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Now, UK concerned about detention of lawyer allegedly involved in Easter Sunday carnage

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Dinesh G. says matter before SC

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Many an eyebrow has been raised over the UK condemning the arrest of 2019 Easter Sunday attack suspect, lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah, at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council.

The Cabinet on Wednesday (16) discussed the British government criticism of Sri Lanka’s withdrawal from the 30/1 accountability resolution and current human rights situation in Sri Lanka et al.

Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena briefed the cabinet of ministers of strong criticism directed by the UK at the onset of the ongoing UNHRC sessions.

The UK’s International Ambassador for Human Rights, Rita French, in a statement delivered on behalf of Canada, Germany, North Macedonia, Montenegro and the UK alleged that civil society and human rights groups in Sri Lanka experienced an increasingly difficult operating environment.

A British statement quoted Ambassador French as having said: “Instances of intimidation, harassment and surveillance continue, including threats to families of disappeared persons. Individuals are detained indefinitely without appearance before court, such as lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah.”

Declaring Sri Lanka’s dynamic and diverse civil society lies at the heart of its vibrant democracy, the Core Group expressed its strong solidarity with Sri Lanka’s civil society, and human rights defenders while requesting the government to take all steps necessary to allow them to operate freely.

Cabinet spokesman and Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella Thursday (17) told post-cabinet media briefing of Sri Lanka’s response to Core Group’s latest criticism. The Core Group also made reference to the proposed now controversial 20th Amendment to the Constitution as well as President Gotabaya Rajapaksa government quitting the Geneva process.

The UK statement further quoted Ambassador French as having said: “”It (Sri Lanka Government) has suggested that a new domestic process will take the Geneva agenda forward. While we appreciate this continued commitment, previous such processes have, regrettably, proved insufficient to tackle impunity and deliver real reconciliation. This Council will want to pay particular attention to how the new approach, will differ from these previous attempts and put the victims of conflict at its heart. The future of the Independent Commissions including the Office for Missing Persons and Office for Reparations will be particularly important.”

Responding to several questions regarding attacks on Sri Lanka over human rights and accountability issues at the post-cabinet media briefing, Minister Rambukwella pointed out that Lord Naseby had quite efficiently countered the very basis of the 30/1 accountability resolution. The minister recalled how Lord Naseby in Oct 2017 in the House of Lords set the record straight. Kandy District lawmaker pointed out that Ambassador French’s statement was nothing but an extension of accusations propagated on the basis of unsubstantiated war crimes allegations. The Media Minister was flanked by co-cabinet spokesperson Minister Dr. Ramesh Pathirana and Director General of Information Department Nalaka Kaluwewa.

Minister Rambukwella said that Sri Lanka wouldn’t succumb to international pressure.

Responding to The Island queries regarding the Core Group’s criticism, Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena said that Geneva statement had been conveniently silent on why lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah was taken in by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID).

The police took him into custody under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) in April this year over his alleged involvement in the Easter attacks nearly a year before.

Noting that Hizbullah had moved the Supreme Court against his arrest, Minister Gunawardena pointed out that British nationals were among about 40 foreigners killed in near simultaneous suicide attacks in Colombo, Batticaloa and Katuwapitiya. Nearly 270 killed and over 400 wounded in Easter Sunday attacks.

Minister Gunawardena said that those who had been critical of certain aspects of the ongoing investigation into Easter attacks should go through the submissions made by the Attorney General‘ s

Department in respect of Hizbullah arrest before the court. The minister said that the AG compared the suspect with the late Anton Balasingham, UK based theoretician of the LTTE.

Responding to another query, the Minister said that the government would certainly inquire into UK claim that civil society and human rights groups were operating in an increasingly difficult environment.

Perhaps, they should reveal specific incidents in case the civil society and human rights groups brought them to the attention of UK the High Commission or other members of the Core Group.

Minister Gunawardena said that civil society groups worked overtime against the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) during 2019 presidential and 2020 general elections. Their high profile projects went awry, the minister said, adding that the SLPP did nothing other than to rout the political opposition at two national elections.

The Foreign Minister alleged that various interested parties were making a desperate effort to sustain anti-Sri Lanka campaign though the then government restored peace over a decade ago. Colombo based embassies couldn’t be unaware of the ground situation, Minister Gunawardena said that incident-free presidential and parliamentary polls highlighted the peaceful environment. There was absolutely no basis for accusations that civil society and human rights groups faced threats whatsoever, the MEP leader said.

