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Reading Rajini three decades after her assassination

Rajani’s protest was against all parties, irrespective of whether a state soldier or an LTTE cadre – whose actions entangled in the brutal armed conflict where the lives of ordinary civilians were placed at risk and misused as human shields for narrow political purposes.

by Anuradha Kodagoda

“Rajani did not get accustomed to grief or fear. She was heartbroken when students went missing and cried at the stories she heard. She cried from fear as well. I fell asleep so many nights, listening to her tears. The next morning she would be bright, brave, determined and hopeful. She taught me courage coexisted with vulnerability, kindness and sensitivity. She had empathy and generosity for nearly everyone she met, except powerful people who turned their face away.

“As a medical doctor, she would go and treat anyone who needed her, whether they were her enemies or not. Civilians, soldiers, militants - she was their doctor. She was also a research scientist who was fearless in her pursuit of truth and who followed where the evidence led.

“She was also a workaholic: up at dawn to prepare for classes. She kept an immaculate house. Ran her university department. She then did all the advocacy, investigation and human rights work in the evening. All this while dealing with the war and its challenges.

“My mother wanted life - for everyone. She was utterly uninterested in the politics of death and martyrdom. She helped me find joy in a cup of tea after a bombing raid, the freedom of a day or an hour of silence or peace. We found reasons to laugh and smile. Then they killed her.

“I have these clear, treasured memories - not just of events, but of her - the space she took up, her gaze, her emotions - because life felt very, very short in Jaffna. But I never thought it would be her who would die,” Narmada Thiranagama tweeted the daughter of Dr Rajani Thiranagama, in memory of her beloved mother, on her 30th death anniversary. Rajani proved an extraordinary courage and remorseless commitment in her quest for justice and human dignity against the thirty-year-long brutality of armed conflict in the country.

Rajani’s protest was against all parties, irrespective of whether a state soldier or an LTTE cadre – whose actions entangled in the brutal armed conflict where the lives of ordinary civilians were placed at risk and misused as human shields for narrow political purposes.

In the late ‘80s, the Tamil community in the Northern Province was the most affected witnesses of the vicious war between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan army.

In this context, Rajani, who once was a hardcore supporter of the political ideology of the LTTE, made a revolutionary yet fatal shift as she could no longer contribute to the destructive war according to her conscious realization of her community and ethnic identity. She was a meticulously sharp-minded human rights activist who paid the price for what she believed in.

As a first year student of the medical faculty of the University of Colombo, the Student Christian Movement (SCM) was where Rajani began her political activism. The SCM was quite popular among students of the ‘70s. The shockwaves created among the student movement were felt all over the country when University of Peradeniya student Weerasoriya was gunned down by the police in 1976. For the first time in history, the Colombo Medical Faculty went on strike, condemning this action and Rajani was at the forefront of the strike. As Dayapala Thiranagama, Rajani’s beloved husband, recalls, this protest was how they came to know each other.

“Our meeting marked a new chapter in our lives and the decisions we would make from then would change not only our lives but also our families forever. We fell in love and got married on August 28, 1977 in the midst of anti-Tamil riots in Colombo. Rajani was still a medical student and I had just begun an academic career at the University. We sometimes called ourselves ‘the unity of opposites’ in relation to our social, cultural and ethnic differences,” Dayapala recalled.

As Dayapala describes, being a middle-class, Tamil woman, Rajani’s conscious decision to get married to a Sinhalese, lower middle-class man who had spent many years in prison was somewhat revolutionary. “Rajani’s courage and human understanding in accepting me as I was, bewildered even some of our political friends, whose understanding of inter-ethnic relations in both communities had serious defects at the time, as it does today,” he said.

As a human rights activist, a strong factor in her passion for justice can be understood as her firmness on human relationships and her unbiasdness for socially constructed barriers and customs.

Her constant message for the rebellious youth who took arms against the state was, “I agree with you that the actions of the State are without excuse and we care no less about liberation than you do.

Liberation must begin with questioning ourselves. But the way you are getting about it, wounding our society grievously by your actions, would weaken and humiliate us and render us servile before the State and larger powers.”

She took a conscious political decision to quit the LTTE in the mid 80s’ and merged with her new political ideology against the rule of the gun dedicating herself to organise structures that would ensure democratic freedom with human dignity. ‘Broken Palmyra’ the ground breaking literary work co- authored by Rajini and three dons from the University of Jaffna brought new hope for the Tamil community who were exhausted by the brutality of the war. During this time the University Teachers for Human Rights (UTHR) was formed, with her involvement. However, all these radical attempts created an ‘ideological shockwave’ for the LTTE which later became fatal to her life.

“As far as our family was concerned, ideologically and politically, it departed from the accepted family norms of its existence and Rajani’s contribution was crucial in this transformation.

