3 December, 2020

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The War May Be Over In Sri Lanka, But It Is Still Not Safe For Journalists There

By Frances Harrison

Frances Harrison

I recently received a heartbreaking email saying a Sri Lankan journalist, his wife and nine year old child had spent the night with all their suitcases on a bench in a park in Paris. He’d been thrown out of the house where he was been staying, after losing his part time job washing dishes in a restaurant. It was difficult to organise emergency help because media organisations were shut over the weekend and his mobile phone was often switched off to preserve the credit.

The first thing you should know about this journalist is that he is Sinhalese – from the majority community in Sri Lanka, an island divided by decades of brutal ethnic war. Putting it very simply, the Sinhalese won the war in 2009, crushing a long running Tamil nationalist uprising. So it’s all the more surprising that a Sinhalese journalist should be in trouble.

Until recently it’s been the Tamil minority who’ve flooded out of Sri Lanka to seek asylum abroad. But in the last few years a steady trickle of Sinhalese journalists and activists have also fled. They were the more liberal and moderate minded, who opposed a military solution to crush Tamil nationalism – people, like the man in Paris, who could have had a very comfortable life if they’d chosen to toe the government line. Instead they paid a huge personal price for their integrity in speaking up for the “other” ethnic community. In some cases their own families even disown them.

Tamil journalists who escape abroad by no means have an easy time of it, but they do at least have established support networks in the diaspora. There are plenty of people to help them out if something goes wrong and they’re unlikely to end up on the streets. Not so the Sinhalese journalists who have absolutely no community to fall back on.

Psychologically the blow of exile is different too. The Tamil journalists have always known in the back of their minds that a time might come when they’d have to escape Sri Lanka. By contrast the Sinhalese journalists who are forced to leave are stunned to find they are no longer welcome in a place they always took for granted as their birthright.

One exiled Sinhalese journalist I know well was roundly attacked on Sri Lankan TV as a traitor earlier this year when the country was under pressure at the UN Human Rights Council over its record of war crimes during the 2009 culmination of the conflict. As a result of the news reports about him back home, all the other thirty Sinhalese families, except one, in his town in England refused to socialise with him any more. Because of being Sinhalese he’s also struggled to find a job in a petrol station because so many are owned by Tamils who wouldn’t hire him. He’s not just stateless but lacking any community.

In the past three years I’ve seen refugee photographers and editors I knew in Sri Lanka end up picking fruit in farms in Europe, working night shifts in factories, mopping floors and manning corner shops. They’ve struggled but have on occasion received extraordinary gestures of kindness from strangers. A fruit farm owner in Austria gave a Sinhalese photographer a new camera for his birthday when he heard his story. Staff in a library in Norway also clubbed together to buy a camera for a Tamil photographer, Lokeesan, who miraculously survived the brutal end to the civil war loosing all his possessions. In the case of the journalist in Paris it was a Nepali man who saved him initially – offering his family the use of his tiny room while he worked nightshifts.

That was until Tamil journalists came to his rescue, sending hard earned savings and arranging relatives in Paris to take him in to their homes on a temporary basis. That in itself is extraordinary. There are still many Sri Lankan Tamils abroad who would draw the line in helping Sinhalese, especially having them to stay. Reconciliation is talked about a lot but rarely practiced. There are decades of bitterness and bloodshed to overcome.

Among the Sri Lankan journalists I know in exile there’s a subtle transformation underway. Tamils and Sinhalese are gradually finding common cause, helping one another. The Tamil photographer, Lokeesan, only reached Norway because a total stranger, a Sinhalese journalist in exile, befriended him on Skype and helped him escape, filling in all the application forms in English for him. It was the first time the Lokeesan who grew up in the war zone had a Sinhalese friend; now they’re inseparable.

My Sinhalese journalist friend in England took a tortured Tamil journalist he didn’t know into his house, alongside his wife and children. The Tamil man’s kneecaps had been drilled and his genitals electrocuted; he woke everyone up in the asylum hostel every night with his screaming. My friend soothed him through the nightmares and then walked him back to the hostel every morning to sign back in. That they belonged on different sides of the ethnic divide did not matter to him – they were both fellow journalists. When I spoke to him last weekend he mentioned almost in passing that he had another Sinhalese reporter staying. That man arrived here four months ago after being attacked by government thugs and cut with knives all over his body, rendering his right hand permanently damaged. The war may be over in Sri Lanka but it’s still not safe for journalists there.

The Rory Peck Trust, dedicated to the safety and welfare of freelancers and their families in crisis, has been helping support Sri Lankan journalists in exile.

