඩංගුවට ගත් පුද්ගලයා ශාරීරික හානියකට ලක් වීමෙන් ආරක්ෂා කර ගැනීම අනිවාර්ය නොවේ. අත්අඩංගුවට පත් වෙන පුද්ගලයාට අත්අඩංගුවට ගැනීමට හේතුව සහ ඊට අදාළ අනෙකුත් තොරතුරු දැනුම් දීම අනිවාර්ය නොවන අතර, පසුව එසේ කළ යුතු කාලරාමුවක් සපයාද නැත. පවුලේ අය අත්අඩංගුවට පත් වෙන අවස්ථාවේ එතැන සිටියද අත්අඩංගුවට පත් වීම ගැන විස්තර ඔවුන්ට දැනුම් දීමට පවා පැය 24ක කාලයක් ලබා දී ඇත. පවුලේ අය අත්අඩංගුවට පත් වෙන අවස්ථාවේ එතැන සිටියේ නැත්නම් ඔවුනට අත්අඩංගුවට පත්වීම සම්බන්ධයෙන් දැනුම් දීම අනිවාර්ය නොවේ. එසේම කාන්තා සැකකරුවන් කාන්තා නිලධාරීන් විසින් අත්අඩංගුවට ගැනීමට ප්‍රශ්න කරනු ලැබීමට හෝ කාන්තා නිලධාරිනියක් එතැන සිටීම අත්‍යවශ්‍ය නොවේ.

පොලිසිය විසින් නිකුත් කළ වලංගු රඳවා ගැනීම් නියෝගයකට අනුමැතිය මහේස්ත්‍රාත් විසින් ලබා දිය යුතු අතර, පුද්ගලයා සති දෙකක් දක්වා රඳවා තබා ගැනීම තීරණය කරන්නේ පොලිස් නිලධාරියාය. මේ රඳවා තබා ගැනීම් නියෝගයක්, සති 8ක් දක්වා මහේස්ත්‍රාත් අනුමැතිය ඇතිව කාලය දිගු කළ හැකිය. පොලිසිය විසින් අත්අඩංගුවට ගැනීම සම්බන්ධයෙන් මානව හිමිකම් කොමිසමට දැනුම් දීමට පැය 72ක කාලයක් ලබා දී ඇත. සැකකරුවාට ඇප ලැබෙන්නේ ඔහුගේ නඩුව වසරකට වඩා වැඩි කාලයක් ඇදි ඇදී ගිය හොත් පමණි. රැඳවියාගේ නීතිඥයාට සහ පවුලේ අයට රැඳවුම් ස්ථානයට පිවිසිය හැකි වන්නේ ස්ථානභාර නිලධාරියාගේ පූර්ව අවසරය සහිතවය. පුද්ගලයා රඳවා තබා ගන්නේ අමාත්‍යවරයකු විසින් තීරණය කරන ස්ථාන සහ තත්වයන් යටතේ ය. රඳවා තබා ගැනීම්වලට විරුද්ධව “සමාලෝචන මණ්ඩලය” වෙත අභියාචනය කළ හැකි නමුත් එම මණ්ඩලය සමන්විත වන්නේ ද අමාත්‍යවරයා, අමාත්‍යාංශ ලේකම්, සහ අමාත්‍යවරයා විසින් පත් කළ තවත් දෙදෙනෙකු ය. දේශපාලනඥයන් සහ පොලිසිය විසින් සමාජ ක්‍රියාකාරීන්ට, ජනමාධ්‍යවේදීන්ට සහ විරුද්ධ දේශපාලනඥයන්ට එරෙහිව ත්‍රස්තවාදය වැළැක්වීමේ පනත භාවිතා කිරීමේ ඉතිහාසය දෙස බලන විට, මේ පනත විසින් ඇමැතිවරයාට සහ පොලිසියට ලබා දී ඇති මේ බලතල නරියාට කුකුළු කොටුව භාර දීමක් ද යන සැකය අප වෙත නැගෙන්නේය.

පනත විසින් රැඳවියාගේ දැකිය හැකි තුවාල තිබේදැයි පරීක්ෂා කිරීමට ස්ථාන භාර නිලධාරීයා(OIC) වෙත බලය පවරන අතර, ඔහු විසින් එසේ දුටුවේ නම්, ඔහුට ඇත්තේ අධිකරණ වෛද්‍ය නිලධාරියකු වෙත රැඳවියා ඉදිරිපත් කර වාර්තාවක් ලබා ගැනීම පමණි. මහේස්ත්‍රාත්වරයකු හෝ මානව හිමිකම් කොමිසමේ නිලධාරියකු විසින් රැඳවුම් ස්ථානයට පැමිණි අවස්ථාවක රැඳවියා රඳවා ඇත්තේ මානුෂීය සැලකීමට ගැලපෙන පරිදි නොවන බව නිරීක්ෂණය කළේ නම්, ඔවුන්ට කළ හැක්කේ බන්ධනාගාර අධිකාරී වෙත හෝ පොලිස්පති වෙත හෝ දැනුම් දීම පමණකි. ඒ සම්බන්ධයෙන් ක්‍රියාමාර්ග ගෙන අදාළ ‘මානුෂික තත්වයන්’ සැපයීමට කටයුතු කිරීමට බල කිරීමට ඔවුනට හැකියාවක් නැත.

සැකකරුවන් රැඳවුම් භාරයේ සිටිය දී වද හිංසා පැමිණවීමට, සහ ලිංගික අතවර ආදියට ලක් වීම් ගැන සිදු වීම් ගණනාවක් පෙර ත්‍රස්තවාදය වැළැක්වීමේ පනත යටතේ වාර්තා වී ඇති අතර, මේ පනතේ ඉහත වගන්ති තුළින් එම තත්වය තවදුරටත් වැඩි විය හැකිය.

දැනට පවතින ත්‍රස්තවාදය වැළැක්වීමේ පනත යටතේ පොලිස් නිලධාරීන් විසින් පමණක් අත්අඩංගුවට ගැනීම, ස්ථානවලට ඇතුළු වීම, සහ භාණ්ඩ භාරයට ගැනීම ආදිය කළ යුතු වුවත්, නව පනත යටතේ ත්‍රිවිධ හමුදාවලට සහ වෙරළාරක්ෂකයන්ට ද මෙකී බලතල ලැබේ. එසේම පොලීසියට, වින්දිත පාර්ශ්වයට කරුණු දැක්වීමට අවස්ථාවක් නොදී, රැස්වීමක්, රැළියක්, හෝ ක්‍රියාකාරකමක් නැවැත්වීමට මහේස්ත්‍රාත්වරයාගෙන් ඉල්ලීමක් කළ හැකිය. එසේම ඇමැතිවරයකුට කිසියම් සංවිධානයක්, පොදු ස්ථානයක්, හෝ වෙනත් ස්ථානයක් තහනම් ස්ථානයක් බවට කාල නියමයක් රහිතව නියම කළ හැකි අතර, එසේ නියෝගයක් නිකුත් කිරීමට පෙර මෙය අභියෝගයට ලක් කිරීමට අනෙක් පාර්ශවයට අවස්ථාවක් ලැබෙන්නේ නැත. එසේම සංවිධානවල රැස්වීම්, ක්‍රියාකාරකම් සහ වැඩසටහන් පැවැත්වීම තහනම් කිරීම, බැංකු ගිණුම් සහ වෙනත් මූල්‍ය තැන්පතු භාවිතය හෝ යෙදවීම තහනම් කිරීම, ගිවිසුම්වලට එළඹීම තහනම් කිරීම, අරමුදල් රැස්කිරීම සහ ප්‍රදාන සහ දේපල පැවරීම් ලබා ගැනීම තහනම් කිරීම, අරමුදල් සහ වත්කම් පැවරීම තහනම් කිරීම, සහ සංවිධානයක් වෙනුවෙන් බලපෑම් කිරීම, ඉල්ලීම් සිදු කිරීම ආදිය සිදු කිරීම තහනම් කිරීමට ද ඇමැතිවරයාට බලය ලැබේ.

පවතින ත්‍රස්තවාදය වැළැක්වීමේ පනතින් ලබා නොදෙන මේ පනත හරහා පැවරෙන අනෙකුත් අමතර බලතල වන්නේ ජනපතිට ඇඳිරි නීතිය පැනවීමටත්, මහජන සාමය පවත්වා ගැනීමට ත්‍රිවිධ හමුදා කැඳවීමටත් ලබා දෙන බලයයි.

එසේම නව නීතිය ඔස්සේ ප්‍රසිද්ධියේ සමාව ගැනීමත්, පුනරුත්ථාපනයට ලක් වීම, සහ ප්‍රජා සේවයේ යෙදීම වැනි දෑ හරහා වරදට වන්දි ගෙවීමත් පිළි ගැනේ. මේ තත්වය තුළ නඩුවලට දීර්ඝ කාලයක් ගත වෙන නිසාත්, නීතිඥ ගාස්තු ආදිය දරා ගැනීමට නොහැකි වීම නිසාත් බොහෝ දෙනෙක් අධිකරණ ක්‍රියාවලියක් තුළ තමන්ගේ නිරවද්‍යතාවය ඔප්පු කිරීමට මහන්සි වීම වෙනුවට වරද පිළි ගැනීමට බොහෝ දුරට ඉඩ ඇත. මෙවැනි අවස්ථාවල අභිචෝදකයා වන නීතිපතිවරයාට චෝදනා අස්කර ගැනීමේ දී දඩුවම් සඳහා අධිකරණ අනුමැතිය ඉල්ලීමේ අමතර බලයක් ද ලබා දී ඇත.

මේ නීතිය කෙටුම්පත් කර ගැසට් කිරීමෙන් අනතුරුව සිවිල් ක්‍රියාකාරීහු මෙම නීතිය විසින් ව්‍යවස්ථාවේ මූලික අයිතිවාසිකම් කඩ කරන බවට ප්‍රකාශ කරමින් ශ්‍රේෂ්ඨාධිකරණයේ පෙත්සම් ගොනු කරන ලද අතර, ශ්‍රේෂ්ඨාධිකරණය විසින් ඒ කිසිවක් සැලකිල්ලකට නොගෙන මරණ දඬුවම ද ගෙන ඒමෙන් සියල්ල තිබුණාට ද වඩා නරක තත්වයකට පත් කරන ලදී.

නව ත්‍රස්තවාදය වැළැක්වීමේ පනත සම්බන්ධයෙන් දිවයිනේ විවිධ පළාත්වල පැවැත්වුනු සාකච්ඡාවලට ආගමික නායකයෝ, ජනමාධ්‍යවේදීහු සහ සමාජ ක්‍රියාකාරීහු ගණනාවක් පැමිණියහ. මේවා බොහොමයක් සංවිධානය කළේ කාන්තා කණ්ඩායම් ය. මෙම සාකච්ඡාවල මතු වූ ප්‍රධාන මතය සහ ඉල්ලීම වූයේ, පවතින ත්‍රස්තවාදය වැළැක්වීමේ පනත අහෝසි කළ යුතු අතර නව පනතක් අවශ්‍ය නැති බවයි. මඩකලපුවේ පැවැති එක් සාකච්ඡාවකට සහභාගි වූ දමිළ පාර්ලිමේන්තු මන්ත්‍රීන් තිදෙනෙකුම ප්‍රකාශ කළේ මෙම කෙටුම්පතට ඔවුන් විරෝධය දක්වන බවයි.

එහෙත් දමිළ ජාතික සන්ධානය (TNA) මේ පිළිබඳ පැහැදිලි ස්ථාවරයක් ප්‍රකාශ කර නොමැත. පැරැණි සහ නව ත්‍රස්තවාදය වැළැක්වීමේ පනත් දෙකටම පැහැදිලි විරෝධයක් පළ කර ඇති එකම දේශපාලන පක්ෂය වන්නේ ජනතා විමුක්ති පෙරමුණයි.