Without Rajani’s deep understanding, unhesitant approval and courage we would not have built a family unit that would withstand the political and survival tests of our times. She was honest, politically straightforward, fiercely independent and committed to her beliefs for the LTTE to handle. These were the personal qualities of a new kind of revolutionary Rajani came to represent in her personal and political journey, which resulted in the ultimate sacrifice for the right of dissent in the Tamil community,” Dayapala said.

The criticism against despotism of any section of the society must be made by the people of the same society. Dr. Rajani Thiranagama marked such a historically iconic moment through her activism against the brutality of the LTTE which she once represented ideologically.

Even thirty years later, her assassination tells us of a society with an inability to bear the opinion of the other, as well as the failure of humanity itself.

“Thanks to Rajan Hoole’s detailed investigation a few years ago we have detailed information about how her murder was planned and carried out. Now I know she remonstrated with her killer even after the first shot. My fierce mother. It was only when I heard this, that I truly knew she had been killed and not simply disappeared from my life that day, riding back to the university, wearing the elegant sari which was my favourite: a white gauze with a print of green and yellow leaves,” Narmada said in her tweet.

Sri Lanka: Et Tu, Dil?

Former anti-graft Commission head known among her friends as Dil on the hot pot over a controversial telephone conversation with an alleged criminal

Attorney General Dappula De Livera will refer the matter of a leaked telephone conversation allegedly between the chairman of the controversial private security firm Avant Garde and the former Director General of the Bribery Commission, to the Public Service Commission (PSC) tomorrow, his office told the local newspaper.

The move comes as the former Bribery Commission Director General Dilrukshi Dias Wickremasinghe finally broke her silence on her personal Facebook account last week, posing counter questions to Avant Garde Chairman Nissanka Senadhipathi who admitted he had leaked the conversation. “As a public officer I am not permitted to make public or press statements, Wickremasinghe noted, adding that Senadhipathi should reveal the entire telephone conversation without editing, doctoring and distorting the contents. “Secondly, please disclose to the public the name of the Minister whose telephone you called and the reasons why the said minister passed the telephone to me,” the post added.

"Nishshanka Senadhipathi,

As a public officer, I’m not permitted to make public or press statements.

Therefore please respond to the following.

1. Please publish the entire telephone conversation without editing, doctoring and distorting the contents.

2. Please disclose to the public the name of the minister to whose telephone you called and the reasons why the said minister passed the telephone to me," she posted on her facebook.

Senadhipathi, who was recently indicted at the Permanent High Court at Bar for money laundering and a host of other charges, was first indicted at the Magistrate’s Court in a case investigated during Wickremasinghe’s tenure as DG of the Bribery Commission. The leaked telephone conversation spread like wildfire and sent shock waves, especially given the current Solicitor General’s unimpeachable reputation as an officer of integrity and courage within the Department, and one of the most dynamic Director Generals to have ever served at the Bribery Commission.

Dilrukshi Dias Wickremasinghe currently serves as Solicitor General of Sri Lanka, the second highest ranked prosecutor at the Attorney General’s Department.

Coordinating Officer to the Attorney General State Counsel Nishara Jayaratne said the Attorney General was not empowered to conduct disciplinary inquiries since Wickremasinghe was such a senior official at the Department.

Speaking to the Sunday Observer, the coordinating officer State Counsel Nishara Jayarathne said that this decision was taken since it is the PSC that has authority to conduct an inquiry.

“The PSC is our disciplinary authority. Therefore, we will request the PSC to hold a preliminary inquiry in terms of the establishment code and to appoint a suitable person to look into the matter immediately,” she said.

Meanwhile addressing a function yesterday President Maithripala Sirisena said that if the SG was coerced to speak take the call by a minister she should reveal all relevant information.

The President went on to state that the Prime Minister wrote to him few months back suggesting the SG’s name to a position of a Superior Court justice. President however said that he was not in favour of this idea.

“Given the information that has surfaced I can clearly say that she was never suitable to be appointed as a justice,” the President said.On Friday (20) after the leaked audio caused an uproar Justice Minister Thalatha Athukorale said yesterday that after the authenticity of the leak is verified, clarification would be sought from the Attorney General on the matter.

Senadhipathi released a recorded telephone conversation with a female he purports to be Wickremasinghe, who was expressing remorse over filing action against the Avant Garde floating armoury in response to the Chairman’s complaints about problems faced by the company’s staff as a result of the legal action.

A particularly incriminating part of the leaked audio features the female voice claiming that she knew how to “break and make the law” and that she would not have filed a case against former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Who launched that Mystery Attack?

