Ambassador, an honest man sent to lie for Sri Lanka, responds Fein

[TamilNet, Saturday, 29 January 2011, 16:49 GMT]
Noting Sri Lanka's Ambassador's response to the law suit filed in US by three Tamil plaintiffs as initiated by LTTE-front organizations involved in "publicity stunts like this baseless law suits," Bruce Fein, the attorney for the plaintiffs said that the Ambassador Wickramasuriya was an honest man but was apparently instructed that if both the facts and the law demonstrated President Rajapaksa’s criminal culpability, then he should bugle “Tamil Tigers” to confuse the issue. Further, the group that sponsored the law suit cautioned the Ambassador and Colombo's Presidential spokesperson that libel is a serious offense in U.S. law and that any malicious labeling of legitimate US organizations as terrorist may have serious legal consequences.

Sri Lanka's Ambassador in Washington, Jaliya Wickremasuriya, said in a press release, "A very small group of the Sri Lankan diaspora is made up of supporters of the LTTE terrorist group. For the past ten or fifteen years this small minority has been very vocal in spreading propaganda against the Government of Sri Lanka."

The Ambassador adds: “What we are seeing now is that the same individuals or relatives of these individuals that were part of these proscribed LTTE front organizations have started new groups. These so-called advocacy organizations have the same membership and directors as the proscribed organizations. They continue to spread propaganda against the Government and carry out publicity stunts like this baseless law suit.”

A spokesperson for Mr Rajapakse responded in Colombo: "We have no time for mercenaries funded by the LTTE who want media attention."

Full text of Fein's reaction to Ambassador Wickremasuriya follows:
    Sri Lankan Ambassador Jaliya Wickramasuria has impeccably discharged his vassal-like duties in responding to the Torture Victims Protection Act (TVPA) lawsuit I filed yesterday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. It seeks $30 million in damages for the extrajudicial killings of six Tamil civilians by Sri Lankan military personnel under the command authority of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Ambassador Wickramasuria apparently was instructed that if the law was against President Rajapaksa, he should argue the facts. If the facts were against the President, he should argue the law. But if both the facts and the law demonstrated President Rajapaksa’s criminal culpability, then he should bugle “Tamil Tigers” to confuse the issue.

    What I recounted in the Complaint from Wikileaks remains unchallenged. The United States Ambassador to Sri Lanka bemoaned: “[A]ccountability has not been a high-profile issue in the presidential election -- other than President Rajapaksa's promises personally to stand up to any international power or body that would try to prosecute Sri Lankan war heroes. While regrettable, the lack of attention to accountability is not surprising. There are no examples we know of a regime undertaking wholesale investigations of its own troops or senior officials for war crimes while that regime or government remained in power. In Sri Lanka this is further complicated by the fact that responsibility for many of the alleged crimes rests with the country's senior civilian and military leadership, including President Rajapaksa and his brothers and opposition candidate General Fonseka.”
A spokesperson for US-based activist organization, Tamils Against Genocide (TAG), responding to the statements from the Ambassador and the Colombo-based presidential spokesperson which attempted to portray groups involved in law-suits as LTTE fronts, warned: "statements alleging that an organization engaged in legally and morally defensible activism concerning Tamil rights, as LTTE-front without preponderance of evidence, are cognizable as defamatory under tort law, and have serious legal consequences."

To prevail under Maryland libel law, a plaintiff must show that the Sri Lankan embassy's statements in question were published to at least one third party, identified the plaintiff directly or indirectly, defamed the plaintiff, were false and were published either in negligence or actual malice depending on whether plaintiff is legally deemed as private or limited-purpose public figure within American society, a legal source in Washington said.

The 1964 Supreme Court ruling in Sullivan v. New York, as extended to Maryland 4th circuit jurisprudence through cases such as Wicker v. Scranton Times, 688 A.2d 535 (Md. App. 1997), held that the subjective actual malice threshold is satisfied if the defendant publicized a defamatory statement “with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.” N.Y. Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 279-280 (1964) .

The lower threshold of negligence is breach of a duty of reasonable investigations if the assertion was false. Whether the higher "malice" standard or the lower "negligence" standard is applicable in a case depends on whether the plaintiff can be argued as "private" or "public" figure in the US.

"While politicized Sri Lankan courts can permit intimidation and allow suppression of dissent in support of the political patrons, the public statements issued by Sri Lankan embassies located in countries outside of Sri Lanka, must comply with the fundamental liberties and freedoms, positive and negative, guaranteed by that nation's constitution and legal order," TAG spokesperson added.


External Links:
AFP: Sri Lanka leader sued in US
SLEmbassy: Ambassador in U.S. says Sri Lankans will not be intimidated by terrorist supporters


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