7 July, 2020

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I Don’t Think Sirisena Govt Will Investigate Journo Killings: Uvindu Tells IPI

“One minister, Rajitha Senaratne said that the government will investigate Lasantha’s murder in a press briefing. I have reservations about that. It is not only Lasantha’s murder; there have been dozens of killings. The former army commander who had command responsibility for those killings and attacks is a key figure in the new administration, so I don’t think they will investigate those.” says Uvindu Kurukulasuriya, founder and editor of the Colombo Telegraph.

Sirisena.FonsekaGiving an interview to the International Press Institute, the Colombo Telegraph editor said; “We need an independent state commission. We also need a competition commission to avoid monopolizing media in the future. And the government should transform state-owned broadcasters, newspapers and websites into public service media.”

When asked what is most important to understand about the current transition he said; “dictators have no place in this new media era, Sri Lanka has shown how to change a ruthless regime without any violence. The fact that there was no post-election violence sets a good example.”

We publish below the interview in full;

Rights advocates welcome promised changes in Sri Lanka

New president says news websites will be unblocked, press to be free

VIENNA, Jan 13, 2014 – Press freedom advocates this week cautiously greeted promises that press freedom in Sri Lanka will improve after former health minister and opposition coalition candidate Maithripala Sirisena unexpectedly unseated President Mahinda Rajapaksa in an election last Thursday, but some observers remained wary.

Sirisena’s victory marks the first time an incumbent has been beaten out by an opposition candidate since Sri Lanka gained independence in 1948. Sirisena has promised massive reforms within the first 100 days of his presidency, and many in both Sri Lanka and the international community have welcomed the incoming administration’s stance against the corruption and increasingly authoritarian climate that had come to dominate the small island nation.

The new president, who took office on Friday, reportedly has already ordered the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission to lift a ban on news sites that were blocked under Rajapaksa. The new prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, announced that journalists in Sri Lanka should feel “free to report whatever you want without the fear of being abducted”, and another politician, Rajitha Senaratne, urged Sri Lankan journalists and political dissidents currently living in exile to return.

The new administration has promised to investigate the high-profile 2009 killing of critical journalist and IPI Press Freedom Hero Lasantha Wickrematunge. In the six years since his death, no progress has been made in finding and bringing those responsible for his murder to justice.

Journalists in Sri Lanka faced severe restrictions during Rajapaksa’s 10-year rule. This oppression was troublingly illustrated in “white van” abductions, a well-known phenomenon whereby activists, members of opposition political parties, and journalists who were critical of the government were snatched by individuals in white vans and then disappeared without a trace. The white van abductions were common during the conflict between the Rajapaksa regime and separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) group, which ended in 2009, but the number of such abductions spiked again in 2012.

Rajapaksa was notorious for his frequent bids to consolidate power in order to strengthen the presidency and for his penchant for filling important government ministries and other positions of power with members of his own family.

Sirisena has promised to expand media freedom and to dismantle the architecture of corruption and nepotism that plagued the former Sri Lankan government. However, despite those promises, he also indicated that he does not intend pursue the prosecution of the former president or members of the armed forces for potential war crimes committed during the conflict with the LTTE.

Some observers expressed little surprise. The new president, who was minister of health under Rajapaksa until his defection to the opposition in November, also claims to have been Sri Lanka’s acting defence minister during the last two weeks of conflict with the LTTE, when number civilian casualties occurred amid shelling by government forces on LTTE-occupied territory.

IPI spoke by email about these recent developments with Sri Lankan journalist Uvindu Kurukulasuriya, founder and editor of online newspaper The Colombo Telegraph, who has been living in exile since Lasantha Wickrematunge’s murder.

IPI: We heard the president promised full freedom for Sri Lanka’s media and that a spokesperson urged journalists who are living in exile to return. We also read that he ordered the country’s Telecommunications Regulatory Commission to lift the ban on blocked websites. Have there been any other similar, positive promises? Were these promises a surprise?

Kurukulasuriya: I’m not surprised at all. As soon as any new government comes to power they make these kinds of promises. But the political history of Sri Lanka shows that except for the Ranil Wickremesinghe government [in place from 2001 to 2004], none of the governments made promises regarding press freedom. Yes, the newly elected President Sirisena’s government urged exile journalists to come back and also they will investigate all killings, harassment and intimidation related to journalists. That is a good promise.

