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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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Majority of 300 luxury vehicles to be released

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… some shipped in without opening LCs, EU wants restrictions abolished

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The majority of the luxury vehicles imported by special permit holders in contravention of the import ban imposed by the government in view of precarious economic situation caused by corona first wave are likely to be released subject to penalties.

Well informed sources said that those vehicles shipped in without even opening LCs would be released. Among the violators were many government servants.

Sources said that vehicles brought in without opening LCs were likely to be confiscated.

“We have categorised over 300 vehicles, including BMWs, Mercedes-Benz and Audis into two groups. Customs are now in the process of evaluating individual cases,” a high ranking state official said.

The government announced a ban on vehicle imports to arrest the depletion of foreign reserves. Sources acknowledged that at the time the vehicles

arrived in Sri Lanka the second corona wave hadn’t erupted. The situation was far worse now and further deteriorating, they said, adding that the Customs were being inundated with requests for releasing vehicles on sympathetic grounds.

Controversy surrounds the failure on the part of the government to strictly implement the import ban in view of the sharp drop in state revenue due to the pandemic.

Recently, the EU demanded that Sri Lanka immediately lift import ban or face the consequences. The EU issued the warning in talks with government representatives. Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena explained the circumstances that compelled the government to impose import restrictions. The EU sought an explanation as to when the ban would be lifted. The Foreign Ministry quoted Foreign Minister Gunawardena as having explained to the EU the challenges Sri Lanka economy was facing amidst the dwindling foreign currency reserve situation due to the significant reduction in remittances and tourism revenue induced by the COVID-19 global pandemic. The minister said that the import restrictions were being reviewed.

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Nearly 74,000 persons under home quarantine

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Close to 74,000 people belonging to 27,974 families had been placed under home quarantine, Police Spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana said on Wednesday (25).

He said that the number of cases from the Minuwangoda and Peliyagoda clusters had increased to 17,436 with 458 persons had tested positive for the virus on Tuesday.

Two wards of the Kethumathi Maternity Hospital, Panadura were temporarily closed on Wednesday after two pregnant women admitted there tested COVID-19 positive.

The two women are from Atalugama, which has been declared an isolated area. During the last few days close to half of the COVID-19 patients detected in Colombo District are from Atalugama.

The two women have been sent to Neville Fernando Hospital, Malabe. The patients and staff in Wards 3 and 4 at the Kethumathi Maternity Hospital are now under quarantine. Their family members too have been asked to undergone self-quarantine.

The Police had arrested 61 persons who had violated quarantine laws within the 24 hours that ended at 8 am yesterday, Police spokesman, DIG Ajith Rohana said, adding that they had been arrested for not wearing masks or for not maintaining physical distancing. With those altogether 688 persons had been arrested for violating quarantine laws from October 30, he said.

Commissioner General of Prisons Thushara Upuldeniya said that apart from Welikada, the spread of COVID-19 had been controlled at other prisons. COVID-19 cases had been reported from six prisons, he added.

“We are conducting PCR tests and hope that the situation in Welikada too would be brought under control. Twenty four new cases were detected from prisons on November 24 and from October 04, we have identified 708 cases within the prison system.”

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Severity of impact of second wave on economy could be far worse than anticipated – CBSL

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By Shyam Nuwan Ganewatte

The impact of the second wave of COVID-19 could be severer on the economic growth than previously anticipated, Director of Economic Research at the Central Bank Dr. Chandranath Amarasekara said yesterday (26).

Dr. Amarasekera said so responding to a query by The Island at a CBSL media briefing. The top official said that an assessment couldn’t be made yet as the second wave was continuing.

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