පසුගිය 6 වැනිදා මෙම නීතිය සම්බන්ධයෙන් පාර්ලිමේන්තු මන්ත්‍රීවරු 20 දෙනෙකුගෙන් යුක්ත ආංශික අධීක්ෂණ කාරක සභාවේ රැස්වීම පැවැත්වුනි. එහිදී සිවිල් ක්‍රියාධරයන්, සහ ස්වාධීන නීතිඥයන් සමග මේ පිළිබඳව සාකච්ඡා වුනි. මීලඟ රැස්වීම පෙබරවාරි 20 වැනි දින පැවැත්වීමට එකඟ වී ඇති අතර, එදිනට පෙර මෙය පිළිබඳව ලිඛිත ඉදිරිපත් කිරීම් ලබා දෙන ලෙස පැමිණි සිටි අයගෙන් ඉල්ලා සිටින ලදී. පෙබරවාරි 11 වැනි දින මේ පිළිබඳව පැවැති සාකච්ඡාවක දී විදේශ කටයුතු ඇමැතිවරයා ත්‍රස්තවාදය වැළැක්වීමේ පනත ක්‍රියාත්මක කිරීම තුළ මානව හිමිකම් උල්ලංඝණය වීම් සිදු වූ බව පිළිගත්තත්, එවැනිම නව පනතක් අවශ්‍යය යන දැඩි ස්ථාවරයේ සිටියේය. රජයේ පාර්ශ්වයේ සිටි නීතිඥවරුන්ගේ සහ නීතිපති දෙපාර්තමේන්තුවේ මතය වී ඇත්තේ ද නව පනතක් අත්‍යවශ්‍ය බව සහ දැනට කළ හැක්කේ අවම වෙනස්කම් පමණක් බවත්ය.

පවතින ත්‍රස්තවාදය වැළැක්වීමේ පනත(PTA) සහ අලුත් කෙටුම්පත(CTA) යන දෙකින්ම රැඳවියන්ගේ ජීවිත ආරක්ෂාව, නිදහස, ශාරීරික හා මානසික යහපැවැත්මට තර්ජනයක් වන අතර, මූලික මිනිස් අයිතිවාසිකම් සීමා කරයි. එසේම පුළුල්, සහ අපැහැදිලි නිර්වචන තුළින්, නීත්‍යනුකූල ලෙස වෙනස් අදහස් ප්‍රකාශ කිරීමට, මූලික මිනිස් අයිතිවාසිකම් අත්විඳීම සහ ප්‍රජාතන්ත්‍රවාදී පුරවැසියන් ලෙස කටයුතු කිරීම ත්‍රස්තවාදී ක්‍රියා බවට පත් කරයි. එසේම එයින් අධිකරණමය අධීක්ෂණය සහ අභිමතිය අඩු කරන අතර, අමාත්‍යවරයාගේ, පොලිසියේ, හමුදාවේ, සහ වෙරළාරක්ෂකයන්ගේ අභිමතයට කටයුතු කිරීමට සුවිසල් බලතල සපයයි. මූලික වශයෙන් පොලිසිය සහ අමාත්‍යවරයා විසින් විමර්ශකයාගේ සහ විනිසුරුගේ යන දෙදෙනාගේම භූමිකාවන් ඉටු කරයි.

ජාතික ආරක්ෂාව’ සහ ‘ත්‍රස්තවාදී” යන වචන භාවිතා කරමින්, අධිකරණය අධීක්ෂණයන් නොකර සිටීමට මේ පනත තුළ ප්‍රතිපාදන ඇත. මේ හරහා සිවිල් ජීවිතය හමුදාකරණය විය හැකි අතර, නීතියේ ආධිපත්‍යය හරහා පාලනය වන ප්‍රජාතන්ත්‍රවාදී සමාජයක පවතින රටක් වෙනුවට ජාතික ආරක්ෂාව ප්‍රමුඛත්වය ගත් බලාධිකාරී රෙජීමයක් බවට පරිවර්තනය විය හැකිය.

මෙය සංහිඳියාවට හානි කර වනු ඇත්තේ, එය විසින් බලයේ සිටින අයට ජනවාර්ගිකත්වය, භාෂාව, ආගම, සහ දේශපාලනික අදහස් අනුව තමන් සමග එකඟ නොවන කණ්ඩායම් මර්දනය කිරීමට ඉඩ ලැබෙනු ඇති නිසාය. එය අනාගත අර්බුදයකට (ත්‍රස්තවාදය වැළැක්වීමේ පනතේ ඉතිහාසය දෙස බලන කල සිදුවූවාක් මෙන්) හේතු සාධක විය හැකිය. ත්‍රස්තවාදය වැළැක්වීමේ පනත ඉවත් කිරීම එහා සමාන තවත් නීතියක් සමග සම්බන්ධ කිරීමේ කිසිදු අවශ්‍යතාවයක් ඇත්තේ නැත. පාර්ලිමේන්තුව විසින් අනිවාර්යෙන්ම ත්‍රස්තවාදය වැළැක්වීමේ පනත ඉවත් කළ යුතු අතර, එය කළ හැක්කකි. කැබිනට් මණ්ඩලය විසින් නව පනත් කෙටුම්පත අකුලා ගැනීම හෝ පාර්ලිමේන්තුව විසින් එය පරාජය කිරීම අනිවාර්යයෙන්ම සිදු විය යුත්තකි. දැනට පවතින නීතින් හරහා ත්‍රස්තවාදය යැයි හඳුන්වන වැරදි සම්බන්ධයෙන් කටයුතු කළ හැකිය.

(දමිත් චන්දිමාල් සහ රුකී ප්‍රනාන්දු)

The terror of counter-terror laws

First published at http://www.sundayobserver.lk/2018/10/21/opinion/terror-counter-terror-laws on 21st October 2018

With the second reading of the Counter Terrorism Bill scheduled for Tuesday (23), rights activists are still raising grave concerns about the proposed legislation.

For about 40 years, the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) served as a license for torture, sexual violence, enforced disappearances, and prolonged detention. Three years have passed since the governmental commitment to repeal it, and it must be done now.

There are also many problematic clauses in the draft of the proposed new counter terror law,which has been tabled in parliament, with the original Sinhalese name, and a new English name – “Counter Terrorism”. Crimes must be prevented and responded to, including serious ones termed as “terrorism” and we already have a plethora of laws to do this. It is also possible to amend existing laws to include any new types of crimes that are not included. Therefore there is no need for a new counter terror law.

We have been living in a state of almost continuous emergency for about 40 years from1971 to 2011. Emergency regulations were reintroduced in March 2018 for a short period when there was violence against Muslims around Kandy. Under the Public Security Ordinance (PSO), the President has absolute discretion, without judicial scrutiny, to declare a state of emergency and ‘emergency regulations’ that can override all laws except the Constitution. Parliament can extend such emergency laws beyond 14 days. Emergency regulations can take away procedural protections on arrests, detention, and trials, which are guaranteed under criminal law, and they can be used for entry, search, seizure of assets and properties, providing powers of arrest to the armed forces, and accepting confessions made to the police. 1

Emergency regulations have also introduced definitions of terrorism. Our Constitution also provides for restrictions of rights2 in the name of national security, without them even being required to be ‘proportionate’. In addition to the PSO and emergency regulations, Sri Lanka has about 15 other laws,3 which can deal with offences that are listed under the proposed counter-terrorism law.

The Bill contains vague and broadly worded definitions of the intention required for the offence of terrorism:4 The defined actions include ones that can infringe on dissent and fundamental rights guaranteed under the constitution.5 Even the exception clause to the above – the exercising of a fundamental right – is subject to that of being done in “good faith”.

There is no compulsion to protect an arrested person from physical harm. Conveying information about the arrest to the arrestee in her or his own language is not compulsory and where it cannot be given immediately, there is no specified time frame to do so. Even if family members are present at the time of arrest, there is a 24 hour period provided, to notify the family of the arrest details. If family members are not present at the time of arrest, serving acknowledgement of arrest is not compulsory. It is not compulsory for female suspects to be questioned by female officers or have a female officer present.

The time frame for a detainee to be produced before a Magistrate is doubled to 48 hours from the 24 hours limit allowed under ordinary laws, increasing the possibility of abuse. A person could be remanded for upto one year without charges and without bail.

Through Detention Orders (DOs) a police officer can tell the judiciary (a Magistrate) what to do, and the Magistrate must obey, in terms of detaining a person, granting bail or discharging an arrestee. These DOs can last up to two weeks at a time and with approval of a Magistrate, can be then extended for eight weeks. Detention is in places and conditions decided by a Minister. Appeals against DOs are to be made to a“Board of Review”, comprising the Minister the Ministry’s Secretary, and two others appointed by the Minister. A detained suspect’s lawyer and family can only access her or him with the prior permission of the Officer in Charge (OIC) of the detention facility or prison.

Lawyers cannot be present during interview and taking of statements. Police are given 72 hours to notify the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) of a detention under a DO, but no time frame is given for the HRCSL to be given a copy of the DO. The Bill gives power to an OIC to do a medical examination of a detainee to check for visible injuries, and if there are visible injuries, the OIC only has to produce a suspect before a Judicial Medical Officer(JMO)and obtain a report.

If a Magistrate or the HRCSL thinks a place of detention/remand does not conform to the requirements of humane treatment (after a visit), they are to notify the Inspector General of Police/Superintendent of Prisons. However, neither of them are obliged to provide ‘whatever is necessary for humane treatment’.

Under the PTA, only police officers can make arrests, enter premises, conduct searches, and seize material, but the new Bill also grants sweeping powers to the armed forces and the coast guard. Police can seek an order from a magistrate to stop a gathering, a meeting, rally or activity, without a chance for an affected party to be heard. A Minister can proscribe an organization and declare any public place or any other location as a prohibited place indefinitely- without prior possibility for the affected to challenge this- powers that even the PTA doesn’t provide for. Additional powers that the Bill provides but the PTA does not have, are for the President to declare a curfew and call out armed forces so as to maintain public order.

The PTA only allowed seizure and forfeiture of properties of a convicted person, but the new draft law expands this to include those acquitted by courts or anyone else.

The Bill also legitimizes acceptance of a penalty such as a public apology, or reparation to victims of the offence- such as undergoing rehabilitation or engaging in community service. In the context of decades long court cases and high legal costs, the threat of fresh charges with high penalties may compel individuals to admit guilt rather than establish their innocence in a Court of law. The Bill also allows the Attorney General, the prosecutor, to play a judicial role by imposing penalties when withdrawing charges.

The new draft Bill improves on some of the draconian provisions of the PTA, but also goes on to provide the Minister, President, armed forces more powers than the PTA. We must not lower our standards to use a much abused draconian law like the PTA as a benchmark for any new law.

Extraordinary powers should always be an exception for limited purposes, limited periods and a limited geographical area, but the new law is a permanent all island law. It introduces offences that are vague and could criminalize exercise of human rights and dissent. It reduces checks and balances to safeguard life, liberty and wellbeing, reduces judicial discretion and grants extraordinary powers to a Minister, police, army and coastguard on top of the wide powers they could exercise even now through proclamation of emergency by the President. These are powers that have been heavily abused in the past and the new bill can facilitate continuation of such abuses. It can permanently militarize civil life, based more on security obsessed authoritarianism than democracy and rule of law. This must be opposed.

(The writer is a rights activist. A significant part of his work in the last few years has been about those detained under the PTA and those released. He has also been detained under the PTA, has a pending investigation for four and half years, and a court order restricting his freedom of expression)

[1]In the past, this has even included bypassing inquests required under ordinary laws for death of persons caused by the police or the army, or the death of persons while in their custody, and made it mandatory for all media organizations to submit their reports to the ‘Competent Authority’ prior to publication or broadcast.

[2]Such as right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, freedoms of expression, assembly, association, and movement, equality before the law and non-discrimination.

