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AG suspends consultations with public officers in areas under corona curfew



… countrywide curfew unlikely as Year 5 Scholarship and GCE AL exams on

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC, has directed that his officers refrain from dealing with government servants and police officers currently serving in areas where a curfew has been imposed to curb the spread of COVID-19

The Attorney General’s Office yesterday (9) afternoon announced the unprecedented measure as the government battled what a section of the media called the Brandix cluster.

Coordinating Officer to AG de Livera, Attorney-at-law Nishara Jayaratne told The Island officers would refrain from consultations as a precautionary measure. Since a 39-year-old female employee of Brandix garment manufacturing facility reported positive last Sunday (4), police headquarters imposed curfew in Gampaha, Ganemulla, Kiridiwela, Dompe, Malwathuhiripitiya, Mirigama, Nittambuwa, Pugoda, Veyangoda, Minuwangoda, Weeragula, Weliweriya, Pallewela, Yakkala, Ja-ela, Kandana, Divulapitiya and Seeduwa.

There is a likelihood of the AG extending the suspension in case police headquarters brought more areas under curfew.

So far, the health ministry had reported nearly 1,100 positive cases whereas several thousands were quarantined in military run facilities, hotels as well as in their own homes.

Well informed sources told The Island a substantial number of Brandix workers had been affected by the time the first detection was made. Therefore, an inquiry was needed as over1,000 couldn’t have been affected under any circumstances within four or five days, sources said.

Responding to another query, sources emphasized that random tests conducted on those having flu led to the first detection over the last weekend. If not for the chance detection, the situation would have been far worse, sources said.

Health Minister Pavitra Wanniarachchi told the first media briefing following the ‘Brandix eruption’ last Sunday (4) that government health sector made the chance detection. Her statement contradicted the first Brandix statement that the detection was made by them.

The Attorney’s General announced restrictions in the wake of the entire police contingent deployed at the Munuwangoda police being quarantined after a food supplier to the station tested corona positive. Minuwangoda police station didn’t function on Thursday.

 Sources pointed out that the Brandix eruption had taken place days before the chance detection. This was proved by the food supplier to the Minuwangoda police station being infected by his son, an employee at the Brandix facility, sources said. They said that Brandix workers had been tested positive in many districts, including Jaffna, outside Gampaha as they were allowed to go on leave until the chance detection was made over the last weekend.

Police spokesman and attorney-at-law DIG Ajith Rohana yesterday said that there had been 85 personnel there at the time the food supplier tested positive. “We moved there 80 new officers and men to resume operations. In addition to personnel who had been brought from police stations within the Gampaha Division, men were called from police training facilities at Kalutara, Nikaweratiya, Boralanda, Elpitiya, Pahalagama and Kundasale,” DIG Rohana said. Those who had been previously at the Minuwangoda station were in the process of undergoing RT PCR tests, the police spokesman said.

Earlier, the Army decided to postpone the Army Day parade at the Galle Face due to the Corona outbreak.

Meanwhile, Ceylon Teachers’ Service Union, in a letter to Education Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris yesterday urged the government to take maximum possible precautions to ensure the safety of those sitting the Year Five Scholarship Examination scheduled to be held on Oct 11 and the GCE Advanced Level from Oct 12 to Nov 16 due to corona threat.

Sources said that contrary to claims that the government was to declare countrywide curfew in view of the deteriorating situation, the decision to go ahead with the Year 5 Scholarship Examination as well as resume the GCE Advanced Level as scheduled on Monday would prevent declaration of curfew.



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SC: Anti-Terrorism Bill needs approval at referendum and 2/3 majority to become law



Certain sections inconsistent with Constitution

By Saman Indrajith

Deputy Speaker Ajith Rajapaksa informed Parliament yesterday that the Supreme Court (SC) has determined that some sections of the Anti-Terrorism Bill were inconsistent with the Constitution and, therefore, the Bill had to be passed by Parliament with a two-thirds majority and approved by the people at a referendum.

Rajapaksa said that the Supreme Court had determined that the Sections 3, 4, 40, 53, 70, 72 (1), 72 (2), 75 (3) and 83 (7) of the draft Bill were inconsistent with the Constitution.

The SC has determined that sections 3, 40, 53, 70, 72 (1), 75 (3) should be passed by Parliament with a two-thirds majority and approved by the people at a referendum if they are to become law.

Sections 4 and 72 (2) of the Bill have to be amended as per the SC determination.

Section 83 (7) requires passage by a two-thirds majority in Parliament.

However, the SC had stated that it could be passed by a simple majority if the recommended amendments are accommodated, Rajapaksa said.

Opposition MPs say the Anti-Terrorism Bill is being introduced in an election year to repress Opposition parties.They said the proposed law is a threat to democracy itself.

“This Bill is being presented not at a time of terrorism prevailing in the country but during an election period. The Bill has not defined nor analysed what a terrorist is. Anyone can be arrested,” SJB General Secretary Ranjith Madduma Bandara said.

The MP said both the Anti-Terrorism Bill and the controversial Online Safety law were meant to quell democracy.

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Harin’s claim that SL is part of India: Govt. says it is his personal opinion



Manusha accuses Wimal of having taken parts of Fernando’s speech out of context

By Saman Indrajith

Labour and Foreign Employment Minister Manusha Nanayakkara told NFF leader Wimal Weerawansa in Parliament to refrain from taking chunks of others’ speeches out of context and misinterpreting them for political mileage.

The Minister said so following concerns raised by Weerawansa over a recent statement by Tourism Minister Harin Fernando on India-Sri Lanka relationships.

