To the Editor, Nikkei Asian Review

Dear Editor,

In the modern era, Sri Lanka has had a connection with Japan since 1952, best embodied in the close relations between Japan and Sri Lanka’s former president J.R. Jayawardene, who gave the famous speech at the San Francisco Conference in 1951. Our ancient historical ties go back even further in time.

Over the last few months, a Sri Lankan journalist for the prestigious Nikkei Asian Review has been actively spreading lies, partisan talking points, and fake news on her Twitter. She has over 900 followers.

The most recent tweets which show her views breach journalistic ethics and norms are available below.

The context for the topics she has tweeted about, are listed here.

1. Buddhist monks protest against Rohingya Refugees

Like Japan, Sri Lanka has a long-established connection with Buddhism. Sri Lanka has a Buddhist majority and has a several thousand-year old Buddhist history and civilization.

In 2017 it came to light that the Sri Lankan government had granted asylum to several dozen Rohingya refugees. This was done in secret without the knowledge of the people. When it was discovered, a small group of protesters, many of whom were not monks, staged a noisy protest outside their accommodations.

It was further exposed that the refugees had been admitted to schools in Colombo, where it is extremely difficult for local citizens to admit their own children – including the many Muslim Sri Lankan citizens of Colombo. This caused a lot of resentment against the government, but not against the refugees themselves. Though the protests were noisy, there was no actual harm or even physical contact between the protesting group and the refugees.

Your journalist has however seen it fit to call this an “attack” and has spread this fake news to the many followers from her community and in the country at large.

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Though it is a Buddhist country, Sri Lanka’s religious minorities enjoy a wide array of protections and freedom to practice their religion, which is not provided to religious minorities in neighboring countries such as Pakistan or Bangladesh.

In Sri Lanka, Muslim, Hindu and Christian places of worship are often found peacefully coexisting side by side, even though a terrorist insurgency was raging for over 30 years. To say that Buddhist monks (which she refers to as thugs in “saffron robes”) “run riot” all over the country a gross exaggeration and is nowhere near the truth.

Here, she retweets a message from a ruling party politician, who is well known for spreading lies about key events.

In Sri Lanka, there is an ancient culture and tradition, since the time of the Sri Lankan kings to the present day, of national patronage for Buddhism. The “sil redi” referred to below are white cloth worn by Buddhist pilgrims, and it has been long a tradition that the ruling party would give such cloths to temples, which would then give them to their devotees in order to foster Buddhism. This is actually a constitutional requirement.

At the same time, many tax-breaks and privileges are also given to all other religions and places of worship in the country.

Your journalist also retweeted the following message:

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As part of a smear campaign against the previous regime, this current ruling party MP is insinuating that the handing out of these cloths by the former government was a form of vote-buying, and that the so-called “monks” who “attacked” the refugees, were also working with the son of the former president.

There has been no proof that there was any connection between the protesting monks and the former ruling party. Furthermore, fostering Buddhism is not the same as vote-buying. And it really shows how lowly your journalist thinks of the majority population of her country, that a simple piece of cloth can buy their vote, when the cost of food and cost of living are their biggest concerns.

It is highly irresponsible for your journalist to be spreading such partisan FakeNews.

2. Anti-democratic bias when commenting on domestic protests

Like Japan, Sri Lanka is also a democratic country. Though it is not as developed as Japan, Sri Lanka has always looked up to Japan as a model for development and for creating a peaceful political culture. As you will know, the ability to take part in peaceful protests are a key right of every law-abiding citizen of any democracy.

Sadly, your writer has on numerous occasions condemned protests by state workers, who resorted to protesting and striking in order to ensure their missing back-pay, working conditions, and other employee rights were fulfilled by a government which kept making promises but never stuck to them.

Sri Lanka provides free healthcare to all citizens, and though not as advanced as Japan, its public health system is significantly better than the other regional countries. It was these doctors and other healthcare workers who were protesting and striking only to ensure the government’s part of their contracts were fulfilled.

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She has even gone so far as to demand that university students should be punished, and that striking doctors should be replaced by foreign doctors, whose expensive fees the poor majority of Sri Lanka’s population would be unable to afford.

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Here she says protesting students should be punished (SAITM is a private medical school).

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Here, she is abusing the head of the doctors’ committee, again for simply taking part in strikes and protests, which is his right as a citizen:

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Here she calls the protesting doctors (GMOA) a “mafia.”

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Here she uses rather colorful language to blast Electricity Board workers, who were again striking over breach of contractual obligations.

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There is a political dimension to all these messages, because the ruling government’s main line of attack against the protestors was that they were working on behalf of the former government. So again, she is stirring up Sri Lanka’s twitter space by taking up the party political talking points of the ruling party, but presenting them as if she is just an ordinary citizen.

