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Former Lake House New Media Editor attacked!

Former Editor of the Digital and New Media Unit of the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd. (Lake House) and founder of popular social media page ‘Madyawediya’ Madhuka Thaksala Fernando has been attacked and issued death threats by the President of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) trade union of Lake House and a number of other SLPP thugs.

The incident had taken place yesterday evening (10) at Lake House. The attack had been carried out by a group of 15 individuals including the President of the SLPP Trade Union Chandana Bandara and ANCL employees Hemantha Dep, Gayan Bandara, Chameera Eldeniya, Nuwan Kodikara together with Sanjeewa Padmakumara, Anura Kumara from the ANCL's advertising division.

A UK Graduate in New Media:

Madhuka, a UK graduate in New Media had left his job in the UK to work in Sri Lanka on an invitation extended by the former government. He had worked at the Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC) and a number of other media institutions before being appointed as the Editor of Digital and New Media at ANCL.

Following the defeat of the 'Yahapalana' (Good Governance) government on November 16, Madhuka had tendered his resignation on November 18 to the Lake House authorities.

However, according to ANC policies, Madhuka is required to work till December 31 when his resignation will become official. Therefore, Madhuka had come to Lake House as usual.

While Madhuka was at the ‘Resa’ newspaper editorial, a group of thugs had barged into the office had dragged him out leading to a rest room area which had no functioning CCTV cameras and beaten him. While attacking him, the thugs had apparently said “There is no point telling you, this is the way you must be spoken to” and threatened to kill him if he visits Lake House again.

A bypass heart patient!

CCTV footage captured how Madhuka was being dragged to the restroom area. According to sources, Madhuka had undergone an open heart bypass surgery and is a heart patient.

The attack had not only scared him but has caused his health condition to worsen. He has complained to the Fort Police station about the attack and submitted a written complaint to Lake House General Manager Abhaya Amaradasa. However, none of the suspects have been arrested yet.

Attempts to scare media personnel!

After the recent change of government, a systematic oppression of the media has been on ongoing.

Following the Presidential election on November 26, Police and a group of men in civilian attire had visited the office of newshub.lk with an expired search warrant and gone on to check the computers of the office.

Following this, based on a complaint by a Sinhala organisation to the IGP, an investigation was commenced by the CID’s cyber crimes division which summoned the Editor of Voicetube.lk, Thushara Witharana to the CID on November 28 to obtain a statement from her. She was questioned for over 6 hours.

While she was not informed of the exact reason for being summoned, the same unit on November 26 had called on journalist and attorney-at-law Sanjaya Dhanushka, who presented the alternative news cast for The Leader TV for questioning. He was grilled for over 8 hours on the day.

Self Censorship by Media!

In a political commentary in ‘Anidda’ written by Prof. Jayadeva Uyangoda, he states that;

“It is not a pleasure for a political commentator to impose self censorship. But will I be imprisoned if I write according to my conscience? Will I be abducted and be made to disappear? Will I have to provide a statement to the Police? Will unknown men on motorcycles circle my home? Has the time for political commentary without fear, restraint and doubt ended? These uncertainties are not my own but I believe are haunting other journalists in this country as well.

However, what is most unfortunate is that while media personnel and organisations are being attacked the opposition has continued to stay silent."

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CBK resigns from reconciliation secretariat

Former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga has tendered her resignation from the post of Chairperson of the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR) yesterday (20).

ONUR was set up with the commitment to achieve national unity and reconciliation and was a key feature of the January 2015 presidential campaign.

The Government of Sri Lanka established then established ONUR to give effect to its commitment to reconciliation.

The resolution was moved by the Prime Minister; approved by the Cabinet and established under President.

ONUR has been under the purview of the Ministry of National Integration and Reconciliation.

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Heavy rains cause 06 deaths, over 15000 affected

Over 15,000 people have been affected by heavy rains in Sri Lanka while six deaths have been reported, the Disaster Management Center (DMC) said on Wednesday.

Four deaths were reported from the Nuwera Eliya District, in the central highlands, which is one of the worst affected by days of heavy rains and strong winds.

Over 900 people have been evacuated to safer shelters while over 350 houses have been fully or partially damaged.

A landslide warning also remains in effect in several areas including in Ratnapura, in south central Sri Lanka and families residing in landslide prone areas have been moved to safer shelters.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Monday instructed officials to take immediate action to ensure the safety and welfare of the people affected by floods and landslides and further instructed all ministry officials and local government agents to coordinate with the Ministry of Defense and the Disaster Management Center to be prepared for rapid response in the event of floods, landslides and rock falls occurring due to heavy rainfall.

An order issued by the president also instructs all officials to take immediate disaster mitigation and public welfare measures.