Frances Harrison is a former BBC Correspondent in Sri Lanka, among other places, and her book of survivors’ stories from the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka ‘Still Counting the Dead’ is published by Portobello Books on 4 October 2012. 

Courtesy  International News Safety Institute

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Latest comments

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    It is heart rendering to read such news as this. There are no devides when man has to face inhumanity at the hands of absolutely corrupt despots who sell Patriotism for their survival.

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      Does Ms Harrison know their mind set to think that the journalists think that the grass is greener on the other side. some of these exiled journalists escape SL for a better life in the West knowing that the westerners can be duped with their invented sob stories. They will soon realise that they had a better life in SL without having to beg and do menial jobs to keep them going . These so called exiled journalsits rely and depend on AI , Human rights watch for their survival. Best to do their homework properly rather than bring falsified evidence to blame SL.

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        Excellent comment, Kumudini ….
        When you say “….westerners can be duped with their invented sob stories….”, that is true for some journalists in the west …
        There are some others who are going through huge ego trips by creating big agendas and work towards it by inventing stories …. One of these ‘ego driven’ agendas is to give a birth to a BRAND NEW COUNTRY separating from the main …. What a way to escape boredom of their lives at the expense of the people in a country … Without knowing any history or the local conditions in a country, these guys are always ready to believe any bs stories and publish those … Many people involved in these organizations like AI, Human rights Watch belong to this category …. One of the worst personalities in that regard is “Navi” Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. She thinks that she is the GOD of human rights … Her huge ego combined with the bias towards her race, she is a curse to SL …
        As usual, Frances Harrison is recycling stories to suit her agenda …. Look at how she begins … “….I recently received a heartbreaking email saying a Sri Lankan journalist…”
        Heart breaking ‘EMAIL’?… Aha ..
        If it is a email, how could any body say it is false … Isn’t it Frances?
        Please do not send any controversial email to her. … Think about her … She has already has a broken heart …

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        Kundumani for your ilk, Journalist who escape overseas do so because the grass is greener on the other side. Besides why should Journalists do menial jobs to keep them going on this greener side, if life at home was better? Is it not to escape Death and Torture? The truth of the matter is, it is better to do any menial job and live, rather than be tortured and killed staying back home, as Lasantha Wickrematunge, Prageeth Eknaligoda, Sri Ram and a host of others.

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    I’m a refugee in France, this is the first time I heard this kind of story. Unbelievable, unless you violate the house rules, they never ask you to leave. even if you asked to leave the government provides a home at least a homeless hostel. I think this BBC journalist is misled. If you say who is this jorno, we can check it with RSF. Otherwise I agree with agree with her essay.

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      Here comes another load of BS from Frances. She from time to time somehow manages to come with a load. The funniest of her BS is her call that the Tiger were a nationalists while the whole world knows for what they are.

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    Nobody will believe this lady’s fairy tale about a journalist in France.

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    OMG! is she writing a book on Sri Lanka?? ‘Still Counting the Dead’ dear dear, it will sure like this France story. Clearly an integrity issue, it looks she failed to contact French authorities to verify the facts. This can be never happened in France.

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    Frances …

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    Holy Shit

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    Looks Frances has no idea about France.

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    There are so many ways to beg and borrow. This is one way. The pathetic Singhalese brothers and Singhalese sisters use this method to hoodwink some naive do gooders.Another form of BEGGING in the name of war.

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    Francis , you are being fooled by this so called journalist.How gullible are you? Please help the ones who need help not with this kind of stories.

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    Frances, Pls. just grow up… We all know Shop keepers country (UK) is almost bankrupt since ripping off other nations have come to a holt..

    You can create any yarns here and also try to tell other people about your book ( so that more pounds in your banks).. Why don’t you tell stories about your country sleeping with the ugly empire?
    We are not stupid and we also know JDS is in Germany and France being paid by imperial masters to do their dirty biddings.

    Media used to be decent in UK and with tainted Polish Sausage like David Miliband ( pretend to be English sausage which he is not) strong arming Times in UK to get his pet tamil story thinking he will get more terror votes, and he did try to hoodwink Int community to support his pet terrorist and it back fired..
    Do I need to say more?