[3] For example, Penal Code, Code of Criminal Procedure, Offences Against Aircraft Act No. 24 Of 1982, Suppression Of Unlawful Acts Of Violence At Airports Serving International Civil Aviation No. 31 Of 1996, Suppression Of Unlawful Acts Against The Safety Of Maritime Navigation No. 42 Of 2000, Prevention Of Hostage Taking No. 41 Of 2000, Prevention And Punishment Of Crimes Against Internationally Protected Persons No. 15 Of 1991, Suppression Of Terrorist Bombings Act, No. 11 Of 1999, Chemical Weapons Convention No.58 Of 2007,, Convention On The Suppression Of Terrorist Financing Act No. 25 Of 2005, Financial Transactions Reporting Act No. 6 Of 2006, Prevention of Money Laundering Act No. 05 of 2006 (as amended), Proscribing of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and Other Similar Organizations Law No. 16 of 1978, SAARC Regional Convention On Suppression Of Terrorism Act No. 70 Of 1988, United Nations Act No 45 of 1968 and regulations made under that to deal with terrorist financing and money laundering and which has led to listing of persons and organizations.

[4] Such as “intimidate a population”, “wrongfully or unlawfully compelling the government of Sri Lanka, or any other government, or an international organization, to do or to abstain from doing any act”, “prevent any such government from functioning” or “causing harm to the territorial integrity or sovereignty of Sri Lanka or any other sovereign country”.

[5]obstruction to essential services, obstruction, interference to any electronic or automated system and causing serious risk to safety of a section of a public.

The Struggle for Justice

First published at http://groundviews.org/2018/10/20/the-struggle-for-justice/ on 20th October 2018

Editor’s Note: The following are excerpts from a speech made at the Human Rights Education Award ceremony at the Law & Human Rights Centre in Jaffna, on 19th Oct. 2018

Dear friends,

I want to congratulate the Law and Human Rights Centre for organising this course. It is difficult but very important to do this in Jaffna, a place that sees continuing rights violations, impunity for serious violations in the past and courageous dissent and resistance, be it through protests, the arts, writing, or filing court cases.

Rights violations and struggles for justice

Today, after this event, I will be going to the Jaffna Press Club – for a commemorative event to remember life and work of Nimalarajan, a Tamil journalist killed on 19th October 2000. He is among many Tamil journalists killed, disappeared, assaulted, threatened, and intimidated during and after the war. No one has been held accountable. For many, justice for Tamil journalists appear to be less important than justice for Sinhalese journalists. Even now, Tamil journalists continue to face threats, intimidation, surveillance, interrogation. Not just them, but also families and friends.

This year and last year has been a year of protests in Sri Lanka – especially in the North and East. This includes continuous protests for more than one and half years by families of disappeared and by communities whose lands are occupied by the military. In addition to long drawn out roadside protests, families of the disappeared in Mannar and Vavuniya have published books documenting their stories. Some have met the President, others have made representations to international community representatives in Sri Lanka and Geneva. Some have filed court cases. Some of the leaders have been assaulted, threatened, intimidated and subjected to interrogation and surveillance. Even those inside prisons have been protesting – such as female detainees and political prisoners engaging in hunger strikes.

There have been a few significant victories emerging from these struggles. For example, last year, month long overnight roadside protests by communities in Pilakudiyiruppu and Puthukudiyiruppu led to the release of Army and Air Force-occupied lands. This year, the people of Iranaitheevu made a daring landing on their Navy-occupied island and reclaimed their traditional lands. Hunger strikes by political prisoners have led to reversal of unjust transfer of cases from Tamil areas to Sinhalese areas, and release on bail of some. Sandya Ekneligoda, whose husband disappeared, was threatened by a rough Buddhist Monk Gnanasara while inside court in 2016 – she refused mediation, insisted and courageously pursed justice in courts and finally, Gnanasara was convicted and put behind bars. These are exceptions to the rule, but it’s good to recall these struggles, and see what we can learn from those that were leading and involved in these.

We also need to be conscious of rights abuses, injustice and repression from non-state parties. Last month, a film looking at Tamil militancy, including the LTTE, in a critical way, was removed from the Jaffna film festival due to pressure from some people in Jaffna. Earlier this week, a photo exhibition, a substantial part of which included photos about rights violations in the North and East including disappearances and land, was not allowed to be held in the Peradeniya University by a student group. Last year, several months long protest was held against caste based oppression in Jaffna.

Protests have been held across the North and East against unjust schemes by microfinancecompanies that pushes people into debt and even suicide. The Catholic Archbishop of Colombo preached that human rights are not so important, that it’s a Western concept, that it’s only for people without religions, despite strong views supporting international human rights framework by successive Popes including Pope Francis. Most Muslim men and clergy resist reform of the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA) which legalises blatant discrimination of women and child marriage of girls. Some Buddhist clergy and their followers have been at forefront of violence against Christians and Muslims. Even as we try hold the state accountable, we must also expose and challenge armed groups, business enterprises, religious groups and in general oppressive social – cultural practices that facilitates, justifies and promotes rights abuses and undermines struggles for justice.

It is also a challenge to critically engage with new laws and institutions that we are faced with. These often fall short of legitimate expectations of survivors, victim families and affected communities. They are often compromised, or seek to whitewash old and existing violations and paint a rosy picture of the present situation. The Office on Missing Persons (OMP) established earlier this year and the Act on Reparations approved in Parliament last month are examples. But they also offer tiny rays of hope for a minimal degree of redress to at least a few survivors, victim families and affected communities and thus, we should be careful about rejecting them totally or boycotting them. The Right to Information Act and the Commission is an example of a recent development that have provided answers to some citizens who proactively sought answers about what’s hidden – such as military occupied land and military run businesses, entitlements in terms of flood relief etc.

I want to spend some time to talk about another draft law that’s before parliament now. The Counter Terrorism Bill. We must all stand for immediate and long overdue repeal of the PTA – the Prevention of Terrorism Act. But we must resist the temptation to compare the Counter Terrorism Act with the draconian PTA, and instead, focus on looking at extremely problematic clauses of the CTA which have the potential to restrict our rights and takes away essential lifesaving checks and balances in face of arrest and detention. It is not even compulsory to have a female officer question a female. It is not compulsory to serve acknowledgement of arrest and detention to family of the detainee. The draft restricts roles of the judiciary and confers extraordinary powers to the police, military, the Minister and the President. But we must also ask the more fundamental question of why we need a CTA, especially when we have a Public Security Ordinance, which gives enormous discretionary powers to the President to declare emergency regulations? Why do we need a CTA when our constitution allows restrictions on fundamental rights in special circumstances including for national security? When we have around 15 other laws, including those dealing with terrorism, hate speech that may cause communal disharmony, and money laundering? Laws such as the PTA, have served as license for enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrest and prolonged periods of detention, torture and sexual violence, and crackdowns on freedom of expression, assembly, association and movement. This is true for Sri Lanka and across the world. In Sri Lanka, it is Tamils who have been disproportionately affected by PTA and it is crucial that the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) which is the major political alliance representing Tamils in parliament, and also the opposition party, stands for the full repeal of the PTA, highlights the problematic clauses of the new counter terror law and oppose it’s enactment. And I believe all of us, especially Tamils in the North and East, must demand this from the TNA.

Human Rights Education and certificates

We cannot talk about human rights education, human rights courses and diplomas isolated from the above context. I would like to mention three elements I consider to be important in human rights education. One is the need to study philosophy, history, laws, institutions, gaining skills to research, theorise, analyse. Secondly, to learn about rights violations and abuses. Thirdly, to learn about struggles for justice. I have not followed any course or diploma in human rights, and learned the first in the process of the being involved in the second and the third. Unlike the first, the last two cannot be studied from the comfort of meeting rooms, or in hotels, classrooms, libraries or research online. We have to learn about violations and struggles against them from survivors of violations, families of victims and affected communities. By meeting them where they are – such as in their homes, in hospitals, prisons, IDP camps, or by joining them in their struggles – at a roadside protest, a hunger strike, an overnight vigil, in court battles, or negotiating with authorities.

I’m aware that some of you in the class, your friends, and your family members may also be survivors of violations. Some of you maybe already be involved in struggles for justice. I was impressed when most of you following the course agreed to visit the families of disappeared at the overnight roadside protest. And I’m happy to hear that some who participated are involved in LHRC work as volunteers.

Today, you will get a certificate. Receiving a certificate can be a nice feeling, give a sense of achievement, and practically, they can help you advance in your education and career. The certificate is a small indicator of you completing the course on human rights. But the real indicator of learning about human rights will be from what you do to prevent violations, fight against them, and support the struggles of survivors, victim families and affected communities. You may not get certificates when you do this, but instead, face persecution and reprisals from state, from your own community, colleagues, friends and families. I have faced and still face such challenges and often ask myself whether it was worth it. I hope you will rise to this challenge. I hope the course will support the emergence of a new generation of activists and strengthen ongoing struggles for justice.

Freedom of Expression on the decline in Sri Lanka

First published on 3rd May 2018 at http://groundviews.org/2018/05/03/freedom-of-expression-on-the-decline-in-sri-lanka/

The last twelve months, since World Press Freedom day 2017, has not been a good year for freedom of expression in Sri Lanka. The war ravaged North bore the brunt of repression, while there were also several incidents in other parts of the country. Victims included journalists, lawyers, activists, artists and in particular those speaking out and advocating on issues such as of women’s rights, gender and sexuality. A website that had published content critical of the President was blocked, following an intervention from the Presidential Secretariat. With very few exceptions, impunity reigned for past violations of free expression, including most serious ones such as killings and disappearances of journalists and media workers and arson attacks on media institutions. At an event organized by the Free Media Movement (FMM) on the eve of World Press Freedom day, all the speakers and several participants acknowledged the lack of movement in structural reforms to the media in Sri Lanka in the last year.

Free Expression in 2017 – 2018 in the North

In March this year, the Army was reported to have detained and questioned Shanmugam Thavaseelan, a Tamil journalist reporting about Army’s alleged attempts to seize the land of a destroyed LTTE cemetery. When the journalist had refused to hand over his camera to be searched, he was interrogated by the Army who implied that his days were numbered and also subjected him to verbal abuse. The Army appeared to have acknowledged this during an inquiry by the Human Rights Commission, but there were no reports of even disciplinary action against the responsible officers. In December last year, a group of Tamil journalists doing research on Sinhalisation in the Tamil majority Mullaitivu area were reported to have been detained and questioned by Army and Police, their cameras and equipment seized and photos and videos deleted. The identity details and vehicle registration numbers were also recorded and were photographed by the soldiers.

Also in December, in two separate incidents, two Tamil journalists, Subramaniam Baskaran and Shanmuganathan Manoharan were reported to have been beaten. In July, another Tamil journalist, Uthayarasa Shalin was reported to have been stopped by two soldiers when he was travelling to Maruthankerny, to report on a protest by Tamil families of disappeared, and accused of writing lies. Also in July, Northern Tamil print and broadcast journalist T. Pratheepanwas reported to have received multiple summons by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) to appear in Colombo to testify about broadcasting a press conference, and after informing his inability to travel to Colombo, he was interrogated for three hours about the press conference and was asked to produce footage. His statements, given in Tamil, were transcribed in Sinhala – a language he does not understand and he was pressured to sign this Sinhala document despite being unable to verify its contents. Tamil journalists in the North reported continued surveillance and intimidations.

In a bizarre incident, V. S. Sivakaran, the head of the Federation of Community Organisations in Mannar was reported to have been summoned to appear before the Terrorist Investigation Department (TID) in Colombo, in relation to a letter he had written to President Sirisena, ahead of the latter’s plans to visit the opening of an allegedly illegally constructed Buddhist temple in the vicinity of the historic Thiruketheeswaram Hindu Temple in an area with no Buddhist residents. In his letter, Sivakaran is reported to have criticised the President for his planned participation in the event and that the President’s attendance at the opening ceremony would be marked with protests from aggrieved locals. Sivakaran had not issued any threat to the President’s person.

