Minister of Justice, Prison Affairs and Constitutional Reforms Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, PC said that Channel 4 is one of the known propagandists against Sri Lanka and there is no credibility about their news.
We don’t believe it as a media organisation with credibility. The Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said they were hatching conspiracies against Sri Lanka especially after the conclusion of the war. Their timing categorically says that they are on a hidden agenda.
Dr. Rajapakshe said when it comes to the Geneva UNHRC sessions; Channel 4 fabricates some news and gives a lot of publicity but there is no credibility of it. We don’t concede it as a channel with credibility at all. However, we don’t undermine whatever the news telecast by Channel 4 concerning a serious issue in our country.
We will certainly look into that and we will conduct an investigation to ascertain what they say is correct or not.
Excerpts of the interview
Q: Is there any possibility of taking legal action against the allegations raised in Channel 4’s recent video expose on the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks?
A: Yes. We can take legal action against them after ascertaining the truth of it and there are several ways of doing so.
Q: Concerns have been raised by various segments of the society whether the Easter Sunday attacks was an attempt made targeting a regime change or an attack made by a group of extremists. Would you like to comment?
A: There are allegations about it so we have to inquire into that. If you could remember before the incident, I exposed some information on their plot and the law enforcement authorities have conducted inquiries and they have already filed 42 litigations against 79 accused.
If there is any new information, we will investigate and look into that as well.
Q: International terrorism expert Prof. Rohan Gunaratna had said that the Easter Sunday attacks would have been prevented if attention was focused on what you said prior to them. Your comments?
A: It is obvious because it was not a mere comment made by me. What I really did was that I got some information about their plot to create a bloodbath in the country which was very obvious.
However, when such a serious allegation is leveled by Channel 4, it may create a doubt among the people. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the Government to dispel the doubt. There are some allegations against the charges and even TNA Parliamentarian Shanakiyan Rasamanickam has also made such an allegation.
So, I have written to the Chief Justice and the judges of the Supreme Court to initiate an inquiry to ascertain whether there is any truth in their allegations about the judges and the judicial conduct and if it is not so to take legal action against the perpetrators who are making this false propaganda.
Q: President Ranil Wickremesinghe has said that a committee headed by a retired Supreme Court judge will be appointed while there is also a move to appoint a parliamentary select committee to look into the recent Channel 4 revelations.
What is the purpose of appointing yet another committee when the former President also appointed a Presidential Commission and a parliamentary select committee to probe those incidents?
A: Still that is at the discussion level. Soon after Ranil Wickremesinghe became the President, he openly said that he is willing for a fresh investigation and even to bring in Scotland Yard, the British Police but there was no response from any quarter including the side of the victims of the families and even Archbishop Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith.
Then, we made arrangements to hand over the entire set of commission reports to the Bishop Conference. At that time, nobody agreed for a foreign investigation. Depending on the true allegations, the Government will take an appropriate decision as to what kind of method will have to be adopted to ascertain the truth.
Q: Is there a need to get international assistance or is domestic investigation sufficient enough to probe the Easter Sunday attacks?
A: Actually, this is not an international commission or the court. It is really to get the support of the investigators.
Q: You have said that recovery of illegal funds deposited abroad through fraudulent acquisition of assets will be initiated immediately through the new Anti-corruption law coming into effect from September 15. Could you explain?
A: We have made sufficient provisions to the act and that will come into operation with effect from September 15. We have made all the infrastructure facilities to continue the process. The Constitutional Council will have to appoint members to the commission. Then they are equipped with all the powers and they have to continue.
In addition, I have spoken to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the implementing arm of the World Bank, to get international support and they have already expressed their willingness to support us. We are hoping to sign a MoU for that.
Q: You had told the media that it was insufficient to merely enact new legislation and said the unwavering support and commitment of both politicians and officials are pivotal in effectively combating corruption. Your views?
A: There is no point when some people are violating the law and blaming politicians. They are the culprits. It is not only the people, the politicians and everybody will have to extend their support to combat corruption.
Even without that support, we have made an independent commission. So, they can go ahead even without the support of the politicians. They need not go behind politicians and they must enforce the law.
Q: Could you explain the current status of litigation on the X-press pearl disaster?
