Lal Wickrematunge, the brother of the assassinated editor of the Sunday Leader, Lasantha Wickrematunge, and until very recently the owner of Leader Publications, spoke yesterday to the BBC Sinhala Service. He stated that it is dangerous today to be engaged in publication work in Sri Lanka. Giving views other than the government’s version of things is almost impossible. Under the present conditions media personnel are afraid to engage in free reporting.
He admitted that for the sake of preserving the jobs of the employees he had to agree to sell shares of Leader Publications. He also stated that reporting on the issues relating to minorities including the Sri Lankan Tamils has collapsed to a great extent. The major reason for this is the government attaches the ‘Tiger’ label, or Tiger friendliness to media personnel who report on the minorities.
When questioned as to whether in the near future people in Sri Lanka would be able to know the truth about what is going on he replied, “That cannot be expected. In the foreseeable future that cannot be expected”. He also admitted that the failure on the part of the owners of the media establishments to stand up for free media was also a reason for the success of the government’s repression.
He said that owners of the media are also businessmen engaged in other businesses besides publishing. They are afraid that their other businesses will be badly impacted if they don’t submit to the government’s wishes.
Azath Salley’s arrest, detention and release
In the fundamental rights application that was filed before the Supreme Court on behalf of Azath S. Salley, the following statement was made about the circumstances of his arrest:
“The Petitioner (Azath Salley’s lawyer) states that, Azath Salley, together with the MUPS have constantly been critical of certain Sinhalese Buddhist extremist groups that led attacks on Muslin and Christian religious establishments and the demands that were made by them to refrain from certain religious practices. The Petitioner respectfully annexes herewith an Affidavit from Dr. Vickramahahu Karunarathne marked “P1“.
The Petitioner states that, Azath Salley personally provided information regarding those responsible for the Dambulla Mosque, Anuradhapura Mosque attacks and the imminent attack on the Kurugala Mosque to the Hon. President of the Republic and pleaded that action should taken so as to prevent further attacks on such religious institutions. The Petitioner states that, Azath Salley, at all times he endeavoured to ensure that all disputes would be settled peacefully.
A true copy of a Letter sent to the President dated 26.04.2013 is annexed herewith and marked “P2″.
The Petitioner states that, Azath Salley was instrumental in compiling a collection of Articles written essentially by Sinhalese writers against the conduct and actions of extremist groups and towards the promotion for unity and tolerance and also organised a programme titled “Unity in Diversity towards a True Sri Lankan Identity” which emphasised the importance of racial and religious intolerance.
A true copy of the said compilation titled “Unity in Diversity towards a True Sri Lankan Identity” is annexed herewith marked “P3″.
The Petitioner states that, Azath Salley participated in several television debates and discussions and expresses strong views against the attacks on minority religious establishments, on behalf of The Movement for Unity and Power Sharing. He was critical about the fact that certain extremist groups including the Boddu Bala Senawa (“BBS“) was inciting Racial and Religious intolerance and disharmony at a time in which the Country has come out of a 30 year long Ethnic War.
The Petitioner further states that, Azath Salley was also critical of the inaction on the part of the Government’s and Law Enforcement Authorities in taking meaningful steps to douse the Racial and Religious intolerance spearheaded by the BBS and other extremist groups.
The Petitioner specifically states that, Azath Salley was oppose to any kind of violence and has never advocated violence or terrorism of any form. He was constantly advocating against terrorism, ethnic and religious sectarianism and authoritarianism.
Consequent to the Azath Salley’s vocal criticism against the activities of the BBS and the Government’s inaction, the Petitioner states that, there was an isolated media campaign carried out against Azath Salley and series of anonymous hate web-postings and SMSes which were false and malicious and which was circulated with the malicious attempt of targeting Azath Salley.
True copies of certain web postings against Azath Salley is compendiously annexed herewith and marked “P4″
The Petitioner specifically states that, from early 2013, Azath Salley along with a group of lawyers monitored the hate campaigns lashed out at the Muslim minority communities and as and when the information was collected, was reported to the Inspector General of Police.
True copies of the said Letters are compendiously annexed herewith and marked “P5“.