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    Excellent article by Frances Harrisson ex BBC.
    One Para drew my interest.Quote”
    The Tamil photographer, Lokeesan, only reached Norway because a total stranger, a Sinhalese journalist in exile, befriended him on Skype and helped him escape, filling in all the application forms in English for him. It was the first time the Lokeesan who grew up in the war zone had a Sinhalese friend; now they’re inseparable.
    Unquote”

    Lokeesan was the former Tamil Net Reporter working in the Vanni until April 20, 2009. Thereafter escaped from Sri Lanka and surfaced in Norway last year…. Tamil Net is owned by the same Tamil in Bethesda, Maryland who owns Tamils Against Genocide and senior official of TRO, the banned Tamil NGO. Bruce Fein the former attorney for Tamils For Justice, represents Tamils Against Genocide for the past 4 years and has also traveled to Chennai Tamil Nadu, twice prior to May 2009.

    Lokeesan was recently highlighted in the documentary of exiled journalist together with Sonali Samarasinghe who was married to the murdered editor of Sunday leader, Lasantha Wickramatunge for 13 days. She lives in Ithaca, New York, USA and is also working on a book about her and Lasantha.

    The other journalist is a Sinhalese who now lives in Germany. He is Rohitha Bashana Abeywardene who left Sri Lanka a few years ago.

    The intriguing part is why he had remained silent all this while not providing the UN and UNHRC with eyewitness testimony and evidence. Also why the owners of Tamil Net and Tamils Against Genocide did not assist him to reach safety in Norway or any other European country.

    Lokeesan is also involved in writing his own book in cooperation with Tamil Net, in Oslo Norway, like Gordon Weiss.

    1. http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=79&artid=34867

    2. http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=34819

    3. http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=79&artid=35542

    Lokeesan’s story after April 2009, until now and the part played by Tamil Net and Tamils Against Genocide, his former employers have drawn the attention of some and many questions would need to be answered sooner or later.

    Tamil Net Editor and staff are based in Oslo, although the owners/publishers are in Bethesda, USA.

    Donald Gnanakone.

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    Srilanka has been having a terrorist problem created bysome communalists from both sides .We sinhalese and tamils lived peacefully for several decades and even married each other consisting of various religions and we still have a lrage population of tamils who are affluent and owners of many companies living amicably in colombo and suburbs,His tory shows that even the ploice dept had over eight Deputy Inspectors of Generals of Police.Judges and even a chief Justice.OUtside world try to make out that we had communal issues which led to the war whilst it were the terrorists themselves who killed the tamil leaders.It Is still not over as terrorism is still very much there though not seen.Itis a Myth if any one thinks that the LTTE is NO MORE!NIHAL

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      Nihal what you say is correct. That was the situation that prevailed then, where the Tamils and the Sinhalese lived in amity. Sadly this situation changed where the rabid Sinhalese, the scum in society who ascended heights in Politics and Public Service started to treat the Tamils as second class citizens. How many Tamils are there in Public Service, holding Senior Posts today? almost none. The systematic elimination of Tamils from Govt. Service commenced in mid ’50s. There applications for posts with required or better qualifications were thrown to the dustbins.

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    The motivation of the writer is to promote her book. It is possible that she is being prodded along by Tamil Diaspora (TD). She has no concern about the ethnic cleansing that went on for three decades that paralyzed the terror-stricken Lankan administrations. This is the least investigated aspect of the whole conflict.

    It is heartening to know that there are people like Donald J Gnanakone that see the problem in Sri Lanka in a larger perspective. The actual conflict is between Tamil Diaspora and Lanka. Tamil Diaspora is the entire dispersed community of Tamils in the world that the British employed as their indentured servants. (Did anyone wonder why the British hand-picked the Tamils over so many other groups?). Lankan are the minority in this conflict in several ways — numbers, money and influence. 800 million TD vs. 20 million Lankans (all communities INCLUDING Tamils who were victimized too just as the other communities).

    Did anybody wonder how Raj Rajaratnam and Raj Fernando become billionaires? The first is in jail for insider trading. Perhaps the real but hard to prove reason is that the money originated as underworld income. (FBI works this way). The latter is a bundler for Obama, that nearly got in the International Security Panel of the US government. Why did he pick that particular committee? How do names get listed in the bundler’s list? Could they be just those that are in already existing extortion list?

    The conflict is not over. TD wanted a modern Cicily to legitimize the business of all kinds of trafficking (human, drug) and terror ware sales. They keep the drum beat going to keep their business under the radar by playing the victim.

    Would people like Ms. Harrison ever bother to do hard investigative journalism, than be fed by one side that has such long tentacles in the international scene as the Tamil Diaspora?

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      Who created and who is responsible for the Tamil diaspora? It is no one else, but the Rabid Snhalese Chauvinists, who drove the Tamils out from this country from ’56 onwards. Today these very Sinhalese are taking up cudgels against these very Tamil diaspora who are not only financially stronger than the Sinhalese but the majority are educated Professionals well placed in the World body.

