COLOMBO (EconomyNext) – Sri Lanka’s ousted Rajapaksa regime had engaged in large scale phone surveillance of citizens and diplomats while citizens who stayed in tourist hotels were reported to police, a media report said.
Sri Lanka’s Sunday Times newspaper said telecom firms were illegally asked by the Ministry of Defence and Urban development headed by ex-president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s brother was secretary and de facto minister to provide phone records of citizens.
Phone records of prominent opposition politicians, the administration’s own ministers and Colombo based diplomats and ‘unfriendly’ military, police officers and "other leading citizens were monitored blatantly violating the law," the newspaper said.
Though a court order has to be obtained by police before tampering with telephone records of subscribers, a ministry of defence and urban development official had written to phone companies to give monthly telephone records of targeted citizens to a police anti-terrorism unit.
President Rajapaksa’s brother Gothabaya was secretary to the ministry and functioned like a de facto minister, and represented the greatest danger to society from the destruction of the public service through two post-independent constitutions, analysts say.
Sri Lanka’s independent public service was broken when by the 1971 and 1978 constitutions which destroyed the institution of ‘permanent secretaries’ who could not be appointed or transferred by elected politicians.
The ‘impermanent secretaries’ that came later were sometimes from outside the public service and served at the pleasure of elected rulers. Public officials who acted correctly or according to law defying politicians were immediately transferred or sent to a ‘pool’.
Legal experts have pointed out that without civilian permanent secretaries, the British style ‘police’ which is supposed to protect citizens, is instead forced to become a German style ‘Gestapo’ which acts in the interest of rulers and the state including engaging in illegal acts.
"In a modern society, there can be no worse crisis as a whole, whether political, commercial, or social, than the loss of the meaning of legality," the Asian Human Rights Commission said last month.
"This simply means that any kind of arbitrary action is possible and that there is no legal defence of any sort against such arbitrary actions."
The proposed setting up of the ‘constitutional councils’ hopes to go some way in re-creating an independent public service.
The Sunday Times said police officers collected monthly telephone bills to analysed them.
"The identification of those who are supporters of the present Government led to surveillance being mounted on them," The Sunday Times said.
"There have been instances when some have even been threatened."
The newspaper said the Rajapsaksa regime also spied on citizens who stayed in tourist hotels.
"When Sri Lankans go on holiday to any tourist hotel, the management there was required to report their name and national identity card numbers to the nearest Police station," the newspaper said.
The information was then forwarded to the State Intelligence Service. The officer who headed the division had quit the post last week, the newspaper said.