More rains are expected in Sri Lanka in the coming days due to a low-level atmospheric disturbance in the vicinity of the island country and the Meteorology Department has warned the public to take adequate precautions to minimize damages caused by strong winds and lightning.

Rains of above 150 mm are expected in several areas along the north, east and southern coasts.

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Harsha requests Pres. Gotabaya to take over 'Suwaseriya'

Non Cabinet Minister of Economic Reforms and Public Distribution Harsha de Silva while tendering his resignation from the portfolios has requested President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to take over the ‘1990 Suwaseriya Ambulance Service’ under his purview and further strengthen the service.

“I have one important request to make of you. That is to place 1990 Suwaseriya Foundation under your purview and strengthen the service,” De Silva has noted in the letter.

The former Minister has said he fears the service maybe subject to unnecessary interference elsewhere.

He has added that he gave his best to all previous portfolios he had held and is satisfied that he was able to contribute towards the development of the country.

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Controversy over Hyundai agency now before court

The confusion that took center stage in the local vehicle market over the agency of popular Korean vehicle brand, Hyundai, has now gone before courts.

The local vehicle market was buzzing last month over reports that Hyundai Motor Company in Korea was trying to appoint a new agent for the Sri Lanka market.

The controversy resulted in allegations of fake documents with forged signatures being submitted to the Department of Motor Vehicles by a leading local conglomerate trying to take hold of the Hyundai agency in Sri Lanka, namely Abans Auto (Pvt) Limited, and the matter has now been taken before courts.

A complaint was first lodged by Hyundai Lanka (Pvt) Limited with the Colombo Fraud Investigations Bureau of the Police on November 22nd on the alleged submission of fake documents with forged signatures to the Department of Motor Vehicles.

The complaint was lodged by Sujith Periris, Director Strategic Business Development of Hyundai Lanka Private Limited on behalf of the company’s Managing Director, H.A. Reuter and Director Viola Karunaratne.

The Fraud Bureau had then filed a B report before the Magistrate’s Court in Colombo and case no. 22689/08/19 is now ongoing on the complaint.

Accordingly, Court No. 8 of the Colombo Magistrate’s Court on November 27th has directed the investigators of the Fraud Bureau to record the necessary statements from the Department of Motor Vehicles and to further probe the matter.

The court has further directed the Commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles to submit the originals of the letters sent via e-mail to him by Abans Auto Private Limited on October 7th and October 15th this year while also directing the Commissioner or any other responsible official on his behalf to make a statement to the investigative officers regarding the matter being probed.

The issue came to public attention when the popular brand’s models started to appear in shopping malls with so-called exciting prices.

Unknown to the wider Hyundai vehicle owners, Hyundai Motors regional office based in Malaysia, had reportedly forged links with a local conglomerate and had appointed them as an agent.

Accordingly, Abans Auto has written to the Commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles informing of their new status as agent of Hyundai Motors. This was during the currency of the agent of nearly 20 years, Hyundai Lanka (Pvt) Limited.

The Department has also been in receipt of yet another letter which is purported to be from Hyundai Motors stating that Hyundai Lanka was not the agent and therefore should not be permitted to directly register vehicles, which is a system available to registered agents.

Hyundai Lanka who has enjoyed their agency status in the country for nearly 20 years had immediately contacted the Department, as they believed that the two letters received by the Commissioner of the Department, even though it was purported to be from the same person, had allegedly carried two distinctly different signatures.

The Department had then written to Hyundai Motors seeking clarification and was sent via email the body of the letter this time without a verifiable signature.

However, on 7th November it was revealed that the Korean named in the letters has made a personal visit to the Department of Motor Vehicles and signed the letters in front of the Registrar.

Prior to the visit to the Department, the Department was of the view that of the letters received by the Registrar, at least one was a forgery.

Nevertheless, while the Fraud Bureau investigators and the Colombo Magistrate’s Court is inquiring into the deeper business issues including the alleged fake letters with forged signatures, the real question in the whole drama is on the existing warranty honouring, service issues etc that appear to have been left in abeyance.

Related News:

New Hyundai motor vehicle agency creates a stir

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ICJ calls on new President and Govt. to uphold human rights and rule of law

The International Committee of Jurists (ICJ) has called on the new President of Sri Lanka, Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his government to uphold human rights and rule of law and ensure that Sri Lanka sustains its international obligations and commitments to justice and accountability.

“Gotabaya Rajapaksa faces credible allegations of involvement in war crimes and crimes against humanity that took place during the country’s armed conflict,” ICJ has noted in a statement.

“The election of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, after a highly polarizing campaign, has alarmed human rights defenders in Sri Lanka and abroad, who have little reason to believe that someone facing such serious allegations of perpetrating human rights violations can be relied upon to meet the country’s obligations under international law,” Frederick Rawski, ICJ Asia Pacific Director has said.

“Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who won the presidency with 52.25% of votes, served as Sri Lanka’s Secretary of the Ministry of Defence from 2005 to 2015 during the tenure of his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa, at the height of the armed conflict against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE),” ICJ has noted.

“Both the military and LTTE perpetrated war crimes and gross human rights violations during the conflict, and particularly during its bloody final stages. As Defence Secretary, Gotabaya was accused of ordering the killing of surrendering LTTE fighters, ordering strikes on civilians and hospitals, and authorizing attacks on human rights defenders,” ICJ has added.

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Swiss summon Sri Lankan envoy over staffer’s abduction

Switzerland has summoned Sri Lanka’s ambassador and asked to see the “purported evidence” that Colombo says casts doubt on claims by a Swiss embassy staff member that she was abducted.

Envoy Karunasena Hettiarachchi, who is based in Berlin, met with Switzerland’s State Secretary Pascale Baeriswyl in Bern on Monday, a statement said.

The diplomat flap began after a top Sri Lanka police officer sought asylum in Switzerland.

The next day a local staffer at the Swiss embassy in Colombo claimed she was abducted and forced to hand over sensitive information.

According to the Swiss foreign ministry, the woman was “threatened by unidentified men” and forced “to disclose embassy-related information”.

On Sunday, Sri Lanka sought to raise doubts about that narrative, claiming it had provided Swiss ambassador Hanspeter Mock with “clear evidence” that the staff member’s account did not add up.

But in a statement issued late Monday the Swiss foreign ministry indicated that such proof had not been shared.

The state secretary “asked Ambassador Hettiarachchi to explain the purported evidence against the events described by the embassy, which the Sri Lankan Ministry of Foreign Affairs had alluded to,” the statement said.

The Swiss repeated that it supported Sri Lanka’s desire to investigate the matter but reiterated that “the employee concerned still cannot be questioned on health grounds”.

The staffer was reportedly forced to open her mobile phone and reveal the names of Sri Lankans who had sought asylum in Switzerland.

The police officer who fled to Switzerland had been investigating several cases involving members of the Rajapaksa family who regained power after Gotabaya Rajapaksa won a November 16 election.

The government this week alerted airport immigration authorities to stop any police officer leaving the country without permission.

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Commonwealth observers highlight unregulated private media

Announcing its preliminary findings, the Commonwealth Observer Group (COG), has noted that the private media in Sri Lanka was largely unregulated in the days leading up to the presidential polls.

“We note that for this election, the Election Commission was empowered to regulate public media through a set of media guidelines. However, it appeared that private media was largely unregulated,” the Group has stated.

The Commonwealth Observers have recommended that ahead of the next election, both private and public media are independently regulated through a legal framework.

According to the Group, another issue of concern was the use and promotion of hate speech through private media, as well as on social media platforms to conduct campaigns including well after the 48 hours deadline.

The COG has also noted the need for mechanisms to regulate campaign finance in order to ensure transparency, accountability and an even playing field.

“We further noted ethnic and religious tensions that characterized aspects of the pre-election environment. We observed that some groups experienced fear and intimidation,” the Group has stated.

The group has also called on all citizens and political and community leaders to prioritise unity and demonstrate the values of respect and tolerance in political life.

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Harassment of journalists surges in first days of Rajapaksa presidency: RSF

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in a statement said that they share the concerns of Sri Lanka’s journalists about the searches, interrogations and acts of intimidation to which they have been subjected to since Gotabaya Rajapaksa was sworn in as president just two weeks ago. "The authorities must put a stop to all forms of intimidation," RSF said.

It took little more than a week after his installation on 18 November for Rajapaksa, also known as the “Terminator,” to start having an impact of press freedom in Sri Lanka. The initial targets included Newshub.lk, a Colombo-based news website that police raided on 26 November, searching the contents of its servers, desktops and laptops.

The warrant produced by the police had expired on 12 December 2018, nearly a year ago, but the police brushed that aside, blaming a typing error, and continued to use the searchword “Gota” on all of the website’s computers to find and examine references to Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

“This full-blown police raid on an independent news portal, compounded by a crude breach of criminal procedure, sends a very disturbing signal about respect for press freedom under Gotabaya Rajapaksa,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “We urge the new government to issue clear directives to the police to let journalists do their work without subjecting them to intimidation.”

Questioned for several hours

Sakthivelpillai Prakash, the editor of the Tamil-language newspaper Thinnapuyal was questioned by plainclothes police in the northern city of Vavuniya on 25 November. After interrogating him about the newspaper’s coverage (in articles and photos) of the former Tamil Tiger rebellion, they asked him to provide the contact details of all of its reporters, which he refused to do.

