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09 April, 2009

Media organizations expose role of Sri Lankan paramilitary groups

The following is a statement issued by the Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong:

Five media organizations in Sri Lanka, issuing an investigative report entitled, 'The Resurgence of Terror and the paramilitary forces in Sri Lanka,' stated that covert operations are carried out by paramilitary groups that have the patronage of an ultra-powerful authority in carrying out terror operations. The report referred mainly to attacks on many journalists, including assassinations. The report reveals that this terror group is able to pass barricades and checkpoints because of an efficient network that facilitates the transport of these attackers.

The report refers to various attacks, these being: the 6th January attack on the Sirasa Media Network building which was set on fire, the assassination of the editor, Lasantha Wickrematunge on 8th January, the attack on the Max TV station on 23rd February, the attack on editor Upali Tennakoon on 24th February, the abduction of editor N. Vidyadaran on 26th February and the abduction of Prof. Dhammika Ganganath Dissanayaka on 12th March. All these attacks occurred this year. Further, earlier attacks took place last year on Guruparan, a journalist with Suryan FM, the attack on Keith Noyar, Deputy Editor of the Nation newspaper, the brutal attack and attempted abduction of journalist Namal Perera and the media secretary of the British High Commission, Mahendra Ratnaweera.

In one instance an armed group that entered Max TV and brutally attacked the security personnel and journalists of the station were proved to be police officers from the Mirihana Police Station. Nothing was done by way of prosecuting these officers. Instead a senior officer arrived and expressed regret stating that it had been a mistake.

This report was presented to leaders from the Congress of Religions on the 7th April. The religious leaders, who listened to the representation of the five media organisations undertook to bring the report to the notice of the president of Sri Lanka. Earlier the US State Department, in their annual report on human rights also mentioned that: 'paramilitaries and others believed to be "working with awareness of the government "carried out unlawful killings, torture and kidnappings of civilians with impunity".'

That the Ministry of Defence has become an ultra-powerful authority and that the death squads operate under the patronage of the existing regime, are facts commonly known throughout the country. That the policing system has failed to uphold the rule of law and is in a pathetic condition is also a routinely repeated, non-controversial statement. That the politicisation of the police and the armed forces prevents their conduct from being scrutinised or investigated by any legal authority is also uncontested except by the government spokesman whose sole task is to poo-poo all allegations of the government’s involvement in criminal activities. The spokesman for the police, for example, when questioned about this report by the BBC Sinhala Service retorted that making such allegations against the police and military was an insult to war heroes.

Under normal circumstances a report of this nature would be responded to by the government which would initiate a high level inquiry into the allegations. Such a report would also be responded to by the country's judiciary which would direct the relevant authorities to respond by way of investigations and actions to such allegations. However, the condition that has been reached within Sri Lanka is that the state apparatus no longer responds to allegations of crimes by state agencies by any form of serious action.

Therefore it is not surprising that the five leading media organisations had to go before the Congress of Religions to present their report. When the legal authority completely fails people turn to those who represent the moral authority of the country to gain their interest in taking up the lost cause of investigation of crimes. What the report reveals may not be anything new to these leaders of various religions who naturally would have links to their congregations. The challenge for the Congress of Religions is as to whether they will raise their moral voice against widespread lawlessness that encourages any and every form of crime. Above all will the voices of morality in the country prove capable of raising their voices against the ultra-powerful authority that stands above the law?

The leader of the opposition also raised the issue of the suppression of media freedoms and stated that if journalists are killed and the Inspector General of Police fails to conduct effective investigations he would remove the IGP and others responsible for such inaction if he was in power. If the Congress of Religions wants to raise its voice on the present situation in a credible manner it should question as to why the government does not take action by way of the conduct of investigations into the crimes, including those mentioned in this media report. Thus, those who represent the country's moral authority needs, today, to confront those who represent the country’s legal authority who fail to uphold the law. There is today a significant conflict between the very foundations of morality and the callous neglect of the legal obligations of the state. At this juncture should the Congress of Religions and others who claim to represent the moral authority of the country fail to confront those in power who have allowed the undermining of the rule of law, they will disappoint not only the journalists but also the whole country.

While the leaders of the religions face this challenge Mr. Santha Fernando, a well known committed Christian social activist has also been held under arrest for no justifiable reason. Even attempts to engage in acts of charity and compassion have now come under attack by the same ultra-powerful authority that uses powers of arrest and detention without any regard to the principles established by law. The religious leaders may themselves come under such threat if they do not use their moral authority now to cause a change of the situation for the better.

For the full media report kindly see:
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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

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