As his loyal supporters remember the late founder of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) M.H.M. Ashraff‘s 17th year death anniversary which fell on the 16th of September, Colombo Telegraph learns that former Chairman of the SLMC Basheer Segu Dawood has appealed to the RTI Commission to release the Presidential report of inquiry into Ashraff’s death.
Ashraff died in a plane crash along with 14 others, including party officials, bodyguards and crew members in 2000. The reason for the crash remained a mystery as no bad weather prevailed at the time. Engine failure was cited as the reason but conspiracy theories abounded. The report of a Commission of Inquiry appointed by then President Chandrika Kumaratunga in 2001 remained under wraps even though frequent demands were made by Ashraff’s supporters for its release.
The appeal made by Basheer Segu Dawood is under Sri Lanka’s Right to Information Act (RTI). His request to release the report has been refused by the Presidential Secretariat. Colombo Telegraph understands from sources close to Dawood that the appeal is pending hearing by the RTI Commission.
It has been common for such Commission reports not to be released with each President of the day keeping them under confidential cover. Good governance advocates have been calling for the reports to be made public pointing out that public funds are used to operate the Commissions of Inquiry that hold such inquiries. But a welcome precedent was set recently when the Mahanama Tillekeratne report into the 2011 shootings and force used against Katunayake protestors by soldiers and the police during the Rajapaksa period was released after the mother of Roshen Chanaka who died in the shooting, appealed to the RTI Commission. Here too, the Presidential Secretariat had refused to release the report earlier on grounds of national security but had released it after the appeal to the RTI Commission was filed.
Due to the brutal attack, hundreds of the Katunayake Free Trade Zone (FTZ) employees were hospitalized, some with lifelong injuries. The victims had not been compensated. The Tillekeratne report that was released under the RTI Act contained strong condemnation of the police and army actions. Activists who had tried to get the report released during the past several years, praised the RTI Commission and the Act in helping them to obtain the report during events held last week to mark the International Right to Know Day (IRTKD).
Speaking to Colombo Telegraph, one RTI activist pointed out that the release of the Tiilekeratne report was due to the knowledge that the RTI Commission will be acting according to the RTI Act and that, under the Act, there was no good reason as to why such reports could be withheld, particularly where they involve allegations of state abuse.
Where the Ashraff Commission of Inquiry report is concerned, this may be a bit different as the report may involve mention of third parties, Under the Act, if third parties are involved and they refuse consent to information being released, it is only the RTI Commission which can order that release, he said.