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                              Courageous crew

Awarded the prestigious ‘Guardian Journalism Award’ staff at The Sunday Leader 
stand tall proving their courageous commitment to the newspaper in the face of 
overwhelming odds -
Photo by Thusitha Kumara


The Sunday Leader  bags Guardian  Journalism Award

The Sunday Leader won the prestigious 2009 Freedom of Expression Journalism Award at a glittering ceremony held at Kings Place, London on Tuesday April 21.

Shortlisted among three other chosen contenders, the Guardian Journalism Award at the ceremony went to The Sunday Leader in recognition of the newspaper continuing to take a courageous stand despite the assassination of its editor and co-founder Lasantha Wickrematunge in January this year.

The ceremony, hosted by Index on Censorship Chair Jonathan Dimbleby, with a keynote speech by Sir David Hare, honoured those who had made a contribution to free expression in five categories: books, films, journalism, news media and law and campaigning.

Speaking at the event, Jonathan Dimbleby said: 'Freedom of expression helps to define our essence as human beings and citizens. Everywhere this right is under growing threat. The Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards are a chance to celebrate those who against all odds have made distinguished contributions to this vital cause - to protect and enhance liberty in Britain and around the world.'

The recipients of the awards for 2009 are:

The Guardian Journalism Award: The Sunday Leader - Sri Lanka

The Sunday Leader and its journalists have been subject to continual threats and brutal harassment since it was launched 15 years ago.The assassination of The Sunday Leader Editor and Co-founder Lasantha Wickrematunge in January provoked protests and vigils around the world. His brother Lal has since bravely continued the important work of the newspaper.

The Economist New Media Award: Psiphon

Psiphon is a revolutionary software programme that allows internet access in countries where censorship is imposed. The programme turns a regular home computer into a personal, encrypted server, capable of retrieving and displaying web pages anywhere. Psiphon was developed as a human rights software project by the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto. One of its aims is to design software that is easy to use, so that those with limited technical abilities can take advantage of the technology.

The TR Fyvel Book Award: Beijing Coma - Ma Jian

Spiked with dark wit, poetic beauty and deep rage, Beijing Coma takes the life (and near death) of one young student to create a dazzling novel about contemporary China. In May 1989, tens of thousands of students are camped out in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. But what started as a united protest at the slow pace of their government's political reform has begun to lose direction. People from all over China are coming to join the demonstration, but the students at its heart are confused by the influence they suddenly wield, and riven by petty in-fighting. One of them, Dai Wei, argues about everything from democracy to the distribution of food to protesters, little knowing that, on June 4,  a soldier will shoot a bullet into his head, sending him into a deep coma.

The Bindmans Law and Campaigning Award: Malik Imtiaz Sarwar - Malaysia

Malik Imtiaz Sarwar is a leading human rights lawyer and activist and the current president of the National Human Rights Society (HAKAM). Imtiaz has been a central figure in fighting lawsuits brought against journalists and bloggers, and was the lead counsel for Raja Petra Kamaruddin, popular blogger and editor of Malaysia Today, whose release he secured last year. In August 2006, a poster declaring him to be a traitor to Islam and calling for his death was circulated in Malaysia. He has proposed setting up an inter-faith council, and spoken in a series of public forums on the need for religious freedom.

The Index on Censorship Film Award: The Devil Came On Horseback

Using the exclusive photographs and first-hand testimony of former US Marine Captain Brian Steidle, Directed by Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern The Devil Came On Horseback takes the viewer on an emotionally-charged journey into the heart of Darfur. Steidle had access to parts of the country that no journalist could penetrate; he was unprepared for what he would witness and experience, including being fired at, taken hostage, and being unable to intervene to save the lives of young children. Ultimately frustrated by the inaction of the international community, Steidle resigned and returned to the US to expose the images and stories of lives he believed were being systematically destroyed.