The Saudis, like their patron in Washington, have a poor record for truthfulness. Remember the Saudi denials about the murder of journalist and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi? More important, we have been waiting for more false flag attacks in the Gulf designed to justify a US attack on Iran.

by Eric S. Margolis

The Mideast has its own variety of crazy humor. The Saudis have been blasting and bombing wretched Yemen, one of this world’s poorest nations, since 2015.

These US-supported attacks and a naval blockade of Yemen imposed by Saudi Arabia and its sidekick ally, the United Arab Emirates, have caused mass starvation. No one knows how many Yemenis have died or are currently starving. Estimates run from 250,000 to one million.

Who attacked? 
The black humor? The Saudis just claimed they were victims of Iranian `aggression’ this past week after the kingdom’s leading oil treatment facility at Abqaiq was hit by a flight of armed drones or cruise missiles. The usual American militarists, now led by State Secretary Mike Pompeo after the demented warmonger, John Bolton, was finally fired, are calling for military retaliation against Iran even though the attack was claimed by Yemen’s Shia Houthi movement.

This drama came at roughly the same time that Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, a close ally of US president Donald Trump, vowed to annex Palestine’s entire Jordan Valley if elected. Not a peep of protest came from the US, which recently blessed Netanyahu’s annexation of Syria’s Golan Heights while scourging Russia’s leader, Vladimir Putin, for annexing Crimea – a Russian possession for over 300 years.

I studied US photos of the damaged Saudi oil installations. Its oil tanks appear to be precisely hit at the same place. After the attack, the Saudis claimed half of their oil production was knocked out; but a day later, they vowed production would be resumed within a week. Parts of so-called drones were shown that appeared way beyond the technological capabilities of Yemen or even Iran. The missiles may have been supplied by Ukraine.

The Saudis, like their patron in Washington, have a poor record for truthfulness. Remember the Saudi denials about the murder of journalist and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi? More important, we have been waiting for more false flag attacks in the Gulf designed to justify a US attack on Iran.

The pattern of so-called drone attacks against the Saudi oil installations is just too neat and symmetrical. The Israelis have a strong interest in promoting a US-Saudi War. The attacks in Saudi came ironically right after the anniversary of 9/11 that plunged the US into war against large parts of the Muslim world.

As a long-time military observer, I find it very hard to believe that drones could be guided over such long distances and so accurately without aircraft or satellites to guide them. In Yemen, which is just creeping into the 12th century, changing a flat tire is a major technological achievement. To date, Iran’s missile arsenal has poor reliability and major guidance problems.

Adding to the questions, the Saudis have spent billions on US-made air defense systems. They failed to protect the oil installations. The Saudis would have been better off buying air defenses from the Russians, at a quarter of the US selling price.

Trump at least showed some wisdom by so far rejecting demands from the neocons that surround him to launch major attacks on Iran. Blasting Iran would not serve much purpose and would expose US forces in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Somalia, and Syria to Iranian guerilla attacks. Saudi oil installations – after what we saw last week – are vulnerable.

Attacking Iran, even if just from the air, risks a much wider Mideast war just as the Trump administration – which originally campaigned against ‘stupid’ Mideast wars – faces next year’s elections. But the administration is under intense pressure from its pro-Israel base to go after Iran.

Bombing Iran’s oil infrastructure would be relatively easy and has been intensively planned since early 2002. But what next? So-called ‘regime change’ (Washington’s favorite euphemism for overthrowing disobedient foreign governments) rarely works as planned and can get the US into horribly messy situations. The CIA overthrew Iran’s democratic government in 1953 and look where we are today.

Perhaps the attacks on Abqaiq may cause the reckless Saudi leaders to stop devastating Yemen and throttle back on their proxy war against Iran which has gone on since 1979. But don’t count on it.

Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2019

Special: Chinese Company responses to Sri Lankan President

The following press release issued by the Chinese company as the response to the remarks by President Maithripala Sirisena recently.

"ALIT and CEIEC formed a consortium in Aug. 2010 in order to pursuit the Lotus Tower Project. The contract was signed in Jan. 2012. In Aug. 2015, ALIT entrusted CEIEC to act solely on its behalf to fulfill the contract. Those are normal business operations and comply with international business practices

"According to the contract, TRC paid USD 15,644,980 as advance payment to CEIEC's account in China Export-Import Bank of China on Oct. 9, 2012. This sum had been used for the project purpose solely."

The full statement is below;

India to set up one of the world's largest facial recognition systems

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government will open bids next month

India is planning to set up one of the world's largest facial recognition systems, potentially a lucrative opportunity for surveillance companies and a nightmare for privacy advocates who fear it will lead to a Chinese-style Orwellian state.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government will open bids next month to build a system to centralize facial recognition data captured through surveillance cameras across India. It would link up with databases containing records for everything from passports to fingerprints to help India's depleted police force identify criminals, missing persons and dead bodies.