Minister Gunawardena acknowledged that the government would have to set the record straight as regards war crimes accusations reiterated by some lawmakers from the North at the inauguration of the 9th parliament.



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Toxic coconut oil scare trigger public wave of fear over aflatoxins in foodstuffs

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People now wary of buying certain products

By Suresh Perera

In the backdrop of a top official of Sri Lanka’s key standards body coming under heavy flak over her controversial claim that several other consumer commodities also contain toxic substances, public apprehension has shifted to many other products in the market following a wave of fear triggered over cancer-causing free radicals in foodstuffs, industry players said.

The Trade Ministry has already initiated a disciplinary inquiry into the assertion by Dr. Siddhika Senaratne, the Director-General of the Sri Lanka Standards Institution (SLSI), that aflatoxins are also found in certain other food items sold to the public.

Aflatoxins are a family of toxins produced by certain fungi found on agricultural crops.

As the SLSI scientist’s remarks during a television talk show ignited an uproar following the seizure of imported stocks of contaminated coconut oil, industry officials said that customers are now wary of purchasing certain food products as the social media, rightly or wrongly, painted a frightening picture, they said.

A committee will be appointed to examine Dr. Senaratne’s statement to ascertain the validity or otherwise of her claim of the presence of aflatoxins in some food products in the marketplace, authoritative sources said.

Though the Director-General didn’t identify any of the “toxic products” she claimed were being sold to consumers, her statement unleashed a cycle of fear and uncertainty as consumers, influenced largely by social media reports and hearsay, viewed many brands with suspicion, the sources noted.

However, there has been no credible scientific evidence so far to prove that products identified on social media contain carcinogenic properties, they said.

Dr. Senaratne’s contention was that identifying products with toxic substances could lead to the collapse of some local industries. The Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) has been informed to take up the issue with the relevant manufacturers for remedial action, she said.

It is no secret that many mills use copra with fungus to extract coconut oil. The perishable copra is dried outdoors but there is no proper cleaning of the fungi, which are common under tropical and sub-tropical conditions, before the oil is extracted, industry officials said.

Has it been established whether the shiny wax coating used on apples as an oxygen barrier to preserve freshness, particularly in consignments imported from China, belong to the safe food grade material?, they asked.

In the case of apples imported to Sri Lanka from the USA, the whole process of orchard to point of landing take many weeks. It is true that fruits are stored in cold rooms to preserve quality and slow the aging process by regulating oxygen and carbon dioxide levels. However, the question arises whether there are accredited processes to monitor the agro chemical and other toxic levels in imported apples and other varieties of fruits before permitting the stocks to be released to the local market, they noted.

Hoppers are a staple of Sri Lankan cuisine, but it’s common knowledge that many wayside eateries introduce plaster of paris (a quick-setting gypsum plaster consisting of a fine white powder known as calcium sulfate hemihydrate) to the batter to keep them fresh and crispy, the officials asserted.

“This is because customers insist on freshly baked hoppers and as a result, those that have gone flat cannot be sold”, they said.

Cleanliness of eateries is being monitored to some extent, but are there any quality checks for toxicity on the food served to customers?, they queried.

After the contaminated coconut oil scandal surfaced, people are reluctant to even buy traditional oil-based sweetmeats from the marketplace, they further said.

Unlike earlier years, there is a slump in sweetmeat sales, a supermarket official said. “Customers are wary about toxic coconut oil in the market”.

 

 

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Ceyleon Solutions launch Sparetime App to turn spare time into income

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Ceyleon Solutions, a leading mobile app solution provider, launched Sparetime (www.sparetime.lk), a special mobile app to make easy money using one’s spare time. This app helps to search for people providing domestic, official or personal services or earn an extra income by providing a wide range of services.

Services such as masonry, plumbing, computer related services, wholesale, distribution, medical & healthcare, teaching, legal, beauticians, cleaning, helping, babysitting and car wash can be either searched or provided using this app as it creates an online platform for such service providers and those who seek their services.

There are two apps compatible to android and apple phones, ‘Sparetime Provider’ for those who provide services and ‘Sparetime User’ for those who seek such services.

“This is an ideal option for those who find it difficult to make ends meet with their salaries. Using this app, they can make use of their spare time effectively to earn extra money. This creates a comprehensive service hub. For an example, a vegetable farmer can find both a whole seller and a transport service provider to transport his goods with just a click. Even students can find part time work for their financial needs”, said Chaminda De Silva, creator and owner of the Sparetime app.