Sanjay Dhanushka, a journalist who manages the video channel at TheLeader.lk news website, was summoned and questioned by the Criminal Investigation Department for several hours on 26 November.

Then Thushara Vitharana, the editor of the Voicetube.lk website, was summoned for questioning by the CID two days later, on 28 November. She told RSF she was interrogated for two hours about her former activities at TheLeader.lk, for which she no longer works.
thushiThushara Vitharana, Editor of voicetube.lk speaking to media outside the CID headquarters in Colombo - November 28, 2019

When she asked why she was being questioned, the police said it was in connection with a complaint by the Sinhalese National Organization, a group that promotes Sinhalese and Buddhist supremacy – a theme that was also at the heart of Rajapaksa’s successful election campaign.

Dark decade

As RSF noted shortly before the election,  Rajapaksa was nicknamed the “white van commando boss” while secretary of defence during the “dark decade” from 2005 to 2015 because of the white vans that were reportedly used to abduct and murder journalists.

Sri Lanka is ranked 126th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.

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World's leading political consultancy firm puts Sajith ahead in Presidential poll

The world’s leading political risk consultancy and forecasting firm, Eurasia Group, predicated that underdog Sajith Premadasa is now leading in Sri Lanka’s presidential poll. Eurasia Group also successfully predicated the 2015 election and is a key source of information for the foreign ministries of many countries.

The prediction is based on the analysis that minority parties have chosen to back Sajith Premadasa creating a very wide coalition. It also notes that the Premadasa campaign has run a strong and vigorous campaign in the last weeks, over-shadowing his opponent. Since the momentum is with him, the lead is expected to widen over the course of the cooling off period.

Following the publication of this report, sources suggest that some key diplomatic missions in Colombo have been instructed by their headquarters to shift their tacit support away from Gotabaya Rajapaksa to Sajith Premadasa.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s media team declined to comment on the report.

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Six new Governors sworn-in

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has appointed six new Governors today (21).

Accordingly, the following were sworn in before President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the Presidential Secretariat.

  • Raja Kollure -  Uva Province
  • Seetha Arambepola - Western Province
  • J. M. Muzammil - North Western Province
  • Lalith U. Gamage - Central Province
  • Willy Gamage - Southern Province
  • Tikiri Kobbekaduwa - Sabaragamuwa Province

The Presidential Secretariat had called on the governors of the nine provinces to resign yesterday (20), which resulted in the governors appointed by former President Maithripala Sirisena tendering their resignation.

A few of them including the Sabaragamuwa Governor Dhamma Dissanayake immediately tenders their resignations.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is to appoint new Governors to the provinces.

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Concerns over anomalies in Gota's affidavits; Citizenship issue further compounded

The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) and the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) have expressed deep concern over the anomalies with affidavits submitted by Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) presidential candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

The CPA and the CMEV in a statement has said, they were deeply concerned with recent developments that may impact the presidential election due on 16th November.

"These stem from recent media reports that highlight to several anomalies with the affidavit submitted by Gotabaya Rajapaksa, candidate of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna, on 7th October and a subsequent and different affidavit shown by his counsel, Ali Sabry PC," the statement states.

The statement further notes, “Apart from the basic question as to why two distinct affidavits were produced in support of Rajapksa’s candidacy, a question is also raised as to whether Rajapaksa meets the criteria provided in the Constitution as per Articles 91 and 92 of the Constitution in terms of whether he continues to be a citizen of the United States of America.

“The fact that two different certificates claiming loss of nationality were publicly shared contributed to the confusion and months of debate, with no credible answers provided by the candidate or his team to quell doubt.”

"In addition to the above, we are also alerted to a third affidavit shared by Sabry on his Facebook page which was attested by a Kularatne with no signature belonging to Rajapaksa," the CPA and CMEV observed.

"Whilst we are not able to comment on the authenticity of these documents, we note that all affidavits were produced by the candidate’s legal team and urges the authorities to immediately investigate the legality of these affidavits and take necessary action," the statement added.

According to the CPA and CMEV, this is essential in the presence of multiple documents that may mislead the voter and rob them of an informed choice as such conduct also begs the question whether an attempt is being made to subvert the electoral process and the rule of law in Sri Lanka.

"In a matter of days Sri Lanka will elect a new President and it is imperative that no doubt remains as to the eligibility of the person elected to the office of first citizen in Sri Lanka. It is also paramount that the Election Commission and other officials are independent and impartial and take all necessary steps to protect the integrity of elections," the statement noted.

The CPA and CEMV have therefore called for legislative reforms that provide the relevant authorities the power to verify documentation submitted by candidates and to take necessary action to prevent confusion and chaos in the future. 

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