IPI: What kind of impact do you believe they might have on media freedom in Sri Lanka?

Kurukulasuriya: Before 9 January 2015, Sri Lanka journalists were “practitioners of self-censorship”. Now the media in Sri Lanka are already publishing many critical articles. But I cannot say we are free. In Sri Lanka there is no editorial freedom. There are no “charters of editorial independence”. Even if the government declared “freedom”, then it will ultimately be about “Owners’ rights” and not “Editors’ rights”.

IPI: In your opinion, what is the likelihood that these promises will become reality?

Kurukulasuriya: I don’t think so, we need a holistic approach. We need a commission on media to investigate what has happened, what should be done. To establish a media policy.

IPI: Under the previous administration, we heard many reports of websites being blocked, and of surveillance and harassment of journalists. We also heard reports that affiliates of the president were taking steps to gain control of independent media in order to silence criticism. What overall effect did these policies or actions have on independent media, and were there other press freedom violations that hindered journalists’ ability to do their job?

Kurukulasuriya: There are many incidents of killings of journalists, attacks, harassment, intimidation, burning of presses, cancelling of radio licences… and that is why we need a commission to investigate all those. The previous Rajapaksa regime changed the ownerships of several media intuitions through intimidation.

IPI: Do you think that what the new president has promised will adequately address these problems? If not, what else needs to be done?

Kurukulasuriya: Not at all, they never mentioned the necessary measure I outlined above. We need an independent state commission. We also need a competition commission to avoid monopolizing media in the future. And the government should transform state-owned broadcasters, newspapers and websites into public service media.

IPI: What implications do these promises have for bringing the murderers of Lasantha Wickrematunge to justice?

Kurukulasuriya: One minister, Rajitha Senaratne promised the government will investigate Lasantha’s murder in a press briefing. I have reservations about that. It is not only Lasantha’s murder; there have been dozens of killings, as I said before. The former army commander who had command responsibility for those killings and attacks is a key figure in the new administration! So I don’t think they will investigate those.

IPI: Is this development linked to international pressure to improve the press freedom situation in Sri Lanka? If so, is it important for international groups to keep up that pressure to ensure that these promises are realised?

Kurukulasuriya: Yes, the international pressure helped, no doubt about it. Keep the pressure continuously! That is my request.

IPI: For outsiders, what is most important to understand about the current transition?

Kurukulasuriya: The dictators have no place in this new media era! Sri Lanka has shown how to change a ruthless regime without any violence. The fact that there was no post-election violence sets a good example.

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Latest comments

  • 6
    3

    Mmmmmm… The whole Good – Evil concept confuses me since the Independence of this country !!?

    By the way…Uvindu…Do you know that Mr. Sunanda Deshapriya – The looter of the FMM seems getting ready to come back home !!? Do you think that at least our boasting glorious Politics could keep FMM safe from this looter !!?

    • 5
      20

      What are we to gain by investigating Lasantha Wickramatunga’s death? How will press freedom be improved with that?

      Isn’t it best to “let sleeping dogs lie”?

      Attempts to promote meaningless causes just because some one can operate a website – as Uvindu Kurukulasuriya is attempting to do in this case – will be an abuse of the “freesom of the donkey” the overseas-based ex-journos (Frederica Jansz, Sonali S, Pragith Ekneligoda) are seeking.

      Forget the past and look to the future if you want to progress.

      • 13
        1

        “What are we to gain” . How about justice and doing away with the culture of impunity.

      • 10
        1

        The Greek:
        You are certainly one to beware of when you come bearing gifts such as this!
        Since when did it become IN ANY WAY acceptable for cold-blooded, gangland-style butchery of journalists (or anyone for that matter) to go uninvestigated.
        YOU ARE TRULY UNBELIEVABLLE,YOU B…D!

      • 10
        0

        greek

        “What are we to gain by investigating Lasantha Wickramatunga’s death? How will press freedom be improved with that?”

        journalists can do their job without getting killed in future.This is not for the past but for the future we have to do.