Present to collect the awards were Lal Wickrematunge and Frederica Jansz, the editor of The Sunday Leader, Nart Villeneuve the CTO of Psiphon, Ma Jian the author of Beijing Coma, Peter Noorlander on behalf of Malik Imtiaz Sarwar and Annie Sundberg the director of The Devil Came On Horseback.

Also in attendance were nominees for the Bindmans Law and Campaigning Award Harry Roque and Harrison Nkomo as well as Guardian Journalism Award nominee Sanjuana Martinez.

Radio interviews by the BBC recorded in the run up to the awards with Lal Wickrematunge, Nart Villeneuve, Harrison Nkomo and Sanjuana Martinez can be found on the website in the coming days.

Over 6000 civilians killed due to fighting 

A UN document circulated among the diplomatic missions in Sri Lanka has stated 6432 civilians had been killed due to fighting over the past three months.

The Associated Press (AP) yesterday reported that 13,946 civilians had also been injured during the fighting.

According to AP, the report indicated that an average of 33 civilians had been killed each day at the end of January and figures increased to 116 this month.

More than 100,000 civilians had fled LTTE areas last week as the military intensified its military operations in the safe zones.

The UN states that more than 50,000 people are still trapped in the LTTE areas.

Meanwhile, UN Under Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs, Sir John Holmes arrived in Sri Lanka yesterday.

Also, US Acting Department Spokesman, Robert Wood addressing a press briefing has said the US remained extremely concerned for the safety of the remaining civilians in the no-fire zone.

"Although tens of thousands of people have fled the area, numerous people have been killed, and tens of thousands of additional civilians remain in the conflict area.

We call on the Government of Sri Lanka and the Tamil Tigers to end hostilities," he has said.

According to Wood the US was supportive of India's efforts to stop the fighting.

Wood has also called on the Tigers to lay down arms and surrender to a third party.

"We call on the Tamil Tigers to lay down their arms and surrender to a third party.

The international community needs to provide assistance to a large number of displaced persons. The international community should be prepared to play a role to end the fighting," he has said.

Wood further added that the US fully supported the UN Secretary General's decision to send a UN humanitarian team to the no-fire zone.

Low voter turnout at WPC polls 

The Western Provincial Council (WPC) elections that concluded yesterday recorded a low voter turnout and a minimum number of incidents.

Election monitors said an average of 55-60% turned out to vote in all three districts in the province.

People's Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) Executive Director, Rohana Hettiarachchi told The Sunday Leader that Colombo recorded the lowest (53%) voter turnout. "Around 60% voted in Gampaha and Kalutara. There were very few minor incidents," Hettiarachchi said.

Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CAFFE) spokesperson, Keerthi Tennekoon meanwhile said that the damage was done before the elections.

"The reason why there were few incidents of violence reported on polling day is that all the major incidents had been done during the pre-election period," he said.

He said this was the worst election since the Eastern Provincial Council polls last year.

Khavan's little secret

CEO of Golden Key was also chairman, Barter Card Lanka

By R. Wijewardene

A lead has finally emerged regarding the whereabouts of Golden Key's missing billions.

A former employee of Barter Card Lanka Limited has disclosed that Golden Key CEO Khavan Perera was also chairman of Bartercard's Sri Lankan subsidiary for over 10 years, and alleged that under his management billions of Ceylinco funds had been embezzled through the firm's cashless trading scheme.

Bartercard which enables businesses to swap goods and services without using cash is a legitimate Australian company which operates in a number of countries.

However it is alleged that Khavan Perera badly mismanaged the company's Sri Lankan franchise and used Bartercard's unique trading mechanism to embezzle funds taken from Golden Key.Until2004 the franchise for Bartercard in Sri Lanka was held exclusively by the Ceylinco Group and the company was effectively run as Khavan Perera's private property. During this time it is claimed that "he evicted all the professionals from top management in the company and appointed a number of his associates and relatives to key positions."

The former Bartercard employee continued that " they worked together and violated all the country's accounting standards."

According to CEO of Bartercard Lanka, Iftikhar Aziz  "Bartercard international was not happy with Ceylinco's management they (Ceylinco) made a mess of things."