3. Blatantly spreading FakeNews and lies

As you will no doubt know, Sri Lanka suffered a terrorist war for over 30 years. These “Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam” (LTTE) terrorists invented the suicide bomb, had child terrorist brigades, and assassinated the former prime minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi, as well as former Sri Lankan president Ranasinghe Premadasa, and scores of leading ministers, MPs and political activists, including many from their own Tamil community. They also engaged in ethnic cleansing of Muslims from the East of Sri Lanka, including killing scores of innocent Muslim civilians in mosques.

It was the former government of Mahinda Rajapaksa who led the military campaign to defeat this terrorist insurgency. A key figure in this honorable battle to protect civilian lives and the territorial integrity of the nation was his younger brother, the defense secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.

Former president Rajapaksa’s sons and other family members were accused of all kinds of corruption by the present ruling party, in the run up to the last presidential election in 2015.

With the then opposition forces now in power, they have been working hard to investigate and find evidence against the former president and his family, but have found no hard evidence which can be presented in a court of law.

However, your reporter is engaging in spreading this old FakeNews by retweeting the messages such as below:

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There is no evidence of any “robbery” by the former government. And to say the former president and his family members (Gota – brother, Shiranthi – wife, Namal – son and elected politician, Yoshitha – son and naval officer) “terrorized” the nation is a disgrace. The former government defeated a terrorist group, but your reporter sees fit to retweet this above message, and to write her own messages about “attacks on refugees” which never happened.

While there was impressive economic growth during the previous government’s era, they were also accused of stealing money. Again, none of this has been proven or any evidence provided, despite investigations by various international financial bodies which were called in by the present government.

The present government on the other hand has presided over a collapse in the Sri Lankan economy. And then footage emerged of the prime minister and other senior figures dancing at a local party, while the economic crisis raged, and also as the country was in turmoil with the protests by university students, doctors, electricity workers, etc. When the media spread this footage, she wrote the following (RW_UNP is the twitter account of Ranil Wickremasinghe, the prime minister):

 

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4. Fake News about events in London on 4th February 2018

Sri Lanka celebrates it’s Independence from the British Empire on February 4th. On this day, outside its embassy in London, local British supporters of the banned terrorist group, the LTTE, which is a proscribed terrorist organization in the U.K., held a rally.

They were waving the flag of the banned terrorist group, and holding up pictures of its former leader. They also wore scarves and clothes depicting the terrorist flag and pictures of this terrorist leader. These were not protestors who were asking about their missing relatives and holding up pictures of missing people. They were hardcore terrorist supporters.

The defense attache to the Sri Lankan mission in London, a Brigadier who fought against the terrorists during the brutal war era, took great offense at this scene, and decided to respond with two gestures.

First, he pointed to the Sri Lankan flag on his uniform, as any soldier might do. He then did an undiplomatic action of a “throat slit” gesture against the terrorists he was facing, which was no doubt brought about by the heat of the moment and from his deep patriotism.

Though we do not condone this second action, looking at the video footage, it was in no way an attack against Tamils in general. The British government itself has not even made a formal protest or asked for his return to Sri Lanka.

The Sri Lankan government initially suspended the army officer without any investigation, but later allowed him to continue with his duties. This was your journalist’s response:

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In Sri Lanka, many people defended the soldier’s actions saying he was greatly affected by this blatant show of terrorism outside the embassy of his country, supporting what the CIA noted was the “world’s most ruthless terrorist group,” and on the Independence day of his country. Let me say again that the war against the terrorists lasted over 30 years and led to the deaths of at least 100,000 people, including the above mentioned political leaders.

Again, we do not condone this officer’s second gesture, but pointing to his country’s flag I think you would agree is an acceptable form of counter-protest.

A few days later, news was reported that some military officials in Sri Lanka had been accused of rape. Some soldiers had been arrested as suspects. But as yet, they were only accused, and the case is still ongoing.

Your journalist again breaches journalistic standards by connecting these two events together. She is stating that the war hero who pointed to his national flag, and did a gesture against terrorist-backers in London, is the same as alleged rapist army soldiers back in Sri Lanka.

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And she replied to her own tweet to add:

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This sort of comment spreads FakeNews, stirs up inter-racial tensions, and is based on nothing but her own “expectations” and prejudices against the very military which allows her to live in peace and security today. There are no suicide bombs going off in the capital city in which she lives today, because of the military which defeated terrorists.

Punishing people who commit crimes is required, but these sorts of messages reveal only her anti-Sinhala bigotry.

5. Spreading Antidemocratic FakeNews

On 10th February 2018, there was a local government election in Sri Lanka. Though this was for the village level of Sri Lanka’s government structure, the opposition movement which is backed by former president Mahinda Rajapaksa won overwhelmingly, reducing the present ruling parties to distant second and third places. The election was held under regulations which were drafted with the aid of foreign experts, and foreign monitors reported that this was a free and fair election.

In response to the election result, your journalist betrayed her true bigoted attitudes, which again, fall far below the standards of ethical journalism, and definitely, I hope, does not reflect the values of objectivity and fairness which your prestigious news publication is renowned for and admired for throughout the world.