        Why do we punish criminals.So that we send a message to those who don’t allow society to function peacefully to think twice before they embark on acts that violate societal norms.

        according to your argument we can dispense with police,jail etc and still live in a society harmoniously.What an idiot you are.

      • 1
        0

        The Greek

        “What are we to gain by investigating Lasantha Wickramatunga’s death?”

        Let us abolish judiciary then.

        “How will press freedom be improved with that?”

        So that journalist could report what they learn without fear or favour.

        What did you think?

  • 24
    1

    Fortunately, the regime change could take place while things had not turned too bad though worsening by the day. Had the former President won the election, that would have been the last election Sri Lanka would see!

    Sengodan. M

  • 17
    0

    A murder investigation should never be swept under the carpet. Lasantha’s reporting naturally irked all those in the defense establishment at that time. Amongst the service commanders at that time, Fonseka was the most sought after target of the LTTE and any free reporting of the defense shortcomings would naturally irk Fonseka most amongst the service commanders. Others naturally are the defense secretary and the President at that time. All these chaps are suspects.

    Everyone knows what happened to Ralph Bultjens when he came to Sri Lanka. Those who are in the know are fully aware that the high-ups at that time expressed displeasure of Bultjens delivering the memorial oration. The junior knew, in order to please the master, master-minded the crime and carried it out. This tradition of the Executive Presidency continued virtually under every President with the possible exception of President D. B. Wijetunge. This is why I prefer to call the Executive Presidency as Executioneering Presidency.

    Fonseka, a suspect of the crime is getting about freely in this Government and has asked for the position of Defense Ministry. The request seems to be held in abeyance for other reasons. Therefore I agree with the conclusion of Mr. Kurukulasuriya.

    • 6
      0

      Shoving a murder inquiry under the carpet signals, the culture of impunity continues under a new order.

      Too bad if anyone is fingered, an investigation must be held and court action taken. This will be our gift to the next generation.

  • 12
    1

    Is this not too early to leave this kind of statements ?

    I have the feeling our people in general have no patience.

    only yesterday they appointed new cabinet, state and dpties as ministers. Not ever 3 days have gone … they also need to focus on building up a 2/3 parliament mandate for respective amds. Current inferior govt s responsiblities are not easy at all.. While the defeated man of match is making every effort to mislead the nation.

  • 12
    2

    The new Government has more important things to set right, before investigating individual Miscreants.

  • 9
    0

    Thank you Uvindu, you are right.

    The new ruling clique are no angels.
    Even CBK threatened Iqbal and Lasantha (though the previous regime finished him off) and other assaults on media freedom including censorship.
    I too am doubtful where this “investigation” will go. Many are the committee reports gathering dust ….from the time of CBK and MR.

    I am appalled at some of the “journalists” who have left down their guard having fought MR and seem to be giving a blank cheque to the new regime….new brooms sweep well, the true test is how they deal with the media when things don’t go too well….

    Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty –usually attributed to Thomas Jefferson.

  • 8
    1

    The amount of crime that was committed during the past murderous regime of MR is overwhelming. The Rot starts from former head of the state and all the way down. It would require some time and resources to bring them to books.
    meantime the scoundrels are plotting to transfer their loot and self abroad and escape punishment.

  • 3
    0

    While I would generally agree that an independent state commission and public service media are good ideas, not sure if MS can do this in one hundred days. Also, none of this precludes the fact that these initiatives could be reversed under a different administration.

    After all, to a degree, we are in uncharted waters.

  • 4
    2

    Todate, every single act of criminality, fraud and corruption has had several victims and many perpetrators. However the ‘media reporters’ are yet to produce an iota of evidence backing up their suspicions except tons of innuendo and guild by association claims. Even the JVP cases filed today is a box full of bull shit! There is not a single filing with comprehensive information about anything other than claiming this person did this, and that person took that. These chaps are lawyers and should know any judge worth his robe will throw out the case without any hesitation. They ate hoppers with Mahinda for 19 long years and this is the best they can produce?

    Lasantha was killed – NO TWO WORDS ABOUT IT. 10 years have passed since and NO ONE has manage to get even a death bed confession from a witness,or involved actor.

