Colombo Telegraph

WikiLeaks: Rajapaksa Personally Requested That Maubima Not Publicize The Detention Of Its Reporter – Maubima Editor

By Colombo Telegraph –

“On November 23, 2006, police from the Terrorism Investigation Division (TID) detained Parameshwari Munusami, a Sinhalese journalist working for Maubima or ‘Motherland’ (ref D). The editor of Maubima alleged that President Rajapaksa personally requested that the paper not publicize the detention of its reporter.” the US Embassy Colombo informed Washington.

A Leaked “CONFIDENTIAL” US diplomatic cable, dated March 22, 2007, updated the Secretary of State on Sri Lanka’s media suppression situation shows the way President Mahinda Rajapaksa harassed “Maubima” owner and it’s staff. The Colombo Telegraph found the related leaked cable from the WikiLeaks database. The cable was written by the Ambassador Robert O. Blake.

Ambassador Blake wrote “Maubima’s fortunes took a turn for the worse on February 7, 2007, when President Rajapaksa sacked Foreign Minister Samaraweera, a close confidant of Maubima owner Tiran Alles. Maubima’s critical coverage of the military campaign and support of Samaraweera has allegedly earned the ire of the President and his brother, Defense Secretary Gothabaya Rajapaksa (ref C). Interlocutors report that the Rajapaksas have discouraged advertisers, harassed the editor, ordered frivolous audits of the paper and seized the passports of the owner and director. On February 28, Maubima Director Dushyantha Basnayaka was taken into custody by TID. On March 13, President Rajapaksa, in his capacity as Finance Minister, ordered a freeze on the assets of Maubima’s parent company, Standard Newspapers LTD. Maubima and its sister paper, The Sunday Standard, are expected to publish their last editions on March 25. On March 21, the Attorney General told the Supreme Court there was no evidence to hold Munusami and that no charges had been filed. The Court ordered her release, which was televised when it took place the following day. Given the intense public interest in her case, it is not likely that she will be re-arrested soon on the same or similar charges.”

Under the subheading “IF YOU CAN’T SAY ANYTHING NICE” Blake wrote “Numerous interlocutors of the public affairs and political sections have reported that owners, directors, editors and reporters in all media and in all languages are receiving anonymous threats. Moreover, they have also received unsolicited “friendly” advice from senior administration officials, including police Deputy Inspectors General, Army Commanders, Cabinet Ministers, Defense Secretary Gothabaya Rajapaksa and even the President. The SIPDIS cause of such high-level attention appears to be unwelcome reporting on human rights issues such as murders, abductions COLOMBO 00000475 004 OF 004 and disappearances, but may also result from stories on the malodorous financial dealings of the Rajapaksa brothers or those close to them. The Ambassador made public visits to the Colombo offices of Thinakkural and Sudar Oli (Uthayan’s sister paper) to show support for these Tamil newspapers. The Ambassador and other Embassy officers have repeatedly urged the President and other senior Cabinet members to take concrete steps to safeguard media freedom. We have also advocated passage of a Media Freedom law first proposed in 2003, which would offer additional protection to journalists. The bill lapsed in 2004 with the election of a new Parliament and government, however, and its prospects for passage in the near future are uncertain at best.”

Placing a comment the ambassador wrote “The next several weeks are likely to see the extinction of four independent newspapers in Sri Lanka: Maubima (circ. 64,000) Sunday Standard (circ. 25,000), Thinakkural (circ. 12,000) and Uthayan (circ. 22,000). Equipped with the powers of warrantless arrest and unlimited detention under the stiffened emergency regulations, the government appears intent on silencing its most vocal critics. The stifling of independent voices through coercive means, both legal and extralegal, is having a profound impact on Sri Lanka’s previously vibrant media landscape and civil society as a whole.”

Related posts to this cable;

WikiLeaks:Rajapaksa Managed To Influenced MTV Owner Maharaja

Below we give the relevant part of the leaked cable;

VZCZCXRO2317
OO RUEHBI
DE RUEHLM #0475/01 0811128
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 221128Z MAR 07
FM AMEMBASSY COLOMBO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5725
INFO RUEHRL/AMEMBASSY BERLIN PRIORITY 0293
RUEHKA/AMEMBASSY DHAKA PRIORITY 9984
RUEHIL/AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD PRIORITY 6959
RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU PRIORITY 5037
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON PRIORITY 3620
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI PRIORITY 0781
RUEHNY/AMEMBASSY OSLO PRIORITY 3706
RUEHOT/AMEMBASSY OTTAWA PRIORITY 1021
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO PRIORITY 2786
RUEHCG/AMCONSUL CHENNAI PRIORITY 7534
RUEHBI/AMCONSUL MUMBAI PRIORITY 5236
RUEHON/AMCONSUL TORONTO PRIORITY 0146
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA PRIORITY 1916
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHHMUNA/HQ USPACOM HONOLULU HI PRIORITY
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS PRIORITY
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 COLOMBO 000475 

SIPDIS 

SIPDIS 

DEPARTMENT FOR SCA PDAS MANN, SCA/INS AND SCA/PPD 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/21/2017
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PTER KPAO KDEM CE
SUBJECT: SRI LANKA: SLOW STRANGULATION OF MEDIA FREEDOM 

REF: A) COLOMBO 460 B) COLOMBO 439 C) COLOMBO 337 D)
     COLOMBO 264 

Classified By: Ambassador Robert O. Blake, Jr., for reasons 1.4(b,d). 

