A mob, lead by a Buddhist monk has sabotaged a seminar organised by the Samabima newspaper, Sudarshana Gunawardana, Attorney-at-Law and Executive Director of Rights Now told Colombo Telegraph.
“Samabima” (http://www.samabima.com/) is a monthly newspaper in Sinhalese, focusing on issues related to democracy and human rights, with a particular focus on minority rights. It is published by Rights Now Collective for Democracy, a NGO based in Colombo, Sri Lanka (http://www.rightsnow.net/) that also focuses on similar issues. Rights Now also publishes a one page supplement in the weekly Sinhalese paper “Ravaya”. “Samabima” is one of the very few regular publications in Sinhalese language that addresses issues related to power sharing, human rights situation of Tamils and more broadly in Sri Lanka and also international involvements in relation to human rights in Sri Lanka.
The “Samabima” paper had been organizing a series of public seminars on issues related to democracy and human rights at district level. The 11th such discussion was scheduled for 14th July (Sunday) at the Terel hall in Ampara, in the Eastern province.
The theme was “What will the East lose if given to the North” and the topic was expected to deal with issues related to power sharing, the Northern Provincial Council elections expected to be held in September 2013, and widespread debates whether existing constitutional powers of provincial council will be curtailed before that elections. Ministers, Members of Parliament and leaders of political parties within the ruling coalition had also expressed diverse positions on the possible curtailment of such powers.
Most of the organizing and coordination work was led by Mr. Gnaweera Dissanayake, a “Samabima” reader and well known social activist in Ampara. Mr. Dissanayake is a member of the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party and his younger brother, Mr. Wimalaweera Dissanayake is the Minister of Education and Transport in the Eastern Provincial Council.
Amongst the speakers were Mr. Gnaweera Dissanayake, Mr. Sudarshana Gunawardana, Attorney-at-Law and Executive Director of Rights Now Collective for Democracy and Ms. Manori Kalugampitiya, Editor of the “Samabima” newspaper.
The details of the seminar, including the date, time and place and that it was organized by the “Samabima” newspaper, was advertised throughout Ampara through posters and also through the weekend national newspaper “Ravaya”.
Details of the incident:
On 11th July, the owner of Terel hall (venue of the seminar) had informed Mr. Gnaweera Dissanayake that he place will not be made available, as the Police as had inquired about the program and he feared renting out the hall for this program may adversely affect his business interests, even though he had no personal opposition to renting out the hall. Mr. Dissanayake had pointed out that there was no need to get Police permission to rent out a hall for a public seminar and had called the Ampara Police to explain about the seminar.
The first speaker at the seminar was Mr. Gnaweera Dissanayake. But as he was getting ready to speak, a Buddhist Monk, Ven. Satheendriya, spoke up and said that the seminar will not be allowed to proceed. When the public notices and even the publications at the venue clearly indicated “Samabima” was the organizer, the Buddhist Monk claimed that the seminar was being organized by the organization of Dr. Paikiasothi Saravanamuttu (referring to the Centre for Policy Alternatives, based in Colombo). When the organizers tried to continue the seminar amidst the obstructions, more people were being summoned to the venue by phone calls. The Buddhist Monk and his supporters stated that no discussions on devolution of power will be allowed in Ampara. When some participants, including a woman, insisted that the seminar must proceed, this group spoke in an abusive and intimidating manner.
Complicity of the government:
According to local people, the group that obstructed the seminar are supporters of the Mayor of Ampara, Mr. Indika Nalin Jayawickrama, who is from the government.
Even though intelligence officers of the Police were seen inside the hall and Police officers were outside the hall, they did nothing to control the situation and provide security to the organizers, speakers and participants and ensure the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression.
On the same day, the pro-government state TV station, Independent Television Network (ITN), gave publicity to this incident in it’s 7pm news broadcast, highlighting that this was a seminar held to promote terrorist agenda of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and that it was organized by pro-LTTE organization, Centre for Policy Alternatives, headed by Dr. Paikiasothi Saravanamuttu.
Due to clear complicity of the local Police, the organizers did not lodge any complaints with the local Police. However, they are considering legal action.
Media reports and further threats:
Links to the ITN news broadcast accusing the seminar of responding to the agenda of the LTTE and other media reports on websites and report by “Samabima” are available at it’s website, http://www.samabima.com/?p=6916 (in Sinhalese). Amongst the negative comments posed towards organizers is one that says “people such as these that try to divide the country should not be allowed to live”. The original notice (invitation) in Sinhalese about the event is also on the website.