    Fonseka and Gotabaya are the natural suspects because of the prevailing issues between them and Wicremetunga. Surely we should know that suspicions are only that – suspicions.

    Fonseka was in jail for almost 3 years and not one person came forward and said- he told me to do it. Gotabaya is MIA today. Is Fonseka ready to make that statement? Of course not! So, we go in circles and you guys waste everyone’s time by simply adding your two cents…

    Media freedom is only valid if the media knows how to report. Writing nonsense and filling the pages with adverts is not the job of the media. Making money is not a right that is protected. Similarly, freedom of speech is about another’s right to say what they want to say, not yours! You cannot pick and choose which rights to want and what you want others to have.

    • 1
      1

      Hey Upul – Your comment is on the dot – specially about Media Freedom “Media freedom is only valid if the media knows how to report” – in Sri lanka media used to sensationalize news that has no real value – often they do not verify their sources about the correctness of news – before election the hype against Mahinda was unproportionate and media completely failed to offer a balance view – now the new regime and everybody again becoming paranoid to see a heaven in this country after few months

    • 1
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      “Even the JVP cases filed today is a box full of bull shit!”
      They themselves are a bundle of bullshit. If they really want to fight against corruption they can start with PBJ and DP.

  • 15
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    I agree wholeheartedly. How can Maithripala Sirisena spearhead any investigation into such killings when those who masterminded some of those murders including that of Lasantha Wickrematunge are in the current regime.

    • 2
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      You may be right at least to some extent, if not during the 3 months, later in the near future, they will have to address them without being biased to any parties. But one at a time can help us all. Just criticising them already at this stage cant being us forward. Wait and see how they move forward.

    • 0
      0

      But it is wrapeed in a pretty wrapper called ‘Yahapalanaya’

  • 2
    0

    Press freedom is important as much as justice to slain journalists in Sri Lanka. It is a govt responsibility to create confidence in journalists mind by reestablishing Rule of Law. “I’m not surprised at all. As soon as any new government comes to power they make these kinds of promises. But the political history of Sri Lanka shows that except for the Ranil Wickremesinghe government [in place from 2001 to 2004], none of the governments made promises regarding press freedom. Yes, the newly elected President Sirisena’s government urged exile journalists to come back and also they will investigate all killings, harassment and intimidation related to journalists. That is a good promise.” If not this govt won’t go that far.So that we urge MS govt “WALK THE TALK” without any delay.

  • 0
    1

    There are many who cast doubt about everything citing involvrments of some perpetrators in the current regime. Come on guys! We have to start from somewhere no.. so lets together pressurise the current regime in all possible ways and hope for the best. Isnt having even a little hope that the corrupt will be punished is a good sign compared to how we were?

  • 3
    0

    I agree with you Uvidu for one thing Sri Lankan politicians and Sri Lankan Business community rule the country jointly at every time therefore owners right act against the media freedom. This happen because of every politicians need big amount of money, publicity and other resources for their election campaign under present election context. This happen before the election. After the election politicians need to pay back the money the business community spent. Therefore politicians pay these many by way of giving government own enterprises, valuable lands, approving any projects, and government deal

  • 4
    0

    On a different note, we must not have any past Armed Forces personel in the Defense Establishment. We saw what happenned with Gota in the Rink. White vans, grease yakas etc etc.

    So, Fonseka must be kept out of Defense.

    • 5
      2

      Sarath Fonseka demanding to be made a Field Marshall is in line with the intelligence he is known for. True, he fought tooth and nail against the Rajapakse brothers at the latter stages politically and for that he needs to be recognised and rewarded. But there must be an equitable balance. The position of Generals and Field Marshalls, I believe, are made on the size of your army – and, in exceptional circumstances. Fonseka does not qualify for any of these because all he did was slaughter more civilians over years than the LTTE. Aerial-bombing your own people is hardly valour to be rewarded. The LTTE, at any rate, did not exceed 15,000 at their highest. These are Govt’s figures. When Fonseka’s army defeated the LTTE the strength of the Lankan forces was in excess of 300,000. It is known the victory came by because of sophisticated heavy artillery from India, Pakistan and the West. The question to be asked is why did it take so long for the LTTE to be humbled? Did many benefit by keeping the war going – sacrificing tens of thousands of ranviru.