 Mariyasuresh Easwary, a Tamil woman whose husband had disappeared and has been vocal leader of a prolonged protest demanding truth and justice was assaulted in Mullaitivu. A rights activist was interrogated and beaten on his way home after speaking at an event. A memorial event to remember and grieve for Tamils killed in the war was stopped and organisers harassed and subjected to investigations. In November, two Tamil youths from the Vavuniya district in the Northern Province posted a photo on Facebook showing the Vavuniya District Secretariat office, the purpose of which appeared to be to draw attention to a poster of a tree planting campaign and a large tree behind the poster that looked as if it had been cut. They were questioned by the Vavuniya police, and made to sign an affidavit written in Sinhala, a language they don’t understand, and were told that they could lose their jobs and that they could not photograph Government offices nor critique their actions.

These incidents indicate a trend where the Army and Police seems determined to restrict reporting on matters considered to be sensitive such as disappearances, remembering war-dead, Sinhalisation, land, militarisation and anything critical of the government.

Freedom of Expression outside the North

While freedom of expression was under the greatest strain in the North, there were also several alarming incidents across the rest of the country from 2017 to 2018. Lakshan Dias, a human rights lawyer speaking about the rights violations of religious minorities on TV was threatened by the then Minister of Justice and was compelled to flee the country temporarily, and was subjected to lengthy interrogation on return. Sudesh Nandimal De Silva, an eyewitness and vocal campaigner seeking justice for prison massacre had his house shot at, and received death threats by phone. Human rights lawyer Senaka Perera who had filed a petition on behalf of Nandimal, also received death threats by phone. There were vicious threats online against them and others campaigning for justice. On October 6, Police Assistant Superintendent Roshan Daluwatte was recorded assaulting journalist Susantha Bandara Karunaratne while the latter was being taken into custody. The video of Karunaratne being held by two police officers while Daluwatte slapped him went viral online and was widely broadcast on television. The Human Rights Commission launched an investigation into the incident shortly after.

In general, foreign journalists found access and the working environment  in Sri Lanka favourable, but in March 2018, a week after the attacks on Muslims by mobs identifying as Buddhists, heavily armed Army and Navy personnel tried to stop an Al Jazeera crew with government accreditation, from filming by the roadside. One soldier warned that they don’t like the situation ongoing in the area being known overseas and another stated that they had been ordered not to allow filming in the area, though this was later denied by the Director General of the Government Information Department.

Free Expression online

In March this year, the government restricted access to several social media platforms for several days in the aftermath of attacks against Muslims by mobs identifying themselves as Buddhists in the Kandy district. Right To Information (RTI) requests by the editor of the citizen journalism website Groundviews revealed that the website Lanka E News was blocked, after a letter from the Presidential Secretariat to the Telecommunication Regulatory Commission noting that the website has been publishing false articles about the President and family members and asking the TRC’s Director General to “take suitable action”. Earlier on, Groundviews had managed to obtain a list of 13 websites that had been blocked from 2015onwards by the TRC, with at least in four instances, the order coming directly from the Presidential Secretariat, who via the Media Ministry had made applications to block specific websites, often on the grounds of providing incorrect or false information about the President.

 Reprisals for expressing opinions and advocating on women’s rights, gender and sexuality

In April this year, a performance in Colombo titled “Cardinal Sin”, by Grassrooted Trust, looking at proposed reforms to abortion law was barred by the government’s censorship arm, the Public Performance Board. The performance was part of an annual event called “V day”, the 2018 version of which was called “PatriANarchy” focusing on how patriarchal values continue to inflict violence in Sri Lanka.

The Muslim Personal Law Reforms Action Group (MPLRAG) , which have expressed strong positions against discriminatory and oppressive elements of the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA) have often come under attack in social media, with accusations ranging from them being a group operating in secret, being Israeli agents, not looking like Muslim women etc. Those expressing opinions and advocating in favor of equal rights for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender persons also faced vicious attacks on social media. Women’s dresses, ranging from abaya to bikini also drew criticism on social media. In April this year, the English language “Daily Mirror” newspaper used words such as “nag”, “nitpick”, bemoan”, “lamenting” to describe women who went to courts against discriminatory laws.

Impunity

In August 2017, Nadesapillai Vithyatharan, who was abducted in 2009, tortured and subsequently dumped on the roadside while he was editing the Colombo based “Sudar Oli” paper during the war had asked a senior Sri Lankan journalist Sunanda Deshapriya, ‘Why is this Government not investigating my abduction? Is it because I am not a Wickrematunge or Ekneligoda?’ The then Secretary to Defense had told an Australian TV, “Vithyatharan is a terrorist, so we arrested him”, and Vithyatharan identified two policemen who came to abduct him by name as Ranganathan and Wijerathana. But still, there is no arrests and none of these three have been even questioned to the best of our knowledge.

Tamil journalist Subramaniam Ramachandran disappeared in February 2007 after being seen at an Army checkpoint.

Another Tamil journalist Subramaniyam Sugirtharajan was killed in January 2006 after he had published photos indicating 5 youth killed in Trincomalee in 2006 were by shooting and not due to grenade injuries as narrated by the Special Task Force (STF) of the Police. The Uthayan newspaper office have been subjected to arson attacks and it’s journalists and media workers killed, disappeared, assaulted and threatened numerous times during and after the war, but no one has been arrested, prosecuted or convicted.

In contrast, there has been some progress on three few high profile journalists cases in Colombo. In relation to the killing of Sunday Leader newspaper’s editor Lasantha Wickramatunga and the abduction and torture of Deputy Editor of the Nation newspaper Keith Noyahr, a senior Police Officer an Army Officers were arrested this year.

But after some arrests and revealing of significant information to courts, the case of Prageeth Ekneligoda disappearance seems to be stagnating since about 2016 when all the suspects were released on bail, the last of which was just after a public statement of the President criticising the detention of Army intelligence personnel. Both the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and State Counsel leading the case on behalf of the Attorney General’s (AG) department, had repeatedly told courts of the Army providing false information, denying possession of evidence, delaying production of evidence and misleading investigations and courts. They had also reported a lack of cooperation and obstructions towards investigations from the Army, and intimidation towards witnesses. A key witness, who had seen and questioned Ekneligoda in the Giritale camp on 25th January 2015, has complained to the Police about a conspiracy to harm his life from the Giritale camp.

Significantly, more than three years after the new government came into power, there have been no prosecutions even in these cases, in May 2008, January 2009 and January 2010 respectively.

Conclusion

In the annual World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reports without Borders (RSF), Sri Lanka still languishes in the “bad” or “red” category (Above very bad, but below Good, Fairly Good, Problematic), placed 131 out of 180. The RSF index indicates that Sri Lanka’s situation on press freedom has improved in relation to other countries by ten notches in the last year, but it should not be misunderstood or misinterpreted as indicating an improvement of the situation of press freedom in Sri Lanka since 2017.

Although there has been no killings or disappearances of journalists, media workers or arson attacks on media institutions during this period, the many threats to Freedom of Expression in last 12 months such as those mentioned above, and impunity for past violations, makes it clear that Freedom of Expression was on the decline in Sri Lanka in 2017-2018.

Ekneligoda, Sugirtharajan and 24th January

First published at https://groundviews.org/2018/01/24/ekneligoda-sugirtharajan-and-24th-january/ on 24th January 2018

For several years, the Free Media Movement (FMM) of Sri Lanka and free expression advocates have dubbed January as “Black January”. This was in the context of a large number of journalists killed, disappeared, assaulted, as well as attacks on media institutions – all in January.

24th is one such black day in January. The Trincomalee based Tamil journalist Subramaniyam Sugirtharajan was shot dead on 24th January 2006. The Colombo based Sinhalese cartoonist and journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda disappeared on 24th January 2010.

The almost forgotten journalist killing: Subramaniyam Sugirtharajan

Sugirtharajan, popularly known as SSR, was a part-time provincial journalist working for the Tamil language daily Sudar Oli. He was a father of two children. He had been staying a few kilometers from the office of the Eastern Province Governor. A journalist and close friend of SSR, took me to the spot SSR was shot. It was approximately less than 100 meters from the Governor’s office and about 200 meters from his own house. Another journalistic colleague and friend of SSR told me that before the killing, SSR had been feeling insecure and wanted to find a safer house in a different location. A house had been identified, but he was killed before he could actually move. Everyone I spoke to mentioned that the nearest reason for his killing would have been the photos he took of 5 youth murdered on the beach of Trincomalee on 2ndJanuary 2006, popularly known now as the “Trinco 5 case”. Another friend of SSR, also known to me, told me that on the morning of 3rd January 2006, SSR had told him that he wanted to get photos of the five youth killed, whose bodies were at the mortuary. Our mutual friend had dropped SSR, armed with a camera, at the hospital. According to him, the military was not allowing anyone, even the families of the youth, access to the mortuary to see the bodies. But SSR had persisted. And finally, the photos he took were published on “Sudar Oli” newspaper on 4th January 2006. They had shown clear gunshot wounds, thus, disputing the version that the youth had not been shot dead. Reporters sans frontières (RSF) had noted that SSR had also detailed the abuses committed by Tamil paramilitary groups including the EPDP in the Trincomalee region, the day before his murder.

One journalist friend of SSR in Trincomalee spoke to me at length about his association with SSR and aftermath of his killings. He said he had spontaneously rushed to the spot of his killing when he heard the news, but later, was too scared to go to the hospital to see the body or even for the funeral. Two days later, he had got a letter, from group called “Force destroying the Enemy”. The letter had accused him of canvassing for Vanni Tigers, that 3 such persons had been identified, verdict had been delivered and implemented on one person (Sugirtharajan) and that he should count his days, as he was going to be the 2nd.

Disappearance of a journalist: Prageeth Ekneligoda

Like SSR, Prageeth Ekneligoda had also attracted the wrath of persons he had critiqued and exposed through his writings and cartoons. Prageeth also is a father of two boys. Reports by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) to the Courts indicate that Ekneligoda was abducted from Rajagiriya in the Colombo district by Army Intelligence personnel, and taken to Giritale Army Intelligence camp, where he had been questioned about a book related to family of then President Rajapakse. According to CID investigation reports to courts, the abductors had moved from Akkaraipattu to Giritale from 25th until the 27th afternoon, without proper records of their movements and that of vehicles. Both the CID and State Counsel leading the case on behalf of the Attorney General’s (AG) department, had repeatedly told courts of the Army providing false information, denying possession of evidence, delaying production of evidence and misleading investigations and courts. They had also reported a lack of cooperation and obstructions towards investigations from the Army, and intimidation towards witnesses. A key witness, who had seen and questioned Ekneligoda in the Giritale camp on 25th January 2015, has complained to the Police about a conspiracy to harm his life from the Giritale camp.

Hostile posters had appeared on public places against Ekneligoda’s wife, Sandya Ekneligoda, the central figure in the campaign for truth and justice in Ekneligoda’s disappearance. She has faithfully gone to courts more than hundred times, often alone, despite the hostility of suspects who were from Military Intelligence, that had been arrested and subsequently released on bail. The suspect’s supporters had also been hostile to Sandya, and she was compelled to complain to the Police about intimidation from one of these, Galaboda Ethhe Gnanasara Thero, leader of the Bodu Bala Sena. A separate case is progressing in relation to this, after Sandya had insisted on justice through the judicial process instead of “settling” the matter through a mediation board.