These are the tweets and comments she made after the people of Sri Lanka made a democratic choice and exercised their democratic franchise as citizens.

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This message shows that she is bigoted, and anti-democratic. It was these same people who voted to remove the former government, but back then of course, they weren’t “stupid people” for her.

When someone called her out on this, she replied by calling that person “stupid” too.

 

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This election was seen by the vast majority as a referendum on the policies of the present government. One of the constituent parties of the government, the SLFP/UPFA campaigned in 2015 against any coalition government, and yet after the election, they broke their mandate and joined the coalition government anyway. Since then the current government has been delaying elections on the flimsiest of pretexts. The February 2018 poll was in fact due 2 years prior.

After the election, Mahinda Rajapaksa, the former president and leader of the winning party said that the government had lost its mandate and requested new general elections so that the people could exercise their franchise properly and elect a government which best represented their views and future aspirations.

Your biased journalist wrote the following:

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Here she has spread two pieces of fake news: firstly that the former president was demanding to take power immediately, when all he did was to ask for an election, as proven by the image she used in her own tweet; and secondly saying that the turnout for this village level, local government poll was low, when in fact it was closer to 75% and over 80% in many districts.

The brother of the former president, the former defense secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa (referred to locally as “Gota”) had left the country during the election period to attend family events abroad.

He was due to arrive in Sri Lanka on 12th February 2018. The election results had played no part in his travel arrangements, as it was widely expected that his brother’s new political front would come third, rather than winning the election.

In the tweet below, your journalist is implying that Gotabhaya Rajapaksa returned to Sri Lanka because his brother’s party had won.

Even more seriously, she is mentioning “white vans” in this tweet. After the war was won by the former government in 2009, there were some problems with people being abducted in white vans. There was a widely held perception that the government of the time was not doing enough to investigate these crimes.

It was popular in the period from 2010-2015 for “journalists” and other groups, often connected to opposition parties, to claim that these abductions were being carried out by henchmen connected to Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. The Rajapaksa government became unpopular and lost power in 2015, partly due to these allegations.

3 years having passed since they came to power, the new government has still not been able to provide any evidence whatsoever that the Rajapaksa family or Gotabhaya Rajapaksa were involved with any of the white van abductions (many criminal groups started using the tactic to settle their own scores, while the government of the day ended up getting the blame for it). In fact, no one has yet been arrested over these incidents.

Here is what your journalist wrote:

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She then further entrenched her position by writing the following tweet and replies to criticism.

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The replies:

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And another one, which shows how rather than investigating past “white van” abductions, more have happened during the present regime, again with no investigation or punishment for the criminals who took part:

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Conclusion

While your journalist has the right to have a political opinion, and to be for or against any party or philosophy, these tweets reveal that she has an inherent bias of being against the majority group of the country.

Prior to this election result, she has been critical of the corruption and nepotism of the present government. However, since the result she has revealed herself to be thoroughly bigoted against the Sinhala and Buddhist majority of the country.

She vilifies the former government and writes and disseminates messages to her hundreds of followers and generally into Twitter, with no evidence or proof. She is highly partisan and spreads messages from one political party over the other.

Her recent tweets show that she is vehemently against the Rajapaksas, who fought hard and bravely, to somehow win the war against terror and bring peace to the island.

That does not mean that the Rajapaksas are beyond criticism or investigation. But her messages are not criticism. They are an abject hate campaign which relies on fake news, and more often than not targets the Rajapaksas because these people are the representatives of the majority of the voters.

The people voted for a brand new political party created by the former president because they want a change of direction and leadership. But she calls these people stupid. She heaps abuse onto the Rajapaksas because she is against the democratic choice of her fellow citizens.

Her bias is further shown by her messages regarding the war hero in London, and the conflation of that event which only involved hand gestures, with a case of alleged rape. What are we to infer? That all the war winning soldiers of Sri Lanka are rapists? When no actual charge has been made yet, and definitely no conviction.

And she continues to attack the Sinhala people who support war heroes by suggesting that they will similarly defend these alleged rapists, as they did the London defense attache. What message does it spread to an outside observer who doesn’t know the details of the two different events?

Doesn’t this clearly show how racist she is against the Sinhala race?

Further, her manipulation of the events around the Rohingya (who were subsequently re-housed by the government), serves only to spread fear among the minority citizens of Sri Lanka. Labeling a loud protest where no one was physically even touched, as an “attack” against refugees? Is this not the very definition of fake news?

I do not think that giving a platform such as your newspaper to such a bigoted, racist, partisan, and clearly hate-fueled individual such as your journalist is wise. It damages your reputation and lowers your level. Her messages are not only offensive, but clearly arise from bigotry and hatred.

There is no way that such a racist person can control such deeply entrenched biases and political affiliation, and so there is no way she can meet the journalistic standards of integrity, impartiality and honesty which are required by a newspaper of your standing.

Please check her entire Twitter timeline record to find all the tweets that I have pasted here. And please take action.

Thank you.

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