“This app works as a platform for social workers to get together and mobilize people for tasks that they wish to perform. This is a very user friendly app. However, operating instructions can be obtained by calling our hotline 0706355450 or 0706355452. An instructor will come to help you if necessary”, he noted.

Regardless of being a service provider or a user, this app will be ideal. It will also pave the way to gradually reduce the unemployment rate in Sri Lanka and will subsequently contribute to the gross domestic product accelerating economic growth of Sri Lanka.

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“Zahran Hashim and his group were not Muslims; they hijacked the name of Islam to commit these crimes’

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Rishad Bathiudeen tells Parliament

The Muslims never called for separatism. The Muslims have been on the side of the nation for over 1,000 years in Sri Lanka as documented in the book of Dr. Lorna Devaraja titled, ‘The Muslims of Sri Lanka – One Thousand Years of Ethnic Harmony’. Even when the Muslims were threatened with eviction or death from the North, they risked their lives and the lives of their loved ones to be on the side of the State, Rishad Bathiudeen, MP, said.

Speaking in English during the fifth day of the debate on the report of the Commission of Inquiry on the Easter Attacks in Parliament on April 7, he said: “Zahran Hashim and his group were not Muslims. They hijacked the name of Islam to commit these crimes. The report in Page 94 confirms that Zahran wanted to build tensions between the Sinhalese and Muslim Communities of Sri Lanka”.

The MP’s speech contained many points and references to matters in the report and events that transpired thereafter.

Some of the points raised by the MP were:

* The State is antagonizing the Muslim community in the manner that Zahran had wanted them to act. The State should not play to the tunes of Zahran. The State should not act in a way that would jeopardize national security. The State has already commenced the process of State sponsored oppression by prohibiting the import of Muslim books and are making plans to ban Niqabs/Burkas and Madrasas.

* The PCoI has exonerated Rishad Bathiudeen from all charges in connection with the Easter attacks. Only two charges remain to be investigated. First one is in relation to the phone call placed by Bathiudeen to then Army Commander General Mahesh Senanayake, concerning Ihsan Moinudeen. Secondly, the sale of scrap metal by the Industrial Development Board to Colossus (Pvt) Ltd. Rishad Bathiudeen visited the Bribery Commission on 8th of April, 2021 to request them to investigate the allegation in the report.

 

* The weight placed on the phone call made by Rishad Bathiudeen to General Mahesh Senanayake, was given far higher significance in the report in comparison to the actions of Dayasiri Jayasekara who released six persons from the Hettipola Police Station who were involved in torching and destroying Muslim owned shops and Muslim places of worship. The Commission Report had recommended investigation into the phone call but had not charged Dayasiri on any matter.

 

* The Government cannot have a law banning the Niqab and Burka without also banning medical masks, helmets, sunglasses, etc.

* Restriction of Islamic books being brought into the country is a violation of the Constitution.

* Bathiudeen quoted Page 331 of the Report:‘Reciprocal radicalization is the cycle of radicalization which promotes each other’s radicalized ideologies’. If the Government can keep politicians like Wimal Weerawansa in check, the de-radicalization program will be half completed. He also said that inciting racism will only provoke and radicalize more Muslims.

 * Killing of Fouzul Ameer Mohamed Salley in Kottramulla before his children in the aftermath of the Easter Attacks, was Genocide under Article 2 of the Genocide Convention, and all persons who were inciting racism could be charged for incitement to genocide. Subsequent charges of oppression too can have a detrimental effect on Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka must be careful as Sri Lanka is now a party to the Rome Statute and can be held accountable by the International Criminal Court.

 

* It was Azath Salley who indicated during a press conference concerning the criminal activities of Zahran Hashim in 2017, but he is alleged to have connections to the Easter Attacks. This is not fair. The Government is politically victimizing Muslims who are speaking up against the oppressive tactics of the Government.

* The One Country One Law Policy does not mean that Muslim Personal Laws alone should be targeted. Most people believe that Customary Laws should be removed. However, that logic would require the Government to abolish Provincial legislation too, as Provincial legislation is also territorially implemented and not countrywide. Several laws will have to be struck down. However, the right way of interpreting the One Country One Law policy would be to maintain all laws that are consistent with the Constitution of Sri Lanka.

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