20 May, 2019

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WikiLeaks: Gota Angry With Editors Lalith Allahakkon And Iqbal Athas

By Colombo Telegraph –

“Balasuriya and Jayantha said the Defense Secretary had expressed anger at other journalists, including Nation editor Lalith Allahakoon and Defense columnist Iqbal Athas: ‘what he’s doing is very harmful.’ Athas told Pol chief that pressure on him had increased considerably since Noyhar’s abduction. He complained that the private radio station TNL (note: owned by the brother of opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe) had aired a talk show insulting Athas, which he said consisted of ‘an hour of vulgar vituperation.’ Athas linked this to the Defense Secretary’s “offensive” against the media.” the US Embassy Colombo informed Washington.

Iqbal Athas

Lalith Allahakkoon

Secretary to the ministry of Defence Gotabhaya Rajapaksa made above remarks with Sanath Balasooriya, the president  of Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association and it’s secretary Poddala Jayantha.

The Colombo Telegraph found the related leaked cable from the WikiLeaks database dated June 2, 2008. The cable is classified as “CONFIDENTIAL” and written by the US Ambassador to Colombo Robert Blake. The cable details the media suppression situation just after the abduction and beating of defense journalist Keith Noyahr. The cable also details a meeting Secretary to the ministry of Defence Gotabaya Rajapaksa and two media workers Sanath Balasooriya and Poddala jayantha has had with.

The badly beaten Noyahr being rushed to Hospital – Chrisantha Cooray, the CEO of the company that publishes the Nation and its Sinhala-language sister newspaper Rivira, had fled to London

Under the subheading “Newspaper Executives fear for their lives, families” the US ambassador wrote “Allahakoon told DCM, Pol Chief and Public Affairs Counselor on May 29 that he had called President Rajapaksa immediately on the night of Noyahr’s disappearance and that the President had said he would ‘do everything’ to assure Noyahr’s return. Allahakoon credited the intensive campaign he and other friends of Noyahr mounted overnight with saving the journalist’s life. Allahakoon believed that the purpose of the abduction and beating of Noyahr was to try to determine which military commanders were leaking information to journalists. He reported that Noyahr had told him he had received threats that his family would be the next victims if he spoke about his abduction. Therefore, Noyahr would not make a statement to police about what happened to him. He told us that the Nation editorial offices and his home were under surveillance, and that he had received threats. Padmakumara had called him and told him to be very careful. He had moved his family from their home to a commercial district hotel as a precaution, but his children were afraid to leave the hotel to go to school. He was seeking to leave Sri Lanka temporarily until the current crisis subsided, he said.”

Unknown group had invaded the residence of the defense reporter Sirimevan Kasthuriarachchi of the Sinhala-language Divaina at 4 a.m. and threatened him

Frederica Jansz reported to police that someone had slashed the throat of a rooster and left the carcass outside her office

“Allahakoon said that Chrisantha Cooray, the CEO of the company that publishes the Nation and its Sinhala-language sister newspaper Rivira, had fled to London. Nation staff were afraid to report to work because of the heavy surveillance of its offices. He also feared the consequences of not publishing a paper on Sunday, since the government might regard this as an affront. He had therefore asked the editor of a small-circulation weekly to put out an innocuous, slimmed-down edition to avoid incurring the government’s displeasure. Sri Lankan media reported on June 1 that Cooray had resigned from the publishing company and that the London-Based Sena Yaddahige, 51% owner of the newspapers, was negotiating to sell his remaining stake to Sujit ‘Nissanka’ Rajapaksa. (Note: the relationship between Nissanka and the family of President Rajapaksa is not established.)” Blake further wrote.

Under the subheading “Further reports of harassment and intimidation” the ambassador wrote “There have been several other incidents of harassment and intimidation of journalists in recent days: — Another contributor to the Nation complained to the police that a white van was following her. When she confronted the occupants of the car, they began to question her about her work as a journalist.

Tamil journalist P. Devakumar, who worked for both Sirasa and MTV, was stabbed to death

On Thursday she reported to police that someone had slashed the throat of a rooster and left the carcass outside her office. A group of unidentified men in a jeep were surveilling her house. — The Free Media Movement issued a statement on May 31 that an unknown group had invaded the residence of the defense reporter of the Sinhala-language Divaina at 4 a.m. and threatened him. When he protested that he was a veteran and that his brother was missing in action against the Tamil Tigers, the group told him that regardless of who he was, reporting of matters related to defense was to stop immediately. — The Sri Lanka Press Institute reported that on May 27 armed men dressed in Army uniforms entered its offices and inquired about the identities of those working there. They refused to identify themselves but said they were with military intelligence. The Press Institute refused them access, or to provide such information. Military spokesman Nanayakkara later denied that the intruders could have been from the armed forces, stating that there was no authority for military intelligence to make such inquiries. — On May 28, Tamil journalist P. Devakumar, who worked for both Sirasa and MTV, was stabbed to death, along with a companion, on the way to his home near Jaffna. It appears unlikely, however, that this murder, one of several killings of journalists in Jaffna in the last two years, was closely related to the other recent cases in Colombo.”