      Backlash

      • 2
        0

        Good points raised Backlash.

        In fairness to past Govt’s, each past President asked the Defense Establishment what it will cost to humble the LTTE on the battlefield.
        They were all told to expect upto a 40,000 + civilian deaths. The Govt’s refused to accept this number and asked the Defense Establishment to comeup with another plan.

        For Rajapaksa, the number was fair game.

        As Gota himself said, now we can’t even go to a Western Country.

        Fonseka is as dangerous as Gota. Let Fonseka retire.

      • 2
        1

        The best position for Sarath Fonseka will be, following the honoured Rajapakse tradition, to make him Chairman of the “Shape”
        Committee to go after all the serious financial and other crimes of the decade-old Rajapakse administration. Many of us recall the embarrassment MR caused at the Accountants AGM sometime ago –
        with his usual toothpaste smile – saying “api ape minisungwa shape karanda oney ne?” – as if it was some respected tradition.
        SF will exactly “shape” the Rajapakses and his running canines – only if he gets half a chance.

        Backlash

  • 2
    0

    Many election promises were made by the CC and others but it is very unlikely that all these would be fulfilled. looks like they too played to the gallery like many others before them. Even during 1993 when Chandrika was elected people had great hopes but within few days all their hopes were lost. Hence, investigating crimes and especially murder of journalists during MR’s regime will not take place for many many reasons. However, murder of Lasantha will be swept under the carpet as the hands of the present ruling class too are covered with Lasantha’s blood.

  • 4
    0

    I only have HOPE . Saw the beauty and the wierdness of the dirty politics.
    A good piece of information. Hats Off Uvindu , U r always brave enough to shout !!

  • 6
    0

    Dear Uvindu, this is just a temporary govt. To do everything we need to establish democracy and mechanism first. Of course we all have a doubt about everything due to our past experience. But if we going to sit and wait I don’t think anything can happen. We have to continue our struggle until we achieve what we need to achieve. Even if Sarath Fonseka has done something wrong he must face the justice and fair trial and have to be punished without any hesitation. No one should be above the law. If not, we have to start from beginning. We faught for a change. A real change. Not just a face change!

  • 4
    0

    I agree with Uvindu. No one party should be allowed to monopolise media in Sri Lanka or in any part of the world for that matter. Government must never own media. Rupavanini was an unabshed propaganda machine for the Rajapaksa dictatorship.

  • 3
    0

    Mr. Kurukulasuriya has opened a very valid subject at the dawn of a new era in Sri Lankan politics, seemingly transforming the country from a nepotistic, authoritarian and barbaric regime to a full democracy once again. He is very correct in casting suspicions on a full scale investigation into the deaths of a number of journalists during the past ten years, but I think we should not give up hopes and keep pressurizing the new government to take this very valid subject as a matter of highest importance. I am sure the new government is facing a formidable challenge in concluding their ambitious 100 day program and I do not expect the completion of an investigation during these 100 days, but at least they should make a start now.

  • 2
    0

    The present govt has not taken off yet. give it a lil time if not, hold them responsible and jurnos have to be in the forefront asking questions. Mahinda had 2 terms and under him FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION was buried… lets have a lil patience in this. There are greater needs that need the attention of the current regime than be investigating into atrocities. OF course they need to be taken to consideration but is NOT priority no 1. Fist relieve the masses of the burden ( day to day existance is priority) all else can be followed gradually… IF MR was elected WE wouldnt be talking about press freedom…now that a new day has dawned lets look beyond the horizon .for a fanta-bulous future…for us and generations to come…

    • 1
      0

      Exactly. The present government by design can only sprint to the finish line just 3 months away, after which it must be dissolved and go the hustings. It is only after that we can expect a stable government with hopefully fresh faces devoid of corruption charges. It is only then that the due process of inquiries into allegations can be initiated. So be patient guys. At present their priority is to legislate reforms to the election process like the PR system, provide immediate relief to the high COL, establish the 4 vital independent commissions, etc., for which at least a simple majority leading upto the 2/3rd for Constitutional reforms, becomes an absolute necessary. It is for that reason we see the horse trading that is now taking place to take in the rot and get things moving before it comes a cropper. Everyone needs to depend on one another to push the 100 day agenda forward.

