For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
TRC, police raid FM stations run by Islamic sect
By Anthony David
The Telecommunication Regulatory Commission has begun a crackdown on a string of clandestine radio stations operated by an Islamic religious sect to propagate its message to its growing number of followers in Sri Lanka.
The TRC and the Police raided an FM radio station in Beruwala a week ago and seized equipment which they said had been acquired illegally. It has been operated by this sect, which followers of the other more traditional sects, who are in the majority, say is radical.
TRC Chairman Anusha Pelpita told the Sunday Times that a campaign to track down illegal radio broadcasters was underway. However, he declined to comment on whether the measures were aimed at curbing the increasing number of clandestine religious broadcasts. He said the TRC had asked the police to conduct raids on clandestine radio stations and offered the TRC’s help.
He added that more staff was being trained for the task. The raid on the Beruwala FM station came barely weeks after Police and TRC officials raided a similar station operating in Puttalam. This had also been operated by the same Islamic sect.
The Sunday Times learns that the TRC and Police want to track down five more clandestine FM broadcast stations also operated by this sect in the eastern province. Among them are the stations identified as “New Moon” and “Kalkudah FM”.
The TRC chief said the operators of the FM stations had neither brought down the equipment legally nor obtained TRC-allocated frequency or licence.
The radio operations of this Islamic sect that has generated considerable controversy amongst Muslims in Sri Lanka surfaced when Police seized leaflets distributed by the group. The leaflets were issued on the eve of the annual feast of the mosque belonging to a rival sect in Beruwala. The leaflets had declared that they would broadcast “religious programmes” beginning July 25 on 96.1 on FM frequencies.
The occasion, the leaflet said, was to commemorate the first anniversary of the death of their followers during an incident in a Beruwala mosque last year. Clashes between two factions on this occasion are now the subject of a court case.
The Police-TRC raid on the FM radio station had been carried out twice. On the first occasion, a local correspondent of the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC) at the illegal radio office had produced his identity card and claimed he was employed by the SLBC. When the Police checked with the SLBC, they learnt that the man was only a relief announcer and had functioned as its Ampara correspondent.
When the Police-TRC went for the second time, the broadcast equipment had been shifted to another location. They were able to identify the new broadcasting area using their monitoring equipment and raided the place. They seized equipment said to be worth Rs. 10 million. Police investigations are now underway to ascertain the origin of the radio equipment.
“We are investigating reports that a foreign organization provided the equipment,” a police officer said on grounds of anonymity. He is not authorized to speak after the Police Headquarters directive that only its media spokesman would make comments to the media. The officer also said that a local organization suspected to be having foreign links was also being probed.
SLBC Chairman Hudson Samarasinghe told the Sunday Times, “This is a serious issue. Our official accreditation card has been used for an illegal purpose. No one can carry out radio broadcasts without a licence. This could become a serious threat to national security.”