Below we give the relevant part of the confidential cable;

Posts related to this cable;

WikiLeaks:‘There Will Be No Investigation, No One Will Be Able To Find Out What Happened To Keith’ – Gota

WikiLeaks: Large Numbers Of Military Personnel “Revered Fonseka Like A God” – Gota

VZCZCXRO8831
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DE RUEHLM #0528/01 1541314
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 021314Z JUN 08
FM AMEMBASSY COLOMBO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 8203
INFO RUEHKA/AMEMBASSY DHAKA PRIORITY 0926
RUEHIL/AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD PRIORITY 7915
RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU PRIORITY 6090
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON PRIORITY 4421
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI PRIORITY 2072
RUEHNY/AMEMBASSY OSLO PRIORITY 4402
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO PRIORITY 3497
RUEHCG/AMCONSUL CHENNAI PRIORITY 8526
RUEHBI/AMCONSUL MUMBAI PRIORITY 5971
RUEHON/AMCONSUL TORONTO PRIORITY 0667
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA PRIORITY 2799
RHHMUNA/HQ USPACOM HONOLULU HI PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS PRIORITY
RUEHLMC/MILLENNIUM CHALLENGE CORPORATION PRIORITY
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 05 COLOMBO 000528 

SIPDIS 

DEPARTMENT FOR SCA/INS 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/02/2018
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PTER MOPS PREL CE
SUBJECT: SRI LANKA: DEFENSE MINISTRY MOBILIZES AGAINST
MEDIA CRITICS 

REF: COLOMBO 507 

Classified By: AMBASSADOR ROBERT O. BLAKE, JR. REASONS: 1.4(b,d). 

1.  (C) SUMMARY: The Defense Secretary summoned two media
workers from the government-owned publishing house.  He
reportedly harangued them for over two hours for
participating in a rally to protest the abduction and beating
of defense journalist Keith Noyahr.  The journalists told us
that Gothabaya told them that "groups that revere Army
Commander Fonseka" would kill them if they persisted in their
campaign for media freedom.  Five media organizations
released a letter to the Defense Secretary deploring his
actions.  Several other journalists reported surveillance,
harassment and intimidation by shadowy groups likely linked
to the Defense Ministry.  The CEO of the independent
newspaper Noyahr works for has fled the country.  The paper's
editor told us he fears for his life and for his family and
may seek temporary refuge abroad.  The paper's majority owner
is reportedly negotiating to divest his shares in the
company.  Government spokesmen have generally been dismissive
of the threats to the media.  The Defense Ministry will
reportedly seek draconian censorship and criminal defamation
legislation to shut down any criticism of the government's
conduct of the war.  The campaign against media critics of
the administration appears aimed at discovering their sources
within the military's disgruntled officer corps and is likely
linked to the Army Commander's effort to gain another
extension of his term beyond the normal retirement age.  End
summary. 

Defense Secretary Threatens Media Workers
----------------------------------------- 

2.  (U) On May 23, following the abduction and brutal assault
on the defense correspondent of the weekly "Nation" (reftel),
the Working Journalists Association, Federation of Media
Employees trade union, Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum, Sri
Lanka Tamil Journalists Association, and the Free Media
Movement held a protest rally at Colpetty junction (near the
President's residence and office as well as the U.S.
Embassy).  The demonstrators demanded that the government
bring the perpetrators of the attack on Noyahr to justice. 

3.  (SBU) Sunanda Deshapriya, the founder of the Free Media
Movement, accompanied Sanath Balasuriya and Poddala Jayantha,
the President and General Secretary of the Sri Lanka Working
Journalists Association, to a meeting with DCM and Pol Chief
on May 28.  Balasuriya and Jayantha are also employees of the
government-owned Lake House media group, which publishes the
Daily News and vernacular newspapers.  (They explained that
they had been subject to an informal ban on writing for about
two years and had been relegated to performing administrative
work within Lake House.)  According to Balasuriya and
Jayantha, Lake House chairman Bandula Padmakumara informed
them on May 26 that Defense Secretary Gothabaya Rakapaksa was
summoning them to a meeting, which took place the same day. 