1.  (C) Summary: Since the inauguration of President Mahinda
Rajapaksa in November 2005, Sri Lanka's vibrant media has
been slowly smothered by attacks on journalists, publishers
and broadcasters by the LTTE and armed paramilitary groups
with alleged links to the government security forces.  The
decline of human rights generally and the resulting "culture
of impunity" have stoked the surge in intimidation,
kidnapping and murder of journalists.  The Government of Sri
Lanka (GSL), invoking strengthened emergency regulations, has
put pressure on editorial content and arrested journalists
without charges.  More recently, editors and broadcasters
have received veiled threats by telephone allegedly from the
top levels of the Rajapaksa government.  As a result of
direct and indirect harassment, four independent newspapers
are likely to close in the next 90 days.   End Summary.
SINHALESE MEDIA NOT IMMUNE FROM HARASSMENT
------------------------------------------ 

10. (SBU) Sinhala language newspapers and journalists have
also begun making enemies both in and out of the government.
On July 3, 2006, freelance journalist Sampath Lakmal de Silva
became the first Sinhala language journalist to be murdered
in eight years.  Critical of all sides, De Silva had recently
written reports that embarrassed elements of the security
forces.  His death remains unsolved. 

11.  (C)  On November 23, 2006, police from the Terrorism
Investigation Division (TID) detained Parameshwari Munusami,
a Sinhalese journalist working for Maubima or "Motherland"
(ref D).  The editor of Maubima alleged that President
Rajapaksa personally requested that the paper not publicize
the detention of its reporter.  Maubima's fortunes took a
turn for the worse on February 7, 2007, when President
Rajapaksa sacked Foreign Minister Samaraweera, a close
confidant of Maubima owner Tiran Alles.  Maubima's critical
coverage of the military campaign and support of Samaraweera
has allegedly earned the ire of the President and his
brother, Defense Secretary Gothabaya Rajapaksa (ref C).
Interlocutors report that the Rajapaksas have discouraged
advertisers, harassed the editor, ordered frivolous audits of
the paper and seized the passports of the owner and director.
 On February 28, Maubima Director Dushyantha Basnayaka was
taken into custody by TID.  On March 13, President Rajapaksa,
in his capacity as Finance Minister, ordered a freeze on the
assets of Maubima's parent company, Standard Newspapers LTD.
Maubima and its sister paper, The Sunday Standard, are
expected to publish their last editions on March 25.  On
March 21, the Attorney General told the Supreme Court there
was no evidence to hold Munusami and that no charges had been
filed.  The Court ordered her release, which was televised
when it took place the following day.  Given the intense
public interest in her case, it is not likely that she will
be re-arrested soon on the same or similar charges. 

IF YOU CAN'T SAY ANYTHING NICE...
--------------------------------- 

12. (C) Numerous interlocutors of the public affairs and
political sections have reported that owners, directors,
editors and reporters in all media and in all languages are
receiving anonymous threats.  Moreover, they have also
received unsolicited "friendly" advice from senior
administration officials, including police Deputy Inspectors
General, Army Commanders, Cabinet Ministers, Defense
Secretary Gothabaya Rajapaksa and even the President.  The 

SIPDIS
cause of such high-level attention appears to be unwelcome
reporting on human rights issues such as murders, abductions 

COLOMBO 00000475  004 OF 004 

and disappearances, but may also result from stories on the
malodorous financial dealings of the Rajapaksa brothers or
those close to them. 

13. (C) The Ambassador made public visits to the Colombo
offices of Thinakkural and Sudar Oli (Uthayan's sister paper)
to show support for these Tamil newspapers.  The Ambassador
and other Embassy officers have repeatedly urged the
President and other senior Cabinet members to take concrete
steps to safeguard media freedom.  We have also advocated
passage of a Media Freedom law first proposed in 2003, which
would offer additional protection to journalists.  The bill
lapsed in 2004 with the election of a new Parliament and
government, however, and its prospects for passage in the
near future are uncertain at best. 

14. (C) COMMENT: The next several weeks are likely to see the
extinction of four independent newspapers in Sri Lanka:
Maubima (circ. 64,000) Sunday Standard (circ. 25,000),
Thinakkural (circ. 12,000) and Uthayan (circ. 22,000).
Equipped with the powers of warrantless arrest and unlimited
detention under the stiffened emergency regulations, the
government appears intent on silencing its most vocal
critics.  The stifling of independent voices through coercive
means, both legal and extralegal, is having a profound impact
on Sri Lanka's previously vibrant media landscape and civil
society as a whole.
BLAKE

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