He claimed that Bartercard International took steps to diversify the ownership of Bartercard Lanka away from Ceylinco. "We're trying to wash our hands off Ceylinco. Bartercard is a reputed company we don't want to be associated with the goings on at Ceylinco."

Despite the CEO's claims however Khavan Perera continues to be Bartercard Lanka's Chairman, and Ceylinco Golden Key remains a major Bartercard shareholder therefore the company relationship with Golden Key continued to be an intimate one right up to the point of Khavan Perera's arrest.

Bartercard Lankawas not declared amongst Khavan Perera's assets, which is in itself suspicious, as he continued to be the company's chairman, and the Golden Key Bartercard connection is yet to be investigated.

Bartercard Lanka has so far been shielded from the fall out of Golden Key despite the fact that its chairman is currently in jail - "We don't want to have anything to do with Ceylinco" insisted Iftikhar Aziz. "We have nothing to do with Golden Key, we have nothing to hide."

Now that details of Khavan Perera's relationship with the company have emerged it is time for the authoritiesto put theseclaimsto the test.

Lasantha killing - Nothing yet

Investigations into the assassination ofslain Editor-in-Chief of The Sunday Leader Lasantha Wickrematunge have shown no progress for the past three and a half months. This is despitethe Mt. Lavinia Magistrate having orderedthe police to submit the investigation progress report at the next hearing date. The murder trial of Wickrematunge will be taken up again on Thursday, April 30.


Rate cuts to take time

The Monetary Board of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) on Wednesday (22), cut the penal rate of interest charged on overnight (O/N) reverse repurchase transactions with CBSL by 175 basis points (bps) to 13%, whilst at the same time reducing its repurchase rate by 125 bps to 9%  "in order to encourage commercial banks to lend their surplus funds to customers rather than entering into repurchase agreements with CBSL, a CBSL statement said.

CBSL expects that these measures would result in more active lending by commercial banks supported by a reduction in their lending rates in accordance with the reduction in policy rates, thereby augmenting credit flows to the economy.

However, the O/N reverse repurchase (repo) rate, i.e. the rate at which the CBSL lends money to banks and primary dealers have had remained unchanged at 11.75%.

"The O/N reverse repo rate remaining unchanged makes little difference as the market can utilise that window not more than thrice monthly," sources told The Sunday Leader on Wednesday.

These cuts will help ease pressure on lending rates, albeit slowly, as banks will have to first bring down their high deposit rates, commensurate with lowering their lending rates, the sources said.

They said that O/N inter-bank borrowing rates were in the 9«-10% levels. The sources said that the government owned People's Bank was among the borrowers at Wednesday's trading.

The sources said that Treasury Bond yields in secondary market trading (i.e. Bonds maturing from 2010-12) has fallen by 100 bps since Monday (April 20) to be commanding yields of between 15«-16%.

Meanwhile, CBSL in regard to the afore-mentioned policy rates cuts further said that since around October 2008, CBSL had taken a number of steps to promote market liquidity and thereby stabilise money and credit markets in view of the implications of the turbulent conditions that have prevailed in financial markets the world over. 

Since the beginning of this year CBSL has also gradually eased its monetary policy stance in view of the improving outlook on inflation with a considerable deceleration in monetary aggregates. 

Inflation on a year-on-year basis, as per the new Colombo Consumers' Price Index (2002=100) reached a five year low of 5.3% in March 2009.  Expansion in money supply has decelerated to 9.9% together with a sharp deceleration in credit to the private sector to 5.6% by February 2009. 

Given the continuing decline in the general price level and the demanding conditions facing the real sector, CBSL is of the view that its monetary policy stance should be further eased.

- PA



More News..


Over 6000 civilians killed due to fighting 

Low voter turnout at WPC polls 



CEO of Golden Key was also chairman,
Barter Card Lanka


Lasantha killing - Nothing yet


Rate cuts to take time



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