Weerawansa said that Minister Fernando had recently stated that Sri Lanka was a part of India. “Was it Minister Fernando’s personal opinion or the government’s official standpoint? Was it the opinion of the Cabinet?”

Chief Government Whip Minister Prasanna Ranatunga said what Minister Fernando had stated was the latter’s personal opinion.

Minister Nanayakkara: “If anyone has read the entire statement made by Minister Fernando this type of question would not have arisen. The Tourism Minister was referring to historical relationships between India and Sri Lanka to ask Indians to visit Sri Lanka.

A distorted version of the speech by Minister Fernando is being circulated on social media. Certain parts have been removed while some words have been introduced to this edited version. Ones should read the statement in its entirety to understand it. We have not discussed this in the Cabinet meeting” Minister Nanayakkara said.

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US backs Lankan journalists vis-a-vis Online Safety law



Kumar Nadesan, Chairman Board of Directors of the Sri Lanka Press Institute (left) Elizabeth Allen ( Centre) and US Ambassador Chung (pic courtesy US embassy)

Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Elizabeth Allen on Monday (19) declared US support for journalists here against the backdrop of enactment of ‘Online Safety Bill’

She spokes about press freedom and related issues at the Sri Lanka Press Institute Press Club.

A statement issued by the US Embassy quoted Allen as having said the U.S. Embassy is all in on supporting your incredible work. Sure, we might bump heads over a story now and then, but above all, we’re your biggest fans. We’re all in on programmes that hone your skills because we believe in your right to pursue journalism freely and fearlessly.

I want to thank you for protecting the rights and freedoms of journalists here in Sri Lanka and around the world, ensuring all citizens enjoy the right to express their ideas and opinions openly and freely. Even in difficult times, you continue to press forward and ask difficult questions. Your commitment to seeking out the truth and shouting it from the rooftops remains a democratic staple, and I truly appreciate what you do.

It’s only fitting that I begin my remarks this afternoon by telling a story that I think is relevant in light of today’s topic about the media’s role in a democracy.

Over a century ago, American media coined the term “muckraker” for journalists who delved into societal issues, exposing corruption.

Although the term carried a somewhat negative connotation, labeling these journalists as mere “gossip mongers,” today, we honor them as the pioneers of investigative journalism.

These muckrakers played a pivotal role in ushering in the Progressive Era, a time of significant social and political reform in American history.

Even President Theodore Roosevelt referred to them as “muckrakers,” criticizing their focus on society’s flaws through figures like Lincoln Steffens, whose work shed light on corruption and spurred a nationwide call for accountability and reform.

Steffens’ book ‘The Shame of the Cities,’ published in 1904, made him renowned for uncovering corruption within American cities, highlighting the nefarious links between political leaders, businesses, and organized crime.

His fearless journalism raised critical awareness about the urgent need for governmental and corporate accountability. Steffens wasn’t acting as a public relations officer for the government; his role was to uncover the truth; however unpleasant it might be.

Faced with the stark realities Steffens presented, American officials and the public were compelled to confront a pivotal question: ‘Is this the kind of country we aspire to be?’ The resounding answer was no.

Steffens’ work didn’t just expose wrongdoing; it sparked a nationwide demand for reform and played a crucial role in fostering a dialogue about the essential role of investigative journalism in ensuring power remains accountable.

This story showcases how freedom of the press and freedom of expression are not just fundamental human rights, they are also vital contributors to a country’s development and growth.

This brings me to my main point: how the global media space supports democracy and fosters peaceful, just, and inclusive societies.

In my mind, the correlation is obvious: When a government constricts the rights and freedoms of its citizens, the future and the development of the country will naturally suffer.

Globally, we’re witnessing serious and escalating challenges to media freedom. The United States stands firmly for the freedom of expression, advocating for press freedom both online and offline, and ensuring the safety of journalists and media workers worldwide. Unfortunately, these essential freedoms are under threat globally, including concerns raised here in Sri Lanka.

When governments intensify efforts to withhold information from the public by restricting internet access and censoring content, we must speak up. Notably, when Sri Lanka’s Parliament passed the Online Safety Bill in January, the United States voiced concerns over its potential effects on freedom of expression, innovation, and privacy.

It’s common to hear arguments against unfettered freedom of expression. Critics claim the media is biased, aiming to embarrass governments and undermine public trust. Others worry that without checks, freedom of expression may fuel the spread of misinformation. Some argue that an unchecked press can incite tension and compromise security. And there’s concern that continuous reports on corruption, violence, and political strife can tarnish a nation’s image, deterring investment and hampering development.

However, the media’s bias should lean towards the public’s interest, acting as a guardian to ensure that leaders fulfill their duties. This principle holds in Sri Lanka, the United States, and globally.

The challenge of negative press, often labeled as “fake news” or “biased journalism,” is not new. For generations, governments and the media have navigated a complex, sometimes adversarial relationship. This dynamic isn’t unique to any one nation; in the United States, for instance, presidents from both major political parties have experienced their share of friction with the press. This tension, a hallmark of democratic societies, plays a crucial role in fostering transparency and encouraging effective governance. It’s a familiar scene: politicians and journalists engage in heated exchanges, especially when leaders feel their actions are misrepresented, leading to accusations of inaccuracies and biased reporting.

The press’s duty is to deliver facts as they stand, shedding light on the government’s achievements as well as spotlighting areas where policies or programs fall short. This transparency not only informs the public but also strengthens the nation as it encourages constructive action and improvement.

And suppressing voices only complicates matters further. Attempting to conceal issues rather than addressing them is akin to hiding a broken tool rather than fixing it. True progress comes from collaborative dialogue, even if it means embracing the messiness of public discourse.”

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