Free expression today

I feel this write-up will not be complete without briefly looking at free expression in Sri Lanka today. I will try doing this through some incidents that made strong impressions on me in 2017. In and around Colombo, the house of a vocal campaigner against a prison massacre was shot at, a human rights lawyer got death threats from an unknown caller, another rights lawyer was threatened by the then Minister of Justice for speaking out against violence against religious minorities and a trade union leader was abducted amidst months long worker’s protest. In the former war ravaged North, a protesting wife of a disappeared man was assaulted, a memorial for war dead was stopped and organizers harassed and subjected to investigations, youth were questioned and threatened by Police for posting photos of a government office and journalists were summoned for questioning, stopped from engaging in investigative journalism and reporting issues such as disappearances and militarization etc. Websites have been blocked arbitrarily. There are many more I can add to the list. Clearly, although no journalist was killed or disappeared in Sri Lanka in 2017, it was still a bad year for free expression and fundamental freedom.

Prospects for justice for Ekneligoda, Sugitharajan and other victims

The courageous, determined and sustained campaign of 8 years by Sandya, significant national and international media attention and investigations by the CID appears to have brought out some truths about the disappearance of Ekneligoda in 2015-2016. But progress appears to have stalled, or even moved backwards last year, primarily due to lack of cooperation from the Army and key suspects being released on bail a few weeks after President publicly questioned their detention. Compared to Ekneligoda, there has been very little national and international interest about Sugirtharajan, murdered four years before Ekneligoda disappeared. Not surprisingly, there is no progress in investigations and no arrests.

It is twelve years since Sugirtharajan was killed. Eight years after Ekneligoda disappeared. And three years since a government that had a mandate of “good governance” came into power, promising accountability for past violations, such as against Sugirtharajan and Ekneligoda. But right now, for both of them, as well as numerous other freedom of expression violations, including in Black January, prospects for truth and justice through prosecutions and convictions appear bleak and a distant dream.

In support of religious minorities, rule of law and Lakshan Dias

First published on 18th June 2017, at http://groundviews.org/2017/06/18/in-support-of-religious-minorities-rule-of-law-and-lakshan-dias/

Religious minorities in Sri Lanka – particularly Muslims and Evangelical Christians – faced serious persecution under the Rajapakse Government, which has continued even under the Sirisena-Ranil Government. The Catholic Archbishop of Colombo, who has been hostile towards Evangelical Christians (a numerical minority amongst Christians), now appears to be assisting this Government’s approach of denying the actual problem and attacking those who are attempting to highlight the gravity of the problem. The latest victim is well known human rights lawyer and my good friend, Lakshan Dias.

Given the latest statements from the President and the Minister of Justice, and the general lack of focus on violations of religious rights of Evangelical Christians, I will focus on violence directed towards them (Evangelical Christian) in this article. Some of the systematic violence directed towards the Muslim community has been already well documented.[1]

On 27 May 2017, the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL) issued a press release, expressing concern about increasing attacks on religious minorities in Sri Lanka.[2] They cited over 20 incidents of violence and intimidation against Christian places of worship across the country in 2017 and over 190 incidents of religious violence against churches, clergy and Christians since 2015. Many of these incidents have been documented on the NCEASL website.[3] The NCEASL press release also highlighted the “alarming increase in the number of incidents led against Muslims”.

On 31 May 2017, the Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka wrote to the President, drawing his attention to the “spate of attacks on places of Christian religious worship in the recent past” and expressing grave concern about acts of violence and aggression targeting the Muslim community.[4] The Commission requested the President to “give urgent directions to Ministry of Law and Order and the Inspector General of Police to take all necessary action against the instigators and perpetrators of violence and hate speech targeting the Muslim community as well as other religious minorities.” This clearly doesn’t seem to have happened.

Lakshan’s brave expose and reprisals from President and Minister

On 14 June 2017, during a the TV talk show titled “Aluth Parlimenthuwa (new parliament)”, Lakshan highlighted that Muslim and Christian places of worship are under attack and that 195 attacks against Christians have been reported since 8 January 2015.[5] Lakshan has been a determined and long standing campaigner and advocate on the rights of religious minorities. He often travels far to rural areas, interacts with victimized communities, publicizes their plight, and appears in courts across the country on numerous cases, during this Government and under the previous Government. Although he was referring to the NCEASL report, he is personally aware of many such incidents.

His comments on the TV talk show, especially his candid assertion that Buddhist Monks are behind some of these attacks, drew immediate and angry reactions from a hostile anchor and two other panelists. And within days, it also drew negative reactions from President Sirisena and Minister of Justice and Buddhasasana, Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, both of whom were quoted on primetime news of government TV station, ITN on 17 June 2017.[6] President Sirisena said that he had called the Catholic Archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, and asked from him about attacks on Catholics/Christians (although Lakshan never mentioned attacks on Catholics in the TV talk show). According to President Sirisena, the Cardinal had said that there had been no such attacks. Minister Wijeyadasa misquotes Lakshan as having said 166 attacks against Christians in recent days of this year (what Lakshan actually said is that there have been 195 attacks between 8th January 2015 till todate[7]). The Minister then goes on to say that the Cardinal had claimed no such incidents have happened in Sri Lanka.

Complicity of the Cardinal

The Cardinal on his part has accepted that he doesn’t know that Churches have been attacked to this extent and claims he doesn’t know where this data comes from.[8] This is despite NCEASL incident reports being available publicly for many years, their 27th May 2017 press release and the open letter from the Human Rights Commission etc. The Cardinal’s claim that he is not aware of such large numbers of attacks against Evangelical Christians is difficult to believe, and is likely to be an attempt to sweep these incidents under the carpet, or justify them, given his hostility towards Evangelical Christians. If he is actually ignorant, that shows an extraordinary degree of insensitivity to the rights of religious minorities in Sri Lanka and towards a minority group amongst Christians. His hostility towards some non Catholic Christians is apparent as he refers to them as “fundamentalist Christian groups”. He acknowledges that these Christians may have faced persecution, and that he doesn’t know whether such persecution has been in context of them (fundamentalist Christian groups) building “things like new churches” or trying to “recruit members in areas they had no members”. Cardinal appears to have conveniently forgotten that that for centuries, in Sri Lanka and beyond, thousands of Catholics have been recruited from areas there were never Catholics and that “things like churches” have been built across Sri Lanka by Catholics, including in areas where there had never been Catholics historically.

The President and the Minister appear to be ignorant of the fact that there are many Christian churches in Sri Lanka, and that the Cardinal is only one of the leaders of one of these Churches, the Catholic Church. It’s noteworthy that the Cardinal himself acknowledges that he is only in charge of Catholics in the Western Province (Colombo Archdiocese).[9] There 11 other Catholic dioceses in Sri Lanka led by different Bishops in the other 8 provinces in the country, and there are many other non-Catholic, vibrant Christian communities across the country. Given his limited mandate even within the Catholic Church, his open hostility towards other Christians and his stated ignorance, Cardinal is indeed a very poor choice to consult on matters affecting Christians in Sri Lanka. Indeed, while recognizing Christians as being a numerical religious minority in Sri Lanka, we also need to recognize Evangelicals Christians as a marginalized numerical minority within the Christian community in Sri Lanka, persecuted also by some Catholics, who are the majority Christian community in Sri Lanka.

It appears that both the President and the Minister had not made any effort to contact the NCEASL, even though Lakshan had cited the NCEASL as the institution which had documented the 195 attacks. If the President and the Minister had looked at the NCEASL press statement and incident reports on their website over the years, they would have got a wealth of information about attacks on Evangelical Christians under their watch as well as under the Rajapakse Government. Furthermore, the comments by the President and Minister make no mention of whether they made inquiries with other institutions – such as the Human Rights Commission and the Police – about complaints made to them.

State and Police complicity and refusal to act

An examination of documented incident reports by the NCEASL[10] indicates a range of incidents such as arson, demolition of churches, damage to property, physical assault of clergy and church members causing serious injury, death threats, intimidation, discrimination, forced displacement, and forced closure of churches. Amongst the perpetrators are Buddhist Monks, State officials and Police officers. Police officers have been known to compel Protestant Christian pastors to discontinue religious worship activities.[11] A Police officer, a Hindu religious leader and other community members had also denied burial rites to an Evangelical Christian in a public cemetery.[12]

A common theme in incidents is the seeming reluctance of the Police to act against suspects infringing on the rights of religious minorities. This reluctance appears to be due to influence and pressure exerted by local Buddhist monks, government officials, and politicians. For example, there has been much said and written about the arrest warrants and non-arrest of errant Buddhist Monk, Gnanasara Thero of the BBS, so I will not comment further on it.

Although Sri Lankan law does not require the registration of religious places of worship for any religious body, a circular in October 2008 issued by the Ministry of Buddha Sasana and Religious Affairs demanded that all “new constructions” of places of worship should obtain approval from the said Ministry. This has not been withdrawn by the current Government. Since the introduction of the circular, Christian Evangelical churches have faced routine harassment, including forced closures by local government authorities who claim such places of worship as not ‘recognized’ or ‘registered’ with the government. Refusal of ‘recognition’ by the state has deprived thousands of Christians of their right to practice their religion. THE NCEASL incident reports indicate that after this Government came into power, more than 50 incidents involving local government and law enforcement officials involved the use of the October 2008 circular to infringe on the rights of Evangelical Christians. The October 2008 circular appears to be used to target the numerically smaller Christian churches in Sri Lanka and not the Catholic and other numerically larger and politically influential churches.[13]

Threat to remove Lakshan from legal profession

Perhaps the most outrageous parts of this drama is the public threat by the Minister of Justice and Buddhasasana to take legal action to remove Lakshan from the legal profession, unless Lakshan apologizes for his comments within 24 hours.[14] Given that a Minister has no role to play in a process of the dismissal of a lawyer, this is clearly a political threat from the Minister.

I am amongst the many victims of injustice on whose behalf Lakshan has advocated in and out of courts. It is left to be seen if some of the many Christians and others Lakshan has defended, campaigned, and advocated for, will stand by Lakshan. And whether and to what extent the Bar Association in Sri Lanka, religious groups, media organizations and others concerned will respond to this threat, which appears to be a threat not just to Lakshan, but to the legal profession as a whole as well as to free expression, religious freedom and the rule of law.

Ruki Fernando is a member of the Justice, Peace & Integrity of Creation Commission of the (Catholic) Conference of Major Religious Superiors (JPIC-CMRS) and the Ecumenical group, Christian Solidarity Movement (CSM).

[1] http://groundviews.org/2017/05/22/escalating-violence-renewed-assaults-on-the-muslim-community/

[2] http://mailchi.mp/0f02c4911569/press-release-increase-in-attacks-on-religious-minorities-in-sri-lanka-1208153

[3] http://nceasl.org/category/incident-reports/

[4] http://hrcsl.lk/english/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Letter-to-H.E.-re-Religious-Intolerance-E.pdf

[5] http://www.derana.lk/Aluth-Parlimenthuwa-TV-Derana&vid=18325&page=1 (1.16.17 – 1.16.50)

[6] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aMHziODI3yQ&feature=youtu.be (5.47 – 7.33)

[7] http://www.derana.lk/Aluth-Parlimenthuwa-TV-Derana&vid=18325&page=1 (1.16.17 – 1.16.50)

[8] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0s3hdvEKe4s&feature=youtu.be (1.33-2.07)

[9] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0s3hdvEKe4s&feature=youtu.be (2.23-2.33)

[10] http://nceasl.org/category/incident-reports/

[11] http://nceasl.org/pastor-demanded-to-discontinue-religious-activities/

[12] http://nceasl.org/burial-rites-denied-pastor-harassed-at-christian-funeral-2/

[13] The majority of Christians in Sri Lanka are Catholics. The Catholic Bishops are generally recognized as their leaders and have access to powerful politicians. Catholics and Christians in the Churches who are members of the National Christian Council (NCC) are also generally recognized by the government as legitimate and “de-facto” Christians / Churches. But Christians belonging to numerically smaller Churches, many of whom are members of the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka, are often not recognized by the government and not given opportunities in representative bodies and consultations, even though several of these churches are legal bodies incorporated by acts of parliament.