The Petitioner further states that, certain members of the BBS singled out Azath Salley by making derogatory statements against him. For instance, the Ven. Galaboda Aththe Gnanasara Thera made a public announcement in Kandy on or about 17.03.2013 stating that that “Sinhala Text”,යුතු (“We have a big problem with Azath Salley. Azath Salley must definitely be tied up like a dog”).
On or about 21.03.2013, the Petitioner states that, there was an attempt by the Colombo Crime Division to wrongfully and unlawfully arrest Azath Salley on false charges, for which Azath Salley sought Anticipatory Bail before the Learned Magistrate of Colombo. Upon an undertaking received from the Colombo Crimes Division Azath Salley was granted Anticipatory Bail.
A true copy of the Petition is annexed herewith and marked as “P7″ and the Petitioner reserves the right to file the Order of the Learned Magistrate Judge
On or about 19.04.2013, the Petitioner states that :
Azath Salley was contacted by officers of the Criminal Investigation Department (“CID“) to inquire about a text message that was received by him and 26 other persons which was purportedly sent by a journalist which stated that “Muslims must be careful of the BBS”;
In the course of the discussion, the Police Officers told him that, someone identified as “Fahad” had sent 27 SMSes to various persons including Azath Salley and the Police was recording statements from some of the recipients. At no stage did the Police accuse Azath Salley of sending the SMS
He recorded a Statement with the CID stating, inter alia, that his telephone number is known to many people and that he receives many text messages. He said that he cannot recall the receipt of the text. Azath Salley however told the Police Officer that the Muslims must be careful of the BBS as the Government is not protecting them but seems to be supporting the cause of the BBS as there have been no prosecutions and complete inaction as churches and mosques have constantly come under attack;
The Petitioner is not possessed of the aforesaid Statement made by Azath Salley and seeks and appropriate Order from Your Lordships’ Court to submit the same to Your Lordships’ Court.
On or about 27.04.2013, the Petitioner states that:
At or about 2.30pm many Police Officers from the CID arrived in Motor Bikes, a Jeep and a Double Cab to Azath Salley’s residence;
Upon being informed that Azath Salley was out of Colombo, a Police Officer who identified himself as Sub Inspector Ratnayaka (3rd Respondent) informed the Azath Salley’s wife that Azath Salley must come back to Colombo immediately in order to record a Further Statement regarding a Text Message;
Immediately thereafter, SI Ratnayaka telephoned Azath Salley and stated that the Law required Azath Salley to tender an Additional Statement and insisted that he immediately return back to Colombo;
Azath Salley however stated that he had nothing further to add pertaining to the Statement concerning the aforementioned Text Message.
The Petitioner states that, he is aware that Azath Salley was informed by his family that a Police jeep remained outside his house till the next day [i.e. 27.04.2013] in order to monitor the movements in and out of the Azath Salley’s Residence, while he was away on his political activities.
On 26.04.2013, Azath Salley was informed by his family that a purported Notice had been handed over to Azath Salley’s wife requiring Azath Salley to be present at the CID Headquarters – 4th Floor on 29.04.2013. However, the said Notice did not carry any Official Seal and/or Letter head. Further it did not indicate the reasons for which he has been summoned. Upon taking Legal advice, Azath Salley did not report to the CID.
A true copy of the said purported notice is annexed herewith and marked “P8″
On or about 28.04.2013, the Petitioner states that, in response to the continuous malicious media attacks, the Media Unit of the National Unity Alliance wrote to all State and Private Media Organisations condemning the defamatory publications made and stating further that such wrongful accusations were to politically dislodge Azath Salley and to prevent the Azath Salley from conducting the scheduled May Day rallies in 2013.
A true copy of the said letter dated 28.04.2013 is annexed herewith and marked “P9″.
On or about 02.05.2013, the Petitioner states that at or around 5.55am hundreds of police and Special Task Force surrounded the residence Azath Salley was staying in. The 3rd Respondent recorded a short statement from the Petition and stated that he would be arrested. The 3rd Respondent who arrested Azath Salley thereafter issued an arrest note stating that he is arrested for purported offences committed under section 120 of the Penal Code and section 2(h) of the Prevention of Terrorism Act. A copy of the arrest note is annexed hereto marked “P10″.
The Petitioner states that, the main Affidavit filed in this case is filed by Ms. Sithy Amina Azath Salley, the daughter of Azath Salley which sets out the details of the arrest.
