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Public Security Minister: Terrorists still at large pose threat to Sri Lanka

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By Saman Indrajith

Public Security Minister Rear Admiral (Retd) Sarath Weerasekera told Parliament on Wednesday (22) that Sri Lanka would be under threat as long as the IS ideology promising 72 virgins in paradise for those who sacrificed their lives in the name of Jihad existed.

“Anyone who believes in that ideology could carry out an attack any time. It is not easy to identify them,” the minister said, responding to a question by SJB Colombo District MP Mujibur Rahman.

Minister Weerasekera said that Ven Gnansara during a recent TV talk show highlighted the same threat and Muslim MPs instead of trying to find faults with the messenger should support the government to get rid of terror ideologies from society.

MP Rahman said: “Ven. Gnanasara has recently made a statement during a live telecast on Hiru TV that there would be another terror attack. He said he had informed the President of the threat. He also said that he had all information including the details of the explosives and where the attack would take place. What action has the government?”

Minister Weerasekera said that inquiries had been made from Ven Gnanasara Thera regarding his statements. “When Ven Gnanasara was questioned by investigators, the he said that he made those statements based on the Al Quran. Ven Gnanasara Thera said that there is a Sinhala translation of Al Quran by Abdul Razeek of Sri Lanka Thowheed Jamaath. That translation contains some sections which may motivate the Muslims to engage in clandestine activities in the name of their religion. He also said so in the TV talk show.

“Ven Gnanasara thera said that no responsible Muslim leader or Islamic religious leader has rejected those sections that advocate terror attacks,” the minister said.

Weerasekera said that Wahabism’s aim was the creation of a theocratic state ruled by an Islamic leader with the title of Caliph. “This ideology is espoused by ISIS. It is not easy to detect persons believe in Wahabism. This is why its hard to make arrests. For example, the Lankan born Islamic terrorist who launched a recent attack in New Zealand had been under surveillance since 2016. Later, he was released by court. He erased pro-ISIS documents and videos from his computer but he did not erase the ideology from his mind.”

The terrorist had knifed innocents believing that he would go to paradise and live with beautiful virgins, the minister said, adding that there were many such people in Sri Lanka.

“There cannot be different laws for different religions. These laws nurture extremist ideologies. Ven Gnanasara’s is right when he says extremists can carry out terror attacks any time. We have strengthened our intelligence network on account of this threat. We need the support of the Muslim people and their organisations to arrest persons who can become a threat. It is wrong to make allegations of racism whenever security forces arrest such extremists. In the aftermath of the Easter Sunday attacks we have detained some people who held and propagated the IS ideology, funded such teachings and associated closely with those who carried out the terror attacks,” he said.

The Minister added that there are Muslim MPs who speak on behalf of those detainees. The terrorists who carried out the suicide terror attacks at the Shangri-La were two sons of a business tycoon.

“They were educated and wealthy. If such educated persons fall prey for the promise of 72 virgins in heaven, what about the youth who have no such education and money? It is not a task difficult to recruit an average Muslim youth with this ideology. They are exposed to teachings that justify terror and killing innocents in the name of religion. They lobbied and exerted pressure on the authorities to release the terror suspect who thereafter carried out a knife attack in New Zealand. Now you see the results.”

Weerasekara said that a leader of the student organisation of the Jamaat e Islami had been involved in damaging Buddha statues in Mawanella. For 25 years the leader of Jamaat-e- Islami had been Rasheed Hajjul Akbar. The man wrote a book which states that Jihad should be launched to protect Islam and that lives had to be sacrificed to achieve that goal.

” Akbar was arrested by the Yahapalana government and MP Mujibur Rahman pressed for his release. This is an MP that spoke highly of the Jamaat-e-Islami. Later, Akbar was released without conditions. The Presidential Commission of Inquiry on page 270 of its report has identified Akbar as one who propagated the creation of an Islamic State in Sri Lanka. The Attorney General should take action to prosecute him for promoting this ideology. The two sons of Akbar’s brother were involved in destroying Buddha statues in Mawanella. They and suicide bomb attacker at Dehiwala were members of the student wing of this organisation. Jamaat-e-Islami literature justifies suicide attacks and it was Akbar who channelled funds for sending Lankan Muslims abroad for training in the 1990s. Muslim MPs got him released. It was our government that took him into custody again. There are such terrorists at large. They are the ones Ven. Gnanasara Thera has warned of. This is much more complicated than the LTTE. We will arrest those who should be arrested and rehabilitate those who should be rehabilitated. We need your support to keep the country safe.”



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

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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

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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

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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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