[14] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aMHziODI3yQ&feature=youtu.be (6.37 – 6.57)

Sri Lanka’s Transitional Moment and Transitional Justice

First published in the report “Human Rights situation in Sri Lanka: 17Aug 2015 – 17 Aug2016” by INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre on 18th August 2016

Within the first month after winning the parliamentary elections in August 2015, the new Government made a series of commitments related to transitional justice. These were articulated through a speech by the Foreign Minister at the 30th session of the UN Human Rights Council.[1] These commitments were also reflected in the resolution on Sri Lanka that was adopted by the Human Rights Council on 1 October 2015.[2] The resolution came just after the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights had published a report which alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity and other serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian laws, by both the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE.[3]

Government’s commitments 

The present Government’s commitments included setting up an Office of Missing Persons (OMP), a Commission for Truth, Justice, and Guarantees of Non-reoccurrence, a Judicial mechanism with Special Counsel, which will have the participation of foreign judges, prosecutors, investigators and defence lawyers, and an Office for Reparations. The Government also committed to reduce the military’s role in civilian affairs, facilitate livelihoods, repeal and reform the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), criminalise disappearances, ratify the Enforced Disappearance Convention[4] , review the victim and witness protection law, and range of other actions. Consultations to seek people’s views on transitional justice is underway across the country, under the leadership of some civil society activists.

The Enforced Disappearance Convention was ratified in May this year and the draft Bill to create the OMP was passed by Parliament on 11 August. There are positive features as well as weaknesses and ambiguities in the Bill[5]. Due to a history of failed initiatives, the minimal ‘consultations’ that occurred during drafting process and the lack of information on details, there appears to be very little confidence in the OMP amongst families of the disappeared. This is likely to be the case for other mechanisms, unless there’s a drastic change in approach from the government.

Reactions to transitional justice within Sri Lanka

Currently, the transitional justice agenda appears to be polarising Sri Lankan society. Opinion polls, and my own impressions, indicate that the Tamil community, particularly in the North and the East, who bore the brunt of the war, appears to favour strong international involvement. But the majority Sinhalese community appears to reject international involvement. Varying opinions have been expressed about forgetting the past, memorialisation, prosecutions, and amnesty. There are also different or contradictory opinions and expectations within each ethnic community and amongst survivors of violations and families of victims.

The Government’s transitional justice commitments have been criticised by the former President and his supporters. Even the release of a few political prisoners, the release of small amounts of land occupied by the military, and the establishment of the OMP to find truth about missing persons have been framed as an international conspiracy that endangers national security and seeks revenge from “war heroes”.

There does not appear to be an official Government policy document on transitional justice. The Government’s commitments have only been officially articulated in Geneva by the Foreign Minister and not in Sri Lanka . The Foreign Minister has been the regular advocate and defender of these commitments. Some of the meetings with local activists have been convened by him and the Secretariat for Co-ordinating Reconciliation Mechanisms (SCRM) is housed in the Foreign Ministry. All these contribute to the process being seen as emanating and driven by foreign pressure. Outreach on the Government’s transitional justice plans appears to focus on the international community and not towards Sri Lankan people.

The President and Prime Minister have not been championing the Government’s official commitments. For example, the duo have publicly stated that the commitment to have foreign judges in the judicial mechanism will not be fulfilled. Even this has not satisfied the critics alleging foreign conspiracy, and has disappointed some activists, especially Tamils, as well as survivors and victims’ families.

Developments on the ground

Monuments erected to honour the Sinhalese dominated military during the Rajapakse time continue to dominate the Tamil majority Northern landscape. Army camps that were built over some of the cemeteries of former LTTE cadres that were bulldozed by the Army after the war are still there. The loved ones of those whose remains were in these cemeteries have no place to grieve, lay flowers, light a candle, or say a prayer. While the numbers have reduced from those under the Rajapaske regime, intimidation and reprisals on families, attacks, and threats and intimidation of activists and journalists continue to occur. Limited progress on issues, such as the release of political prisoners, land occupied by military, continuing military involvement in civilian affairs in the North and East, reports of continuing abductions, and arrests under the PTA have raised doubts about the Government’s commitments. Although a few military personnel have been convicted and some others arrested on allegations of human rights abuses, the lack of progress in thousands of other cases only reinforces calls for international involvement for justice.

Towards Rights & Democratization beyond Transitional Justice framework

Unemployment, debt, and sexual and gender-based violence is widespread in the former war ravaged areas. The new Government’s economic and development policies are focusing on trade, investment, and mega development projects, which privilege the rich and marginalise the poor. Pre-war rights issues, such as landlessness, sexual and gender-based violence and discrimination, caste, rights of workers, including those working on tea estates, still need to be addressed.

A consultation process towards a new constitution drew a large number of public representations, dealing with many of the issues mentioned above. But the next steps are not clear, particularly in finding political solutions to the grievances of the country’s ethnic minorities.

The political leadership will have to reach out to all Sri Lankans, especially to the Sinhalese majority, about its reform agenda, while taking principled actions to win the confidence of numerical minorities such as Tamils and Muslims. At the national level, the coming together of the two major political parties and support of the two major parties representing Tamils and Muslims, makes this a unique opportunity to push towards radical reforms.

It will also be a challenge to go beyond a conventional transitional justice framework and use the transitional moment to move towards reconciliation, democratisation, and sustainable development, by addressing civil and political rights as well as economic, social, and cultural rights in a holistic manner, considering the yearnings of war survivors, victims’ families, and the poor, for truth, reparations, criminal accountability, and economic justice.

[1] Speech by Hon Mangala Samaraweera at the 30th session of the Human Rights Council, Geneva, 14 September 2015.

[2] Human Rights Council Resolution, Promoting reconciliation, accountability, and human rights in Sri Lanka, 14 October 2015, UN Doc. A/HRC/RES/30/1 (adopted 1 October 2015).

[3] Human Rights Council, Report of the OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL), thirtieth session, 16 September 2015, UN Doc. A/HRC/30/CRP.2.

[4] International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, adopted 20 December 2006, UN Doc. A/61/488 (entered into force 23 December 2010) (“Enforced Disappearance Convention”).

[5] For more on OMP, see http://thewire.in/42687/sri-lankas-disappeared-will-the-latest-missing-persons-office-bring-answers/

Where is journalist Subramanium Ramachandran 9 years after he disappeared?

First published on 15th February 2016 at http://groundviews.org/2016/02/15/where-is-journalist-subramanium-ramachandran-9-years-after-he-disappeared/

Subramanium Ramachandran, a Jaffna based Tamil journalist disappeared on 15th of February 2007 in Jaffna. Despite eyewitness accounts of being detained at an Army checkpoint and camps, till today his whereabouts are unknown and his elderly parents and family await his arrival every day. His colleagues and family remember him as a courageous journalist who would write without fear on any issue. During the war, he was one of the few journalists based in Jaffna who would continue to report on abuse and violations by the Military and other para militant groups. Nine years after his disappearance Ramachandran’s case like other journalists, activists, civilians who disappeared or were killed remains uninvestigated and under reported.

The Incident

Few weeks before his disappearance, Ramachandran had written an article on illegal sand mining and transportation which was taking place with the involvement of businessmen and military officers. Following this article, a Judge was reported to have made an order to confiscate a vehicle used for this purpose. At the same time the LTTE was reported to have torched another vehicle belonging to the businessmen. His colleagues believe that his abductors were persons angered by this article.

According to an eye witness, on the day of the incident, Ramachandran was coming home after work. It was a routine at that time to have a curfew imposed in Jaffna after 6.00pm. On his way he was stopped at the Army camp at Kalikai junction, not far from his home in Jaffna. The eyewitness had seen some soldiers having surrounded him for questioning. At around 7.00pm when the power was out, neighbors have reported on hearing an Army vehicle (Buffel) coming to the area and that they believe that Ramachandran may have been taken away at this point.

His sister Jeyaratnam Kamalishini who used to live close to him, was becoming anxious when Ramachandran had not returned by 8.00pm in the night. She had called him twice that night. On both occasions he has told her not to worry and that he’s been questioned at a camp and that he would return soon. When the brother did not turn up by 4.00am, the next day morning, the sister has called him again. This time he had asked her not to call him again as this was putting him in trouble. Thereafter Kamalashini together with her father, had rushed to the nearest camp to her house to inquire about her brother. When they inquired about Ramachandran the Army officers there denied knowledge that they had seen him or taken him. When the family insisted on wanting information the Army officers had threatened them with arrest and chased them away.

That night, another sister residing in Norway, had called Ramachandran. This was the last time he had spoken to the family, and had told her not to worry and that he will come home soon. Thereafter, his family rang him regularly till 2012. The phone would ring but no one would answer it. In 2012 the phone company had changed the user for the number. Hence even that contact ceased thereafter.

The long search and authorities admitting Ramachandran was taken by them

Soon after the incident, like many families of disappeared persons, Kamalashini and her father would wait for hours in the Civil Affairs Office of the Military hoping some information of her brother can be obtained. Her frequent visits finally paid off, and a sympathetic intelligence officer of that area had informed her that the military had taken Ramachandran due to orders from higher ranks. He had also instructed her to seek an appointment with Mr. Douglas Devananda who was then a Minister and also the leader of the Ealam’s People’s Democratic Party (EPDP).

Following this the family had the Minister together with his Secretary, Ms Maheshwari Velautham who was also a lawyer and an advisor to the EPDP. Mr Devananda had told the family that Ramachandran was taken away because he has done “unnecessary” things. Later on, Ramachandran’s sister met Ms Maheshwari at her house. She agreed to facilitate a visit of the family to visit Ramachandran once at his place of detention. She has also mentioned the possibility of filing a Court case. Ms. Maheshwary was shot dead by the LTTE soon after. The family had met the Minister again and an argument broke out between him and Ramachandran’s father. The father had implied that the EPDP was working together with the Military and has been abducting persons. The Minister had warned the father not to say anything against the Military or else he also might be shot.

Few months after the civil war ended, Kamalashini was visited by six persons from the police and the Military. They requested her for all Ramachandran’s personal documents including his educational certificate. When his father handed over the documents at the Point Pedro police station, he was told that these documents were requested to give Ramachandran a job.

More eye witnesses

Kamalashini also stated that two different witnesses had claimed to have seen Ramachandran as late as 2013, once in the Kangesanthurai High Security Zone, and once in the Pallappai Army camp belonging to the 524 Brigade. On the first occasion which had taken place between 2009 – 2010, the witnesses have reported to have spoken to Ramachandran, and later confirmed it was Ramachandran after the family had shown his photos. Ramachandran had told the witnesses that the Military has been promising to release him, but has kept him there without doing so. On the second occasion a Government Officer has gone for a routine meeting with the Military to the Pallappai Army camp. The witness had stated that an Intelligence Officer had pointed out Ramachandran to him and said ‘we have a journalist from your village’. The name of the intelligence officer had been the same as the one who had admitted to Kamalishini that it was Military who had taken Ramachandran.

The inaction by the Police and submissions made to the Paranagama Commission  

Few days after the incident, Ramachandran’s father had made a complaint to the Point Pedro Police station, but there had been no responses from the Police to date. According to a journalist in Jaffna, the Magistrate in Point Pedro had asked the Police to inquire into the incident after he had seen news about it. The Police had subsequently visited the sister’s house, taken her to the Police station and interrogated her from about 11am to 7pm. Most of the questions had been centered on how the sister had known Ramachandran was taken away by soldiers at the Kalikai camp. The sister had felt that the Police was more interested in identifying the eyewitness and source than actually trying to find Ramachandran.

 

On the 13th of December 2015, Kamalashini made a detailed oral submission to the Presidential Commission of Inquiry looking into Missing Persons (The Paranagama Commission).  She had sited the eye witness’s accounts she had heard. On the 26th of January 2016, the Commission sent a letter to her. The letter stated that the case has been referred for investigation. It further instructed her to contact the Government Office to obtain economic assistances which she is entitled to.