The Petitioner states that since the time of arrest, the family of Azath Salley and his Attorneys attempted to see him from or around 12.00pm. However, his lawyers were permitted to see him briefly in the presence of the CID officers at or about 3.00pm. Several Parliamentarians proceeded to the CID to meet him but the CID did not permit any one of them to see him. Mr. M.A. Sumanthiran, Attorney-at-Law, was however permitted to interview Azath Salley as his Lawyer but his entire interview was video recorded by a CID officer. The family members were not permitted to see Azath Salley or to give him his medicine though Azath Salley was a diabetic patient, undergoing treatment for about 07 years. The Petitioner states that, the CID Officers refused to even accept Azath Salley’s medicine that was given to them by his family.
The Petitioner states that, as far as he is aware, Azath Salley has been questioned regarding an Interview he had given to a Indian based media organisation named “Junior Vikatan” and that there had been an error in the article quoted in the interview and that a suitable correction had been published by the said media unit after Azath Salley had complained to the “Junior Vikatan”.
The Petitioner states that the family member of Azath Salley have been able to obtain a copy of the interview to the “Junior Vikatan” and the correction Azath Salley submitted in Tamil is marked “P11A” and “P11B” respectively and reserves their right to submit a translation of the same to Your Lordships’ Court.
On or about 03rd May 2013, Azath Salley was admitted to Ward No. 55 of the National Hospital and the defence authorities had covered the Corpus’ bed with a screen so that no one could see him. The Petitioner further states that there were many Police Officers, CID Officers and member of the Special Task Force who was guarding the entrances and the corridors and also prevented Azath Salley’s family from seeing or visiting Azath Salley.
The Petitioner states that, on the very same day [i.e. 03.05.2013] even though Azath Salley’s condition was deteriorating, he was taken back to the CID.
On or about 06.05.2013, Azath Salley was once again brought to the Colombo National Hospital. At this point, upon representations made to the Director of the CID, the family members of Azath Salley were permitted to briefly visit him. The Petitioner states that Azath Salley was in very poor health condition and at which point the Hospital Authorities began forcibly administering Saline to him.
The Petitioner states that, Azath Salley has hitherto not been produced before a Magistrate nor has he been detained in terms of any valid Statutory Provision of the Law and that even by 6th May 2013, no valid Detention Order has been handed over to the Corpus.
The Petitioner states that he has reason to believe that Azath Salley will be kept in long detention, unlawfully and for a collateral purpose purportedly on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations. In that event his Right to Life and/or Right to engage in Political activities and/or Right to engage in legitimate civil liberties will be seriously curtailed. The Petitioner states that to-date no Detention Order under PTA has been served on Azath Salley.
In the aforesaid circumstances the Petitioner states that, Azath Salley’s arrest and detention is for a collateral purpose and without any constitutional justification which is contrary to Articles 13(1) and 13(2) read with Article 12 of the Constitution. Such arbitrary arrest and detention is likely to deprive Azath Salley of his liberty and in the circumstances of this case may result in the Azath Salley being extra judicially executed in violation of Article 11 read with Articles 17 and 13(5).
The Petitioner further states that, Azath Salley has been subjected to cruel and degrading treatment in violation of Article 11 of the Constitution.”
(Paragraph numbering as in shown in the original petition has been removed)
Both these testimonies come from two prominent citizens of Sri Lanka. The first was the owner, until recently, of one of the well known media establishments and presently the editor of the Leader newspapers. The second is the General Secretary of the National Unity Alliance, a recognised political party and was a former deputy mayor of the Colombo Municipal Council. He has been actively engaged in politics from around 1997 and has been constantly reelected as a municipal councilor.
Azath Salley was released within a few days of his arrest due to the massive protest that arose from within the country which was reechoed by many international players. According to a lawyer who spoke on his behalf an agreement was reached with the government not to proceed with the fundamental rights petition. There is also a habeas corpus application filed before the Court of Appeals which is also pending.
These testimonies highlight the actual conditions under which Sri Lankan citizens are living today. A security apparatus which is sophisticatedly designed carries out surveillance on the media as well as against anyone who dares to express a view that is contrary to the government’s version of things. Severe punishments are attached to those who wish to exercise their normal freedoms as citizens. Everyone has to submit themselves to enforced self paralysis.