4.  (C) Balasuriya and Jayantha reported that when they
entered Rajapaksa's office, Padmakumara and Media Centre for
National Security head (and Presidential media advisor)
Lakshman Hulugalle were already inside.  Rajapaksa harangued
them for two and half hours, they said.  Padmakumara and
Hulugalle thwarted three attempts they made to break off the
meeting and leave.  Deshapriya, who speaks English more
fluently that Balasuriya and Jayantha, largely provided the
following account of their encounter with the Defense
Secretary.  Rajapaksa said that as Lake House employees, they
were government servants who had no rights to take part in
protests.  Further, he said that criticism of the military
leadership, particularly Army Commander Sarath Fonseka, and
the conduct of the war would not be tolerated.  He told the
media workers that there were large numbers of military 

COLOMBO 00000528  002 OF 005 

personnel who "revered Fonseka like a God," and that he could
not control these people.  The reporters said that he
threatened them with death, saying that if they persisted in
their criticism "people who know how to do it will finish you
off." 

5.  (C) The journalists responded that the rally they
attended was for the purpose of highlighting the assault on
Noyahr.  Rajapaksa replied that they were "not here to
discuss that.  You are here to listen to me."  Hulugalle said
that he had videotapes of a speech by Balasuriya in which he
criticized Fonseka.  (Balasuriya told us he had made such a
speech but never mentioned Fonseka by name.)  Rajapaksa told
them such conduct was equivalent "to becoming a suicide
bomber," like journalist Munusami Parameshwari of the
newspaper Mawbima (since defunct), who was detained for four
months last year for writing critical articles.  Deshapriya
noted that Parameshwari gave up her profession after her
family was subsequently attacked at home by Sinhalese
extremists.  He said the Free Media Movement had helped the
family find refuge in India. 

6.  (C) Rajapaksa reportedly went on to say that the
investigation of the Noyahr incident would lead nowhere.
"There will be no investigation.  It will reach a certain
point and stop.  No one will be able to find out what
happened."  He castigated journalists in general for focusing
attention on Sri Lanka's human rights record.  "Human rights
mean nothing.  We do not want to be bothered about it while
we're fighting a war.  Because of the international campaign,
we can't arrest anyone.  But I don't care; I will do what I
want.  The military will campaign for criminal defamation
laws to stop all this.  The fundamental rights provisions of
the Constitution have to be repealed." 

"Reprimand of senior journalists unacceptable"
--------------------------------------------- - 

7.  (U) On May 28, the five media organizations which had
called for the protest condemned the threats against their
colleagues, issuing a joint statement which reads, in part
(begin citation): 

"We are extremely disappointed and very concerned to discover
that you summoned and reprimanded Sanath Balasuriya and
Poddala Jayantha... over the protest campaign organised by
our five media organisations against the abduction and
inhuman assault of The Nation journalist Keith Noyahr...  We
held this protest campaign peacefully and under the freedom
of expression enshrined in our constitution.  We openly
stated that if the government does not apprehend the culprits
and attempts to impair and impede the investigation, we hold
it responsible for this heinous crime.  We understand that
your position as articulated to the President and General
Secretary of the SLWJA over two hours spent in your office
was as follows:
- That it is unacceptable to criticise the armed forces
whilst working in state newspapers.
- That anyone other than the leaders of the armed forces can
be criticised.
- That the aim of our protest was to criticise the armed
forces and that cannot be permitted.
- If both journalists continue criticising the military,
neither the Secretary of Defence nor the regime are in a
position to prevent action taken against them by groups or
persons who revere the Army Commander." (end citation) 

8.  (C) Balasuriya and Jayantha said the Defense Secretary
had expressed anger at other journalists, including Nation
editor Lalith Allahakoon and Defense columnist Iqbal Athas:
"what he's doing is very harmful."  Athas told Pol chief that
pressure on him had increased considerably since Noyhar's
abduction.  He complained that the private radio station TNL 

COLOMBO 00000528  003 OF 005 

(note: owned by the brother of opposition leader Ranil
Wickremesinghe) had aired a talk show insulting Athas, which
he said consisted of "an hour of vulgar vituperation."  Athas
linked this to the Defense Secretary's "offensive" against
the media. 

Newspaper Executives fear for their lives, families
--------------------------------------------- ------ 

9.  (C) Allahakoon told DCM, Pol Chief and Public Affairs
Counselor on May 29 that he had called President Rajapaksa
immediately on the night of Noyahr's disappearance and that
the President had said he would "do everything" to assure
Noyahr's return.  Allahakoon credited the intensive campaign
he and other friends of Noyahr mounted overnight with saving
the journalist's life.  Allahakoon believed that the purpose
of the abduction and beating of Noyahr was to try to
determine which military commanders were leaking information
to journalists.   He reported that Noyahr had told him he had
received threats that his family would be the next victims if
he spoke about his abduction.  Therefore, Noyahr would not
make a statement to police about what happened to him.   He
told us that the Nation editorial offices and his home were
under surveillance, and that he had received threats.
Padmakumara had called him and told him to be very careful.
He had moved his family from their home to a commercial
district hotel as a precaution, but his children were afraid
to leave the hotel to go to school.  He was seeking to leave
Sri Lanka temporarily until the current crisis subsided, he
said. 