When will impunity for disappearances and attacks on media end?

Arrests made and progress in courts in the case of Sinhalese journalist Prageeth Ekenligoda who disappeared in January 2010 has received much publicity. The progress is largely due to determined and courageous campaign by his wife and family. There has also been some public commitments by the government to investigate the killing of leading English newspaper editor Lasantha Wickramathunga, although actual progress is not known. But there is a deafening silence on progress made on other attacks on journalists, media workers and media institutions.

There have been numerous killings, disappearances, assaults, threats, restrictions on Tamil journalists, Media workers and Media institutions in North and East, including serious arson attacks. The most popular Tamil daily newspaper in the North, the “Uthayan” has suffered a series of such attacks. According to the owner and Editor, there has been no progress in relation to even one incident.

Ramachandran’s case is one of the few cases where there is compelling evidence and eyewitness accounts to unravel what happened to him after his disappearance. This includes reports of him being seen at a specific Army camp in 2013, 6 years after he had disappeared. However, the family has not been informed of any attempts to obtain information from the authorities. Ramachandran’s family has been waiting for nine years in the hope that he would return one day. Will Ramachandran ever return home? Will his family and colleagues ever receive answers from the Government on what happened to him after his disappearance?

Ruki Fernando & Swasthika Arulingam

UN report on Sri Lanka and Freedom of Expression

First published at https://samsn.ifj.org/un-report-on-sri-lanka-and-freedom-of-expression/ on 30th September 2015

Earlier in September, Ruki Fernando was in Geneva as the reports of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released the longest page-report (251 pages) narrating the horrific stories of unlawful killings and enforced disappearances out of Sri Lanka. Having been investigated himself under the grounds of terrorism Act, one which the OHCHR report has called for reviews. Ruki accounts a personal involvement and knowledge as he writes about the new UN report, its pros and cons, and how it could affect the cases of missing Sri Lankan journalists like Subramanium Ramachandran and Prageeth Ekneligoda as well as freedom of expression at large. 

In early September, I visited the parents of Subramanium Ramachandran, a Tamil journalist from Jaffna who has been reported as missing since February 200, having been last seen at an Army checkpoint[1]. There has been nothing heard since and his parents, now in their 80s, still desire for truth and justice, but appeared to have given up hope that their son will return. From Jaffna, I went on to Geneva. There the anguish of Ramachandran’s parents and many other families and survivors, was brought alive through the reports of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)[2]. The longer 251 page report (OISL) narrates horrific stories of unlawful killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, torture, sexual and gender based violence, attacks on civilians in places such as hospitals and churches. It highlighted reprisals against those seeking to challenge and question authorities in order to expose the truth and seek justice, which journalist Ramachandran had tried to do. It revealed denials, failures to carry out investigations and prosecutions such as in Ramachandran’s disappearance. It highlights inadequacy of domestic mechanisms and recommended a special hybrid court with international judges, lawyers, prosecutors and investigators, as well as actions by member states of the UN. The OHCHR report also called for review of the Prevention of Terrorism Act – under which I was arrested last year and I am still under investigation. A gag order restricting my freedom of expression is still there, after having given interviews to BBC, CNN another media outlets. Many other journalists, opposition politicians, clergy and activists have been arrested and detained under this draconian law, which has been and is still being used to curtail dissent and free expression. As the UN report was being released, I was sitting next to families of disappeared (journalists), including Sandya Ekneligoda, wife of disappeared Sinhalese journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda, outside the meeting room in the UN, as we were not allowed to go inside. I tried my best to translate the High Commissioners remarks through the webcast to Sandya. Prageeth’s case was mentioned in both reports. Sandya had waged an unrelenting battle for truth and justice, including giving testimony to the OHCHR. She welcomed the report, emphasizing the importance of looking at the past to move forward. The OISL report detailed the killing of the Sunday Leader[3] editor Lasantha Wickramatunge, the series of attacks on the “Uthayan”[4] and the alleged detention, murder and desecration of the dead body by the Army, of the well-known LTTE female TV presenter Isaipriya. Ramachandran’s was amongst the many such cases that were not mentioned by name. The reports highlighted the widespread, systemic and repeated targeting of media known to be critical of the government over an extended period of time, insufficient protection offered to media workers who faced recurrent attacks and how this led to self-censorship and exile in fear of their lives, as well as fact that the number of journalists and media workers killed was amongst the highest in the world. The report however appears not to have dealt with the connection between free expression and broader patterns of serious violations. For example, it has not emphasized the lack of access and restrictions for independent media during the last phase of war or even after the war and how this and the general repression of freedom of expression prevented serious violations being highlighted. The UN reports also doesn’t recognize the widespread use of state and private media to discredit independent-minded journalists, press freedom activists and others critical of the government, which hampered their ability to report freely and also led to exile and self-censorship and the fact that a large proportion of journalists killed during the period were Tamils. The reports noted that “surveillance, interference and harassment of human rights defenders continued to be reported from the district level” in 2015, despite a “significant opening of space for freedom of expression at least in Colombo”. Indeed, few days before the launch of the reports, Police in North and East obstructed peaceful signature campaigns for a petition to the UN. The OISL report emphasized the importance of an environment where victims and witnesses can participate without fear in transitional justice mechanisms and that such a climate does not yet exist. Truth seeking, memorialization, prosecutions will depend on the extent to which people, particularly survivors and victims’ families feel free to express themselves without fear of reprisals. Media will have a major role to play in covering these processes independently. It will have to report the contents of the OHCHR reports, reactions or lack thereof in a responsible manner. This will depend on the extent to which media can function independently, without threats, restrictions or political interference. _________

[1] http://en.rsf.org/sri-lanka-army-said-to-be-holding-tamil-23-03-2007,21420.html

[2] News release with summary at http://ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=16432&LangID=E (The report is divided into two parts which are interlinked: The overarching Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on Promoting Reconciliation, Accountability and Human Rights (A/HRC/30/61), available at  http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session30/Documents/A_HRC_30_61_ENG.docx and the accompanying report of the OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka (A/HRC/30/CRP.2) which can be found at  http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session30/Documents/A_HRC_30_CRP_2.docx

[3] English weekly newspaper, well known for its fearless exposes of corruption

[4] A Jaffna based Tamil newspaper with the highest circulation, which had consistently criticized alleged abuses by the government and the military against Tamils

 

Sri Lanka: The long road home for the exiled

First published at https://samsn.ifj.org/sri-lanka-the-long-road-home-for-the-exiled/ on 13th May 2015

On April 30, 2015, three Sri Lankan journalists and human rights defenders (HRDs) Shantha, Jayampathi and Kumuduni returned home after several years in exile in Nepal and short periods in India and the Maldives[1].

All three had been recognized as refugees by UNHCR in Nepal, but had renounced their refugee status and opportunity for permanent resettlement in a western country. Instead they decided to return home after the former Sri Lankan president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, was defeated at presidential elections on January 8 this year.

These Sri Lankans had previously faced death threats, arrests and detention and harassments due to their opposition to the authoritarian Rajapaksa, compelling them to flee their homeland. I had been in touch with them during the time they faced threats in Sri Lanka as well as during their exile, and I know they went only as a last resort and longed to return. But they found out that return was more difficult than being relocated. Numerous appeals made by them to Sri Lankan authorities and UNHCR didn’t yield results for more than 100 days. Appeals by Sri Lankan, Nepali and international media organizations also didn’t yield results.

As I tried to assist them in return, I found that there are very few international human rights and media freedom organizations are ready to assist journalists / HRDs to return home and continue their work, although many had come forward to assist those at risk to relocate. Only the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and Frontline Defenders responded favourably to my appeals. Some didn’t reply for months and some claimed the nature of assistance required and generally the idea of assisting those in exile to return and continue work was not in their mandate. It literally took an earthquake to change the situation!

After the earthquake in Nepal, the Sri Lankan government rushed emergency assistance to Nepal and committed to bring back all Sri Lankans who were in Nepal. Sri Lankan colleagues, friends and organizations intensified their appeals and pressure on the Sri Lankan government to also get back Shantha, Jayampthi and Kumidini. Finally, they returned last week, during the early hours of April 30.

Exile is something close to my heart. I was also compelled to spend a few months in exile and when I returned, had to take complicated security precautions. I had often wondered about my complicity in assisting some of the most committed and courageous Sri Lankans to go into exile. In most of my overseas visits, I have met and spent time with those in exile and their families. I have also tried to keep in touch with families who had been left behind in Sri Lanka. In recent years, I found myself being called upon to assist exiled Pakistani HRDs coming to Sri Lanka. I often end up feeling frustrated, helpless and powerless to assist them in difficulties they face as exiles / refugees.

Hearing some wanting to return, especially friends and colleagues, has been extremely encouraging and empowering for me. But it is also frustrating to see that there is very little assistance available from the Sri Lankan government and the international community to that end. This should in no way undervalue the care, concern and support of some foreign governments, international media and human rights organizations and even individuals, who had come forward to offer protection and assistance to journalists and HRDs, including me, during very difficult and dangerous times.

Two exiled journalists / HRDs in Europe have also told me they have renounced their refugee status and are going to return to Sri Lanka in the coming months. Others have told me they may come later if the situation is conducive and safe for their return. Amongst those planning to return temporarily in the coming months is Poddala Jayantha, a well known journalist and press freedom activist who fled to India in the face of death threats. He returned to Sri Lanka and was then again compelled to leave for the US after a brutal assault and death threats as he was recovering. Poddala’s wife told me she is still very scared for his safety if he returns.

Many others do not want to return as yet, still unassured of their safety, including pending investigations or arrest warrants against them[2]. Some do not want to return for fear of further persecution or ill-health. Some don’t want to return due to having children who have now learnt languages and settled down in new countries and some want to return once they get permanent residency or citizenship in countries where they have got refugee status[3].

Of course, some may have left even when they didn’t face serious risks, and they are unlikely to return from what they may consider greener pastures. This is article is not about them.

Government invitation to return – going beyond the rhetoric

Immediately after the January 8 elections, the new government invited exiled HRDs and journalists to return.

However, an absolute pre-requisite for HRDs / journalists in exile to return is to ensure there are no continuing harassments and threats to HRDs and journalists. In this regard, some of the recent incidents reported in the media, some of which I mentioned in an article on World Press Freedom day[4], will further discourage exiled journalists and HRDs from returning home. A second factor is to indicate clear progress in ensuring justice and accountability for previous attacks, threats and violence against HRDs and journalists, including against some of those in exile who are considering return.

As I tried to assist Shantha, Jayampathi and Kumudini in their struggle to come home, I felt that bringing home exiled journalists / HRDs home was not a priority to the new government, and that it was more a propaganda statement. However, the return of Shantha, Jayampathi and Kumudini gives me more hope, that there will be government and societal support for others in exile also to return. If the new president, Maithripala Sirisena, and his government are serious and genuine, they should establish a concrete program of action to assist exiled HRDs and journalists to return without further delay. Below are some ideas that could be considered;

  1. Appointment of a focal point in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or an appropriate Ministry. The person should be someone sensitive to the situation of exiled HRDs and journalists and with capacity to deal with complications and challenges that are bound to come up. The person’s name, phone, email, skype should be made available publicly for any exiled HRD, journalist or their family and colleagues to contact, in Sinhalese, Tamil or English.
  2. The focal point should clearly clarify whether there are any pending arrest warrants or investigations against anyone intending to return and, if so, indicate details, including steps that will be taken to guarantee that such process will be carried out strictly in line with due legal process, within a specified time period.
  3. Clear instructions must be given to Sri Lankan embassies and High Commissions overseas to extend all possible assistance, advice and information to exiled HRDs and journalists who want to return.
  4. The government should initiate, support and facilitate “come and see” visits for those who want to return temporarily before making a final decision to come back. This is particularly important for those who will have to make difficult decisions about bringing back school going children and those who still have fears for safety.
  5. Some of those in exile await justice for attacks and threats against them. They need to be given clear and detailed updates on progress made so far and plans on future investigations and prosecutions. Where fresh statements, testimony is needed, and victims are unable to be physically present in Sri Lanka, possibilities such as video / skype testimony, written submissions and legal representations could be considered.
  6. Ways of offering back jobs (especially in state institutions) to those who lost them due to their free expression and activism should be explored and updates provided.
  7. A trust fund could be set up to provide financial support to those who want to come back. A significant portion must come from the Sri Lankan government. Additional funding could be solicited from well wishers, including individuals, organizations and foreign governments. The fund should be handled in a transparent and independent manner, with representation from human rights and media freedom organizations. Costs of returning and interim resettlement allowance could be amongst the needs such a fund could contribute to. The financial situation of the person returning, varying needs and whether return is permanent or temporary could be factors taken into consideration.

