Release of Riyaj Bathiudeen and fake news
Posted on October 13th, 2020

Shivanthi Ranasinghe

This is in response to the October 06, 2020 The Island editorial titled Lajja!”. This particular editorial had most unfortunately deviated from its usual high standard of professionalism. Instead, this is quite presumptuous and in fact caters to fake news. It is true that the release of MP Rishad Bathiudeen’s brother has raised eyebrows. However, equally of concern is the manner in which this is being reported.

It is with grave concern we note that a certain media channel seemed to be reporting this news with a deliberate twist. It appears that they are hoping to cause an embarrassment to the Gotabaya Rajapaksa Administration. It is most unfortunate that you too have added to this false narrative.

To clarify, it is been assumed by this editorial that Mr Riyaj Bathiudeen’s release is somehow linked with the garnering of support for the proposed 20th Amendment. It is thus been erroneously stated that Bathiudeen has promised to support the 20th Amendment to the Constitution” after the police have suddenly found that there is no evidence to press charges against Bathiudeen’s sibling.”

In actuality, MP Bathiudeen has not expressed his support to the 20A. Instead, his rather ambiguous reply to a media query was that while certain clauses of the 20A are acceptable to his party, others are not. He further stated that his party will take a final decision on this matter on the day of the voting.

One may infer that this answer indicates support for the 20A and that MP Bathiudeen is in the process of building bridges with the Gotabaya Administration. Conversely, one may argue that he was sending a message to his political partner, the SJB. It is not a secret that the Muslim political parties are disappointed that they have not been accommodated in the SJB National List despite the support given. Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa has vowed to defeat 20A and this might be MP Bathiudeen’s way to rattle the Opposition Leader’s confidence. Either way, at this moment these are all only assumptions and it is quite possible that even MP Bathiudeen has not yet decided which way he would vote.

It must be pointed out that the incumbent Administration did not seek MP Bathiudeen’s support at either the Presidential or Parliamentary elections. Both these were decisive elections. The common misconception was that it would be impossible to win these two elections without the block votes from the minority communities. Yet, this support was not sought simply because these small political parties have an unhealthy tendency to hold the main party hostage to their parochial demands at the cost of national interest. Thus their partnership would have been a severe impediment to the vision that President Gotabaya is determined to deliver.

In this background, to assume that MP Bathiudeen’s support would be sought to pass a constitutional amendment is illogical. The decision MP Bathiudeen takes with regard to the 20A is really not a concern of this Administration. If he chooses to vote for the Amendment, then it is of course good. However, if he chooses not to, it is still not an issue for the Gotabaya Administration. It would be far better to fall short on the required two-third majority needed to pass the 20A than to have it passed but be forever beholden to a political entity that is not in line with the President’s manifesto.

President’s Facebook statement clearly spells out this stance. However, due to two reasons this statement has not yet soothed the suspicion that arose with the release of Riyaj Bathiudeen from the CID custody. The first was the sudden exoneration of Bathiudeen from the Easter Attack investigations. The second, been the manner in which the news was linked to create a certain narrative as to the reason for his release.Releasing Riyaj Bathiudeen from CID Custody.

When Mr Bathiudeen was arrested in April, the Police issued a press statement to the effect that the evidence against him indicates a close connection with the Cinnamon Grand bomber Inshaf Ahamed. However, less than five months later he was released sans judicial proceedings. The Police explained that evidence is insufficient for the investigation to proceed. However, this explanation is a contradiction of the statement made earlier by the Police. This unexpected development had clearly taken the Administration also by surprise.

In response to the immediate assumption that a political hand might be behind this release, the President categorically stated that he will not allow Police matters to be decided by politicians. As such, neither he nor his political arm will instruct the Police as to who to be detained or released.

In the meantime, DIG Nuwan Wedasinghe, who was in charge of the CID, had been transferred as the Acting DIG Western Province (North) with immediate effect. DIG SP Ranasinghe is now in charge of the CID. The Cabinet Spokesperson Keheliya Rambukwella stated that this change of CID head is a decision solely taken by the Administration of the Police.

This is a positive response from the Police to the genuine concern expressed by Archbishop of Colombo His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith on this matter. Detaining a person who was truly innocent for any length of time or releasing a suspect due to lapses or undue influences should not be taken lightly.

In the past, we have seen excellent Police work as in the Swiss Embassy Garnier case. Even the ongoing war on narcotics attests to the professionalism and commitment of our Police Force. However, there had also been instances of failure due to prejudice and haste to fit the evidence to meet a preconceived conclusion. The manner the investigations were conducted on the case of the five-year-old, who was abducted while she was sleeping beside her mother and raped to death, is a case in point. Had DNA not come to the rescue, an innocent man would have been coerced into admitting guilt to a crime he never committed. The President, hence, in his statement assured that he will not hesitate to rectify if the investigators had faulted in any manner.Creating News to Fit into a Preconceived Narrative.

Perhaps, drawing from past experience, an assumption was made by many that Riyaj Bathiudeen was released in lieu of a political deal” with his sibling. However, most contentiously a certain media structured its news sequence in a manner that actively catered to this assumption. They only highlighted the images of Minister Chamal Rajapaksa greeting MP Bathiudeen at a State function in Vavuniya. The other politicians, including the Opposition who were present, were excluded from this news coverage. Then, extremely mischievously this news edited the Defense Secretary’s speech and completely distorted it so as to support this assumption.

This is exactly what happens in failed Police investigations as well. Instead of allowing facts to build the story, facts are distorted to fit into a preconceived notion. Needless to say, this is neither fair nor correct. It is noted with regret that some other news agencies and channels also blindly followed this insinuation. In this instance, by failing to draw independent conclusions from the facts at hand and by allowing to be persuaded by another’s narrative, the independence of the media had been compromised by none other than these media institutions itself.

The Police have taken steps to address the concerns raised with regard to the Easter Attack investigations. Minister Chamal Rajapaksa informed the Parliament that not only the reasons for Riyaj Bathiudeen’s release would be investigated but also the contradicting statements made by the Police.

In the same manner, all those who advocate media freedom should call for a similar exercise by the media channels that pandered to an assumption still to be supported by facts. After all, media freedom is not the freedom to create news. It is the freedom to report without bias so that the public may form their own opinion based on ground realities.

Shivanthi Ranasinghe

President’s Media Division

One Response to “Release of Riyaj Bathiudeen and fake news”

  1. Vaisrawana Says:

    Sorry, Shivanthi. I for one can understand how wretched you must be feeling to write in defence of what is indefensible. Sure other MPs from the SLPP were attending this event, but they are not shown in the picture. Journalists focus on what is newsworthy, you can’t blame them. The picture is nauseating, no doubt, but is revealing, nevertheless. A piece of good journalism, as well. Why should a lion show submissive acknowledgement to a shitty dog? Are we having MS and RW back in different/reverse roles? MS at least sulked in public in protest…… It is incredible that the present incumbent you serve is allowing this to go on. Blood is thicker than water, but where a nation’s survival hangs in the balance, the truth must be faced, don’t you think? I personally believe that if some hanky-panky has been resorted to in the name of realpolitik in dealing with Rishad and them, the Rajapaksas can find a legitimate way to explain it away and manage the damage already done.

    Also, please read the editorial of The Island today (October 14, 2020), and prepare a good response if possible.

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