Ministry of Defence names Sunday Leader lawyers as traitors

[ Sunday Leader ] - [ Jul 12, 2009 18:23 GMT ]

On Friday July 10, at 6.31 p.m. The Ministry of Defence, Public Security, Law & Order posted a scurrilous article on its web site naming lawyers appearing for and on behalf of Leader Publications (Pvt) Ltd, publishers of The Sunday Leader newspaper titled 'Traitors in Black Coats Flocked Together?'

The article named President's Counsel Srinath Perera, Upul Jayasuriya Attorney-at-Law, M. A. Sumanthiran, Attorney-at-Law, Viran Corea, Attorney-at-Law and Athula Ranagala, Attorney-at-Law who appeared for Leader Publications, as having "a history of appearing for and defending LTTE suspects in the past."

The article, which carried no byline further said, Quote, "It was the observation of some senior independent Lawyers who were present in court that day, that this team of Lawyers share a common anti-patriotic sentiment fired by pro UNP activism and following. One such Lawyer speaking to the media mentioned his disbelief and shock at the manner in which these Lawyers had banded together in the face of prima facie proof of Contempt of Court. As a respected senior member of the legal fraternity, he opined that the behaviour of these Lawyers was an insult to the whole profession and totally unacceptable at a time when Sri Lanka is enjoying its veritable independence after 30 long years. He went to the extent of branding these Lawyers as traitors of the nation." Unquote.

This team of lawyers appearing for and on behalf of Leader Publications (Pvt) Ltd., where The Sunday Leader has been asked to show cause for Contempt of Court for publishing two profiles - one on Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapakse and the other on Velupillai Prabhakaran, on May 24, this year, appeared at the Mt. Lavinia District Court before Additional District Judge Mohamed Macky last Thursday, July 9th.

Responding to the hate speech posted on the Ministry of Defence web site, Military Spokesperson, Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said, "This is on the Defence Ministry web site I have nothing to do with this."

Lakshman Hulugalle, Director General for the Media Centre for National Security (MCNS) said, "This is media freedom which you all have been fighting for."

He disregarded the fact that such an article had appeared on an official Government web site stating, "The Defence Ministry web site is open for public opinion. Unlike the web site operated under my ministry the MCNS, which is strictly monitored and not open for public opinion." Hulugalle added, "Nevertheless, this is not a statement made by anybody - this is free comment. This is an expression of media freedom."

Manik De Silva, President of the Editor's Guild expressed shock and dismay. Asserting that he had no time yet to discuss this with the rest of the Guild. De Silva, however maintained that in his personal view, "I am shocked that an article like this appeared. I understand that the defamation action against The Sunday Leader is a personal action of the Defence Secretary and the web site which this was published falls under the defence ministry. So I don't think this was a proper forum to launch an attack on somebody who is defending a defamation case filed against them by the Secretary.

"The second thing is this talk's about bylines being customary - which I don't agree with - some stories have bylines and others don't. But talking about that, - this particular story does not have a byline. Also the lawyers who are quoted in this article on this web site are not named and any journalist would know that such quotes have far less value than somebody who would identify himself and say what he has to say. Finally, certainly Mr. Srinath Perera is a UNP Provincial Councilor elected at the last election and Upul Jayasuriya is associated with the UNP. But as far as I know Mr. M. A. Sumanthiran is not associated with the UNP. Whether they were, are or not, however is not an issue. They have the right to defend anybody who seeks to retain them."

M. A. Sumanthiran, Attorney-at-Law said, "This is absurd. I have been so named in the past. This web site since November last year have carried similar hate speech against lawyers. It's the right of the public to have lawyers of their choice to be retained. And if this kind of hate speech is allowed it is dangerous because they are associating lawyers with the causes they plead - which are two different things altogether. This is forgotten. More importantly it is the right of every citizen to retain lawyers of their choice to plead their cause. It is a fundamental right. Justice will be denied if this kind of thing is done. This is obviously an indicator as to why lawyers are withdrawing from this case."

W. Dayaratne, President of the Sri Lanka Bar Association (BASL) said, "I am meeting with the executive committee of the Bar Association this afternoon (Saturday, July 11). We will be discussing this article and will decide on a course of action."

Chulawansa Srilal, Convener, Free Media Movement (FMM) asserted "Every citizen in this country has a right to be defended and retain lawyers of his or her or their choice. It is not for any State or other apparatus to slander the profession in this manner - as it remains a Fundamental Right in a democratic society."

Upul Jayasuriya Attorney-at-Law said, "We are sad the lawyers are being pressurised not to appear for trial particularly when the previous lawyers for reasons beyond the comprehension of any one withdrew from this case."


**We reproduce below the said article as it appeared on the official web site of the Ministry for Defence, Public Security, Law & Order.

Traitors in black coats flocked together?

Leader Publications (Pvt) Ltd, publishers of the Sunday Leader news paper was charged with Contempt of Court for publishing an article comparing Secretary of Defence, Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa with Velupillai Prabhakaran, who was responsible for the death and destruction of over 100,000 civilians, despite extending an assurance in Court not to publish any defamatory content in reference to the Secretary Defence and the Sri Lanka Forces. The article in question was published minus a by line, which is a rarity in professional journalism.

Leader Publications (Pvt) Ltd was given time to show cause and the case was heard yesterday 9 July 2009 at the Mt. Lavinia Courts before the Additional District Judge Mohammed Macky.

The original Defence team had voluntarily resigned from handling the case citing it was against their ethical and moral standing to oppose a national hero like the Secretary of Defence, with whose unwavering commitment and focus Sri Lanka is a free country today.

A new team comprising of some who have a history of appearing for and defending LTTE suspects in the past, namely Srinath Perera, PC ,Upul Jayasuriya, S. Suma- nthiran, Attorney-at-Law Viran Corea, Attorney-at-Law instructed by Athula Ranagala, Attorney-at-Law appeared for Leader Publications.

It was the observation of some senior independent Lawyers who were present in court that day, that this team of Lawyers share a common anti-patriotic sentiment fired by pro UNP activism and following. One such Lawyer speaking to the media mentioned his disbelief and shock at the manner in which these Lawyers had banded together in the face of prima facie proof of Contempt of Court. As a respected senior member of the legal fraternity, he opined that the behaviour of these Lawyers was an insult to the whole profession and totally unacceptable at a time when Sri Lanka is enjoying its veritable independence after 30 long years. He went to the extent of branding these Lawyers as traitors of the nation.