For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
Friday, 21 May 2010 02:12
By Ananda Weerasuriya
The Mount Lavinia Additional District Judge yesterday fixed for ex- parte trial the case filed by the Defence Secretary Gothabaya Rajapaksa claiming a sum of one billion rupees from ‘The Sunday Leader’ and its Publisher for publication of a news item defamatory of the Defence Secretary.
The Judge also fixed the inquiry into the contempt of court charges against the defendants for hearing on the same date. The original application filed by the petitioners cited ‘Sunday Leader’ Editor Lasantha Wickramatunge and the Leader Publications as defendants in the case. However, subsequent to the killing of Mr Wickramatunge, the management of Leader Publications was substituted.
The court enjoined the defendants restraining them from publishing any news that would be injurious to the reputation of the Defence Secretary Gothabaya Rajapaksa. Subsequently on an agreement reached by the parties undertaking not to publish any news item that would cause injury to the petitioner’s reputation the court removed the injunction issued against the defence. However, ten days later the newspaper had once again published a news item drawing a comparison between the Defence Secretary Gothabaya Rajapakse and the LTTE leader Prabakaran, which the petitioner alleged was injurious to his reputation and honour.
The Petitioner filed papers contending that the writer of the news item namely, Frederica Jansz, together with the defendants had intentionally acted in violation of the agreement reached between the parties and had thereby acted in Contempt of Court and pleaded court to take appropriate action against them.
The Judge observed that an appeal filed by the defendants in the Civil High Court seeking a declaration that the District Court does not have jurisdiction to hear this case had been dismissed on April 21. Although the defendants moved Court seeking time to file Answer, the District Judge asserted that the defence would have a two week period to move and seek the setting aside of the ex- parte order so delivered by court and therefore to take appropriate steps at that time, thus disallowing the application to file Answer.
Counsel Samith Fernando instructed by Sanath Wijewardena appeared for Gothabaya Rajapaksa while Counsel Harin Corea with Athula Ranagala appeared for the defence in the case.
The areas surrounding the Mount Lavinia Court Complex were heavily guarded yesterday preventing even lawyers and their litigants from parking their vehicles in the usual parking areas. This resulted in a heavy congestion in the vicinity of the courts complex. This measure had been adopted anticipating the arrival of Defence Secretary Gothabaya Rajapaksa for court proceedings. However, as Mr. Rajapaksa did not arrive as expected the police took steps to relax the parking restrictions and everything returned to normal thereafter.