  • 1
    0

    “The dictators have no place in this new media era! Sri Lanka has shown how to change a ruthless regime without any violence”

    Spot on Uvindu. With the new era that has dawned in the country, we are optimistic that everything would go in a positive direction including media freedom, prosecuting those who were behind the killing and abduction of journalists, etc..

  • 0
    0

    Another of the corruption charges for Sri Lanka authorities.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f98BFp2NoPk

  • 1
    0

    All you people have got to understand that this new coalition govt is trying their best to bring justice to this nation and to punish those responsible for all these tragedies. Instead of trying to find fault with this brand new government please support them to continue in their good start. It may not be easy for this govt. due to the massive frauds and murders/disappearances etc. purpurted by the Mara/Gora regime. The JHU/JVP/Rajitha/Ranjan and Hirunika are all up in arms. All of us must please help them to imprison all these culprits.

  • 2
    0

    Give the man some breathing space. If you allow this freshly planted shoot to grow its roots, it might end up as a big oak. Please do not trample it under your feet or overload it with demands. Priority is to get the organization and infrastructure right at this moment to enable it to function in a clean way. It’s a massive task. Lasantha case would surely be revisited at the right time.

  • 0
    3

    There are no records of any threats to Opposition MPs during the Rajapaksa Govt.

    Mythree Palanaya hasn’t even completed the probationary period, but there have been death threats to JHU Gammanpila and UPFA Namal Rajapaksa.

    Sunday Leader’s death is the handy work of one of the heavies who is currently on the Govt side.

    No wonder CT Chief can’t get the Govt to look in to his friends deaths.

    • 1
      0

      hak hak hak aiyo sumane aiye we know you guys are scared like little kittens now weeping over fake death threats but infact your boss and his goons carried out actual murders when they were in power. You know like killing people with cluster bombs and multi barrels blowing them up in to pieces. Fighters, Innocen women, children among the dead too.. So don’t worry about the fake death threats from unpers. They wont do a thing to you cause you are the real murderers.

    • 1
      0

      Yeah, no threats, only murders!
      Words need to be invented to describe beings such as you.

  • 0
    0

    It is very wrong to blame MPs in MR government or army for the killing and it is not very wise to target lot of people at one time. I know a real story. one person surrounded by 10 people and they are ready to attack him but the person told that he will only take revenge on the person first touch him. No one touched him first. So MR and Gotha are responsible for most of the killings, not even Sarath, he carried out orders and tried harder to be in his job. If Mithiri also try to save killers, it will strengthen international action – same time we can not fool them by saying no one is guilty, like zero causality war.

  • 2
    0

    The present government is expected to be in power only for the next three months. What’s going to happen in the new election is still uncertain. If everything goes well, then by May there will be a new government with a new cabinet of ministers led by a prime minister with executive powers. Also, according to the 100-Day program, there ought to be legally independent commissions to protect investigations from governmental interference. Therefore, we have to be careful in making judgements based on the present government’s make-up.

  • 0
    0

    All I can say is that there is now a serious shortage of “Sinhalese War Heroes” and an increasing supply of “Sinhalese war criminals “.

    An internatioal inquiry will help enlighten the Sinhalese Majority of their collective crimes.

  • 1
    0

    Uvindu,

    Please give the man (President MS) a chance before resorting to such conjecture.
    His Government is not yet one week old.
    At least he projects an aura of calmness and decorum befitting a Head of State.
    Far removed from the rowdy, populist behaviour we have witnessed from our last three presidents.
    President MS’s statesman-like behaviour is bound to be appreciated and respected by the international community and bring benefits to the Sri Lankan populace.
    His approach of not “playing to the gallery” is like a huge breath of fresh air to anyone who appreciates culture and decency.

  • 1
    0

    “President MS’s statesman-like behaviour is bound to be appreciated and respected by the international community” YES it will if morons like Bandula Jayasekara doesn’t work for him to impress the international community with insults and abuse or improper behaviour with international journalists.

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