International and regional organizations must be proactive and creative. They should review their mandates, if necessary, in order to contribute towards actual needs of HRDs and journalists who want to return home to continue their activism and journalistic profession. Foreign governments which have adopted policies and practices, including formal guidelines on human rights defenders and freedom of expression (such as the European Union, Norway and Switzerland) could consider support for those who want to return within the framework of these guidelines and policies, including financial support and diplomatic initiatives in relation to challenges such as ones faced by Shantha, Jayampathi and Kumudini in Nepal.

Most of HRDs and journalists who had gone into exile have suffered terribly – before they went and after being exiled[5]. Their families have suffered. They had to give up a lot. They deserve respect and understanding for their decisions to stay away or return. If and when they want to return, they should be supported morally, politically and financially, considering specific needs and whether the return is permanent or temporary.

The Sri Lankan government must take the lead role in this. Media institutions, media freedom and human rights organizations (local and international), foreign governments, donors and all others who value human rights and media freedom, especially Sri Lankan people, should support and contribute to such efforts.

Ruki Fernando is a Sri Lankan writer and human rights / press freedom advocate. He has a court order restricting his freedom of expression in relation an ongoing investigation on anti-terror charges. His writings are available at www.rukiiiii.wordpress.com 

[1] For background, see http://groundviews.org/2015/04/29/sri-lankas-emergency-assistance-to-nepal-and-return-of-exiled-journalists/

[2] For example, see copy of arrest notice against writer, activist and academic Ratnajeevan Hoole at https://www.colombotelegraph.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Arrest-Order-Airport.pdf and https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/dilemma-of-those-in-exile-continues-frederica-jansz-speaks-out/

[3] See https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/dilemma-of-those-in-exile-continues-frederica-jansz-speaks-out/ and https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/on-behalf-of-returning-exiles/

[4] See http://groundviews.org/2015/05/03/world-press-freedom-day-2015-and-freedom-of-expression-in-sri-lanka/

[5] For more on reasons that led to exile and life in exile, and names of some journalists in exile (as of May 2013), see  http://www.ceylontoday.lk/59-31472-news-detail-exiled-from-journalism.html

Photo credit: Jayampathi Bulathsinhala for Jayampathi and Kumudu’s photos
http://www.salem-news.com/articles/july152012/shantha-wijesuriya.php for Shantha Wijesooriya’s photo

– See more at: https://samsn.ifj.org/sri-lanka-the-long-road-home-for-the-exiled/#sthash.HKC1JTET.dpuf

World Press Freedom day 2015 and Freedom of Expression in Sri Lanka

First published at http://groundviews.org/2015/05/03/world-press-freedom-day-2015-and-freedom-of-expression-in-sri-lanka/ on 3rd May 2015

“All must be free to express their concerns, their needs, their aspirations and their fears” Pope Francis, at the Katunayake International airport, on arrival to Sri Lanka on 13th January 2015.

Amidst killings, disappearances, assaults, threats, intimidations, harassments and restrictions on journalists, widespread self-censorship and exile of journalists critical of the government, surveillance and blocking of websites, and absolute impunity, there was very little to celebrate World Press Freedom day in Sri Lanka last few years. Perhaps the only thing to celebrate was the resilience of few who dared to express their views at grave risk to themselves, colleagues, families and institutions.

But this year, things are different. The last 4 months has given something to celebrate for free expression in Sri Lanka. Websites that were blocked were unblocked. State media has stopped discrediting those critical of the government in power. Some of us were invited for talk shows and asked for interviews by the very same state media that had previously branded as traitors and terrorist supporters. Though not perfect, a Right to Information Act is expected to be enacted in the coming weeks, after the drafts have been circulated in all three languages and several consultations. A stream of foreign journalists have visited Sri Lanka and many who met me have told it was much easier for them to obtain journalistic visas. Traveling around the highly militarized North appears to be slightly easier, and unlike before, I have encountered less obstructions and intimidations and others have expressed similar sentiments. Foreign nationals are no longer required to obtain special permission from the Ministry of Defense to visit the North.

I have not come across new guidelines, instructions restricting freedom of expression by the new government. But the formal circular issued by the NGO secretariat restricting the issuing of press releases, conducting of press conferences and issuing of training for journalists has not been for formally withdrawn. The Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) continues to pose grave threats to freedom of expression and even freedom after expression. The investigation against me under the PTA for charges of supporting terrorism, including “sending information abroad” continues to date, and the court order restricting my freedom of expression is still in place, despite efforts of my lawyers to have these concluded. For more than two months, there has been no inquiry by the National Human Rights Commission on a complaint lodged by me against an incident related to the restriction of freedom of expression by the Police within court premises.

Impunity
Like last years, and probably for foreseeable future, World Press Freedom day in Sri Lanka will be commemorated in the dark shadows of killing of well known Tamil journalist Sivaram (Taraki) on 29th April 2005 and the deadly attack on Tamil daily Uthayan press in Jaffna on 2nd May 2006. The only way this dark shadow will be removed is by holding perpetrators accountable. The new government has announced investigations into few high profile cases such as murder of Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickramathunga and disappearance of Cartoonist Prageeth Ekneligoda. But progress made in last 4 months even on these cases is not clear. According to Sandya Ekneligoda, wife of Prageeth, there has not been any marked difference about the slow and lethargic court proceedings. Most importantly, there are hundreds of incidents against free expression, for which we await justice.

Continuing attacks and threats to free expression under the new government
April was probably the worst month for free expression under this new government. On 2nd May, a journalist was reported as having being attacked by a local politician due to his efforts to report problems in a local health clinic. A prominent political commentator and university academic was hospitalized after being attacked on 1st May, as he was observing a May Day rally in Colombo by political forces loyal to the former President. Earlier in March, several persons dubbing a film related to the militarization were arrested by the Police in Colombo, and equipment of the studio confiscated. In the Eastern province, it was reported that harassment and intimidation of family of a Muslim women activist continued to date, after she had expressed her opinions about legalization of sex work, back in 2012.

From the North, an alarming number of threats to free expression has been reported against Tamil journalists. One was prevented from covering a discussion related to pollution of water. Another Tamil was reported as detained in Jaffna on 23rd April. Four Tamil journalists based in the northern cities of Mannar and Vavuniya were summoned for questioning by the Police in Colombo on 28th April. Another journalist had received a similar summons that resulted in him being charged with publishing false information on 26th April. Police in the northern city of Jaffna had arrested N. Logathayalan, a freelance journalist working for the newspaper Uthayan, on 8 th April because of an article about police violence on a school girl. On 7th April, three Tamil journalists were harassed and threatened by Police officers in Jaffna, after they went to report about a protest against oil pollution. Also in April, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Jaffna had refused permission for a discussion about a book written by a University academic, about the end of the war. Few weeks after the election of the new President, it was reported that the Sri Lankan military had threatened displaced residents from Valikamam North in Jaffna, not to share their experiences and views with the Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office minister, Hugo Swire, during his visit to Jaffna.

Return of exiled journalists
Few days before World Press Freedom days his year, 3 exiled journalists / human rights defenders (HRDs) returned to Sri Lanka. The struggle to come home was a long and frustrating struggle with very little action from the Sri Lankan government and the Embassy. Several other journalists / HRDs are considering returning. At least two in Europe have told me they have renounced their refugee status and were going to return to Sri Lanka in the coming months. Others have told me they may come later if the situation is conducive and safe for their return. Amongst those planning to return temporarily in coming months is Poddala Jayantha, a well known journalist and press freedom activist who had fled to India in the face of death threats, returned to Sri Lanka, and then again was compelled to leave for US after a brutal assault and death threats as he was recovering. Poddala’s wife told me she is still very scared for his safety if he returns. Recent incidents I have mentioned above will not encourage exiled journalists to return. So many do not want to return as yet, as they fear persecution and are not assured of safety, including pending investigations or arrest warrants against them. Some do not want to return due ill-health, situation of children who have learnt languages and settled down in new countries and some want to return when they get permanent residency or citizenship in countries they have got refugee status. Some may have left even when they didn’t face serious risks, and they are unlikely to return from what they may considered to be greener pastures.

Immediately after the 8th January elections, the new government invited exiled HRDs and journalists to return. Despite some belated efforts to get down the three journalists I mentioned above, 100 days down the line, this appears to be hollow, rhetorical statement. If the new President and his government are serious and genuine, they should establish a concrete program of action to assist exiled HRDs and journalists to return, without further delay. Such actions could include the appointment of focal point with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or any other relevant Ministry, instructions to all Sri Lankan embassies to extend full cooperation for exiled journalists to return, clarifying about any pending arrest warrants or investigations against any journalist in exile, facilitating “come and see visits”, updating them on status of investigations related to attacks and threats against them, opportunities to reclaim jobs lost due to exile and setting up a voluntary trust fund to assist those who need financial assistance. Most of HRDs and journalists who had gone into exile have suffered terribly – before they went and after being exiled. Their families have suffered. They had to give up a lot. They deserve respect and understanding for their decisions to stay away or return. If and when they want to return, they should be supported morally, politically and financially, considering specific needs and whether the return is permanent or temporary. The Sri Lankan government must take the lead role in this. Media institutions, media freedom and human rights organizations (local and international), foreign governments, donors and all others who value human rights and media freedom, especially Sri Lankan people, should support and contribute to such efforts.

Recent concerns by local and international groups
Immediately after the election of the new President in January, Pope Francis visited the country, and in his opening remarks on arrival at the airport, he stressed the importance of everyone being free to express themselves freely. In March, the International Media Mission to Sri Lanka reported about continuing self-censorship due to uncertainty about the political future of the country, restrictions on access to information and continuing surveillance and monitoring of journalists. Reporters without Borders, the International Federation of Journalists and the Committee to Protect Journalists have expressed concern about some of the recent incidents against freedom of expression in Sri Lanka. In April, a Tamil news editor in Jaffna was reported to have told that his journalists “do not feel terribly free”, and that Police and other security institutions are still not willing to give them the space they need to do their job as reporters. The Free Media Movement of Sri Lanka continued to express concern about continuing attacks on free expression and impunity in the last few months, including in a statement issued about recent incidents on eve of World Press Freedom day, on 2nd May.

Prospects and challenges
Converting state media from being propaganda organs of the government in power to Public Services, building effective self regulation and strong legal and institutional frameworks that could act as a buffer against authoritarian governments will be key challenges in this relatively more positive atmosphere for freedom of expression. A major challenge now will be for journalists, media institutions and media freedom organizations to engage in self reflections, about our own political, ethnic and other biases, self-censorships, particularly about subjects considered taboo such as accountability for allegations of war crimes during last phase of the war, charges of genocide, political solution to the ethnic conflict, caste, sexuality and gender etc. Throughout the dark and dangerous years under the Rajapakses, the courage, commitment and creativity of few committed to free expression, kept alive hopes for democracy and human rights in Sri Lanka and the struggle must continue without too much complacency.