For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
MFSL note 28t June 2010
Media Freedom Sri Lanka (MFSL) considers the attacks launched by the Government of Sri Lanka against Chandima Withanaarachchi, CEO of http://www.lankanewsweb.com, as a politically motivated witch hunt.
On 26th June 2010 state controlled news papers, radio and TV channels in Sri Lanka carried lengthy news stories saying that tat Interpol had issued a red notice on Chandima Withanaarachchi on their official website, and that he is wanted in Sri Lanka for alleged fraud. The Colombo High Court issued a warrant for Mr. Withanaarachchi’s arrest and the case is due to be called on September 16. Mr. Withanaarachchi, who now lives in the UK, has told MFSL that he left Sri Lanka 10 years ago and that there was no case filed against him at that time. Mr. Withanaarachchi has made representations to the Interpol through his lawyers. He says he did not receive any inquiries or notification from the GOSL or from any of the concerned media prior to this news item being published and the case being filed.
MFSL strongly believes that the reasons for these actions is the critical content of news and information published by Lankanewsweb over the last year. In a situation of unprecedented attacks on media personnel and on self censorship practiced by Sri Lankan media due to killings, abductions, arrests, assaults, vilifications, and threats directed at media in Sri Lanka over the past years, websites have acquired great importance in disseminating news and analysis that is critical of the undemocratic and corrupt practices of the present regime in Sri Lanka. Lankanewsweb has contributed immensely to providing information on political developments in Sri Lanka during the past year. As a consequence, the website is banned in Sri Lanka and can be viewed only through proxy servers.
This quote taken from the state sponsored news shows that the real issue is the website’s content: ” The website is being operated from Withanaarachchis residence in the UK. Lankanewsweb.com has earned notoriety for publishing false and fabricated news slandering President Mahinda Rajapaksa and other members of the Government. Last week it carried a totally fabricated exclusive story which said that the Government has given a Chinese firm a contract to clear dead bodies from the Nanthikadal lagoon in Mullaitivu” One Sri Lankan newspaper even has described Mr. Withanaarachchi as the leader of Sinhala supporters of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam ( LTTE) based in UK!
MFSL considers the legal action against Mr. Withanaarachchi to be based on political considerations and aimed at discrediting critical media. In bringing this legal action against the CEO of Lankanewsweb, it is clear that the GOSL want to send a strong message to all its critics that criticism of the government will not be tolerated and that whoever dares to do so will face grave consequences.
MFSL wants to be clear that it does not oppose the taking of legal action against any such person found to be involved in illegal activities. However, we would urge respect for due process in the case of Mr. Withanaarachchi, which includes the presumption of innocence until proven guilty by a court of law.