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        Gamini why are you pretending to be a sinhalese with a sinhala name like Gamini ? This is how the people are fooled all the time, by the Tamils .

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          Kumudini,

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          HE GOT IT WRONG

          HE IS KAMINI

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          Kundumani, for your information I am a full blooded Sinhalese. I do not know about yourself. The only difference is that I do not take sides. I am frank in my opinion. What is WRONG is WRONG, it applies to whomever, family member or outsider. I see your problem is that I should go with the tide and lambaste the Tamils and hide the Sinhalese excesses, to qualify as a Sinhalese. Is it not? When I speak of the TRUTH, it hurts people of your ilk, as you can not deny facts. Then you go on to accuse me as a Tamil. What is the fooling I have done, when I state that the Tamils were chased out of this country, introducing the ‘Yukthiya sasadeemay Panatha’ for proficiency in Sinhala for the Tamils also, by none other than the Compassionate Sinhala Buddhist Society?

          Then there are lackeys who try to tag on to you, trying to put their cent worth and get their posts deleted as they lack decorum to be involved in decent debate, the uncooth in society.

          Julaampitye, I am sorry I do not have any aliases.

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    I Thought it was wrong when SL Gov asked her to leave the Country. Given her above utterly biased thoughts, I thought SL Gov should have asked her to leave much earlier !!!

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    Fraces, writes the story of a Sinhalese journalist needing help, and I am aware of her public and private appeal to assist this Sinhalese.

    So why are the Sinhala-racist in this website forum getting agitated with her and attacking her. As a BBC resident journalist in Sri Lanka she has seen enough to make her own judgement and it will be foolish to attack her.

    Here is what some guy called “Guney wrote.

    Did anybody wonder how Raj Rajaratnam and Raj Fernando become billionaires? The first is in jail for insider trading. Perhaps the real but hard to prove reason is that the money originated as underworld income. (FBI works this way). The latter is a bundler for Obama, that nearly got in the International Security Panel of the US government. Why did he pick that particular committee? How do names get listed in the bundler’s list? Could they be just those that are in already existing extortion list?

    END

    Absolute rubbish.

    I know both of them as well as their fathers for over 30 years.
    Rajiv is a hard working bond trader in Chicago and very successful. He is well brought up and the family are broadminded and not the typical racist-chauvinist types at all. But he is not anywhere close to be a Billionaire, but I hope he will as he has a good heart and could be useful for Sinhala Sri Lanka and not for politics.

    Raj’s appeal is coming up next month and most likely win… Or else he will win in the Supreme Court. What the FBI did was absolutely wrong and there was so much of facts and evidence suppressed from the magistrate, Judge, and Jury.
    This is not the forum for me to write…

    Raj was a Billionaire and has helped ungrateful Sri Lanka and the TRO a lot. That is what got him into trouble and also he is not a JEW or Irish white…

    Rajiv was a great supporter of Hilary Clinton for a very long time and switched to Obama at her request 4 years ago… He should not have lent his name to that NSC, team that had brought unwanted scrutiny being a Sri Lankan. Rajapakses have been trying to get donations from him recently, although none knew of his success until 3-4 years ago. (Both UNP and the R brothers)…

    So Guney please do not write nonsense like a Pandithaya….

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    On Lokeesan and Bashana the two exiled journalist….
    ABC Video…
    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-09-21/sri-lanka-still-unsafe/4274124

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    Dear Freaking Donald,
    Good to see you write & behave here as a matured guy !!! Im sure it will help your own health as well !!!
    Way to go Dude !!! We certainly need more jokers like you here in CT !!!

    BTW is it true …

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    So this is the ‘Bhuddhist’ country.Drilling the kneecaps and electrocuting the genitals.Then they go and piously worship the kapilavastu relics.Giving Bhuddhism to savages is like giving a beautiful flower to a gorilla.It will not know what to do with it and will start removing its petals one by one.To see real bhuddhism you have to go to countries such as Tibet or Bhutan.

    Bhutan is such a peaceful country.Srilanka must try to develop much closer relations with it and learn about real bhuddhism from them.The two countries are a good fit for each other,one with only 800000 people,but landlocked and the other with 22 milion people,but plenty of coastline and perfect location.A union in the form of the EU will be greatly beneficial to both countries.

    Also hopefully one day we may be able to send some of our savages to bhutan permanently.Our loss will be their gain.

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    No war with sinhala people and tamil ,only war with journalist

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    Srilankan media brain washed idiots, will say what they want and creat their own stories. Get out of baised SL media and open your mind and think.

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