10.  (C) Allahakoon said that Chrisantha Cooray, the CEO of
the company that publishes the Nation and its
Sinhala-language sister newspaper Rivira, had fled to London.
 Nation staff were afraid to report to work because of the
heavy surveillance of its offices.  He also feared the
consequences of not publishing a paper on Sunday, since the
government might regard this as an affront.  He had therefore
asked the editor of a small-circulation weekly to put out an
innocuous, slimmed-down edition to avoid incurring the
government's displeasure.  Sri Lankan media reported on June
1 that Cooray had resigned from the publishing company and
that the London-Based Sena Yaddahige, 51% owner of the
newspapers, was negotiating to sell his remaining stake to
Sujit "Nissanka" Rajapaksa.  (Note: the relationship between
Nissanka and the family of President Rajapaksa is not
established.) 

Further reports of harassment and intimidation
--------------------------------------------- - 

11.  (SBU) There have been several other incidents of
harassment and intimidation of journalists in recent days: 

-- Another contributor to the Nation complained to the police
that a white van was following her.  When she confronted the
occupants of the car, they began to question her about her
work as a journalist.  On Thursday she reported to police
that someone had slashed the throat of a rooster and left the
carcass outside her office.  A group of unidentified men in a
jeep were surveilling her house. 

-- The Free Media Movement issued a statement on May 31 that
an unknown group had invaded the residence of the defense
reporter of the Sinhala-language Divaina at 4 a.m. and
threatened him.  When he protested that he was a veteran and
that his brother was missing in action against the Tamil
Tigers, the group told him that regardless of who he was,
reporting of matters related to defense was to stop
immediately. 

-- The Sri Lanka Press Institute reported that on May 27
armed men dressed in Army uniforms entered its offices and 

COLOMBO 00000528  004 OF 005 

inquired about the identities of those working there.  They
refused to identify themselves but said they were with
military intelligence.  The Press Institute refused them
access, or to provide such information.  Military spokesman
Nanayakkara later denied that the intruders could have been
from the armed forces, stating that there was no authority
for military intelligence to make such inquiries. 

-- On May 28, Tamil journalist P. Devakumar, who worked for
both Sirasa and MTV, was stabbed to death, along with a
companion, on the way to his home near Jaffna.  It appears
unlikely, however, that this murder, one of several killings
of journalists in Jaffna in the last two years, was closely
related to the other recent cases in Colombo.
BLAKE

 

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Latest comments

  • 0
    0

    Gota is a psyco case.

  • 0
    0

    This is the level of Sri Lankan style of governing. Whole world must know this. Thank you CT for digging all and remind us the past.

  • 0
    0

    This is old news. I am pretty sure Sirimevan knows who is responsible. Please keep Gota out of this. Who prevented Sirimevan from visiting Army camps? Please be honest.

  • 0
    0

    Iqbal Athas don’t feel Like Sri Lankan. You could have understood that very well if you read the columns he had written during the war. Many Muslims say it and they show alligaince to Saudi Arabia and to Islamic countries when there are Cricket games. Athas’s writing style and the attitude during the war demonstrated it.

    If not he had a different superiority complex which he thought he was the most correct.

    • 0
      0

      This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy
      http://colombotelegraph.com/comments-policy/
      In short:
      • If you act with maturity and consideration for other users, you should have no problems.
      • Don’t be unpleasant. Demonstrate and share the intelligence, wisdom and humour we know you possess.
      • Take some responsibility for the quality of the conversations in which you’re participating. Help make this an intelligent place for discussion and it will be.

  • 0
    0

    Most of the cunning foxes who don’t have any standards blame Defence Secretary. they don’t want to understand that if they do the same thing any where else they would be either unemployed or they would not be doing it for long.

    None of these screaming idiot does understand the one’s responsibility.

    Typical bottom feeders.

  • 0
    0

    [Edited out]
    Alahakoon was not sacked from the Nation but was sacked by Mangala Samaraweera.
    Balasooriya and Poddala were not journalist but were spying for Mangala Samaraweera when he was Media Minister and Chandrika. All the journalists Unions were catering to the SLFP supporters and none of the other journalists even bothered to listen to their propoganda. I can say that none of the journalists at the Daily News were members of the working journalists.. because to many Poddala and Balasooriya wer liken to two clowns.

    Part of this comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy
    http://colombotelegraph.com/comments-policy/

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