The government says the move is designed to help one of the world's most understaffed police forces, which has one officer for every 724 citizens - well below global norms. It also could be a boon for companies: TechSci Research estimates India's facial recognition market will grow sixfold by 2024 to $4.3 billion, nearly on par with China.

But the project is also ringing alarm bells in a nation with no data privacy laws and a government that just shut down the internet for the last seven weeks in the key state of Kashmir to prevent unrest. While India is still far from implementing a system that matches China's ability to use technology to control the population, the lack of proper safeguards opens the door for abuses.

"We're the only functional democracy which will set up such as system without any data protection or privacy laws," said Apar Gupta, a Delhi-based lawyer and executive director of the Internet Freedom Foundation, a non-profit group whose members successfully lobbied the government in 2015 to ensure net neutrality and reject platforms like Facebook Inc.'s Free Basics. "It's like a gold rush for companies seeking large unprotected databases."

Black Market

A draft data protection bill presented to the government last year still hasn't been approved by the cabinet or introduced into parliament. The country has already had problems implementing Aadhaar, one of the world's biggest biometric databases linking everything from bank accounts to income tax filings, which been plagued by reports of data leaks and the growth of a black market for personal information.

So far, not much is known about which companies might bid on the facial-recognition system. Minutes of a meeting with potential bidders, obtained by the Internet Freedom Foundation through a right to information request, showed unidentified companies sought clarifications on integrating facial recognition data with state databases and whether it should be able to identify people with plastic surgery.

Vasudha Gupta, a spokeswoman for the Home Ministry, didn't respond to an email seeking comments about the system.

For some in the police force, the system will be an essential tool to fight crime if implemented properly. India has seen more than 100 terrorist attacks in the last three decades, including one on luxury hotels and a train station in Mumbai that killed 166 people in 2008.

'Powerful Tool'

Nilabh Kishore, who headed a unit fighting organized crime in the state of Punjab until last year, had success against gangsters after he set up a system linking data from police stations across the state.

"A system that can identify criminals is invaluable - facial recognition is a powerful tool," said Kishore, who is now deputy inspector general of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police. "But human intentions are also very important. You can make the best of technology, but if human intentions are wrong it can be a tool for misuse."

That's particularly a worry for vulnerable minority groups that have long faced discrimination in India. Lower castes and tribals account for about a quarter of the population but constitute 34% of India's prisoners, according to the National Dalit Movement for Justice.

In January, the Delhi High Court said it was "unacceptable" that facial recognition had not helped trace any of the 5,000 children missing from the city in three years. Earlier this month, photos and phone numbers from a Madurai city police facial recognition database in the southern state of Tamil Nadu were leaked online.

Surveillance Threat

The threat of foreign spying is also persistent. Last month a federal government think tank criticized the local administration in Delhi for hiring the Indian arm of Chinese firm Hikvision to set up 150,000 CCTVs, saying the move could spur illegal hacking and data leaks to the Chinese government.

Foreign surveillance companies operating in India include CP Plus, Dahua, Panasonic Corp., Bosch Security Systems, Honeywell International Inc., and D-Link India Ltd. Many Indian companies won't be able to bid on the facial-recognition system because the current tender requires them to meet standards established by the U.S. National Institute of Science and Technology, according to Atul Rai, chief executive officer of Staqu Technologies, an Indian startup.

Rai, whose company has developed facial recognition for eight local police forces, said India doesn't have the same quality cameras as China - making it harder to meet the goal of being able to identify any person with an integrated system. He also said it would be more difficult to implement a national network in India because state governments are responsible for law and order under its constitution.

"But if this one happens in line with the government's plan, it should be a China-like system," Rai said. "Any powerful country wants to be like China when it comes to using technology to monitor people - even western countries."

Sri Lanka: UNICEF condemns the beating of two child monks

UNICEF is deeply shocked and saddened by the recent media reports of two child monks, living away from home and family, being brutally assaulted for an alleged wrongdoing. UNICEF notes with appreciation that society as a whole has condemned this act of violence.

File Photo
Sadly, this is not an isolated incident. Daily across Sri Lanka, children, including those living with disabilities, in extreme poverty and in institutional care, undergo similar situations. A Study on Child Disciplinary Methods Practiced in Schools in Sri Lanka conducted by the National Child Protection Authority in 2016 revealed that over 80% of students reported having experienced at least one form of corporal punishment in the past month. This is not only extremely damaging to children, it is scientifically proven that it can affect their developing brains, reduce their self-esteem and hamper their ability to learn and grow healthily.

UNICEF acknowledges that the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Women and Child Affairs and the Ministry of Education are currently working together to draft amendments to laws banning corporal punishment of all forms and hopes that this is moved forward with urgency.

No child should experience such violence. Every child has the right to protection from corporal punishment and other cruel and degrading forms of punishment within their home, school, place of care and community.