A: That is continuing. There are a few litigations and one is in Singapore and the other one is in the UK. We have taken all the relevant decisions and entrusted us to continue with the litigations. They have also agreed to pay an interim compensation as well.
Q: You have also said that successive Governments had not followed national disaster guidelines formulated after the 2004 tsunami disaster. Would you like to comment?
A: Former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga appointed a Presidential Commission chaired by Supreme Court Judges Hector Yapa and Justice Kulathilake. They have partly attended to certain matters but certain important matters were not addressed.
Q: Sri Lanka has come under criticism for its human rights record at the Geneva UNHRC sessions. What are the progressive steps being taken to address human rights concerns?
A: We have addressed all the issues with regard to human rights. We are going to repeal the PTA and the Cabinet has approved it.
In addition to that, we are having the Office on Missing Persons (OMP) and Office for Reparations. We have addressed the issue of returnees from India and other countries without passports and identity cards especially those who are in Northern and Eastern areas. So, we have addressed all these issues.
The Human Rights Commission is also there. We have an independent judiciary and that is all that we can do. Our human rights situation is much better than some of the countries which are levelling allegations against us.
Q: Today our prisons are largely overcrowded and the conditions are not very good for the prisoners. What are the steps being taken to address the overcrowding in prisons and also what are the prison reforms that you have planned?
A: I have already carried out so many prison reforms. We have changed some of the existing laws and some of the bills have been presented to Parliament. Sometimes, the time of Parliament is wasted on useless matters and passing our bills is being delayed.
Q: There are a large number of cases pending in courts and some cases drag on for 20-25 years by which some litigants have even passed away. What are the steps you are taking to address these delays?
A: We have imposed a pre-trial conference for civil and criminals. We have started a separate court system, Small Claims Courts. We have also amended the Mediation Board Law and up to one million can go for mediation.
We are also drafting a new Arbitration Act. In addition to that, we are going to introduce a new system of plea bargaining. We are also going to have a house arrest system.
There is a large number of legislations coming in and we have already concluded some of them and we have already started Small Claims Courts. We have also passed the Recovery of Possession of Premises Given on Lease Act. Those days it took about 20 years for the recovery of leased property. Now everything has been finished within a year.
Q: Are you satisfied with the progress achieved by the Government so far under the leadership of President Ranil Wickremesinghe?
A: It is not the Government; the people have to be satisfied. If not for the President, the country would have been in anarchy and I don’t think you would be able to publish a newspaper today if he didn’t intervene and resolve all those burning issues.
Q: There is an opinion among the people that the functioning of the current Bribery and Corruption Commission is not independent. Has the composition of the new Bribery and Corruption Investigation Commission been changed under the new Anti-corruption law?
A: If they are independent, why should I bring new legislation? We have taken all the precautions to overcome it in the new legislation. Finally, I can say that is the best piece of legislation introduced as far as the Anti-corruption laws are concerned.
Q: At a recent television interview you said that the newspaper industry has faced a crisis and stressed the importance of safeguarding the industry. Would you like to elaborate your views?
A: At present, the newspapers have failed to maintain their credibility. There are so many news items published without any truth or credibility. When you do that very often the people lose their confidence.
Secondly, I have seen on many occasions that the newspapers just publish their main new items that they have gathered from some useless social media. Actually, some of such news is gossip. Some newspapers publish gossip gathered from social media as very important news on their front pages. Thirdly, in general, newspapers have failed to inculcate the culture of youngsters to read newspapers.
When they lose confidence several times, they just forget about it and they don’t want to read newspapers. Today a very few of the younger generation is reading the newspapers.
Mostly, the newspapers fill their pages with advertisements and gossip. There is hardly anything for the younger generation to learn. There are only a few academic forms of content in the newspapers.
Simply, they are giving prominence to useless news stories which have no news value at all.
Most of that news is based on gossip, myth or either it is about some underworld characters. They make those underworld characters and criminals as heroes so that the people will get fed up reading those newspapers.
In the morning, we don’t feel like reading the newspapers because everything published in newspapers is negative and you are confused and you can’t think of a worthy course.
Early morning when that particular news is read by the television news reader, the news is mostly distorted and they mix it up with their ideas.