SRI LANKA: Letter from Professor Craig Scott regarding unjustified listing on your site of Mr Basil Fernando 

An Open Letter from Prof. Craig Scott forwarded by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)

Date: 6 January 2011 08:23
Subject: Letter from Professor Craig Scott regarding unjustified listing on your site of Mr Basil Fernando

January 5, 2010
Dear Sir/Madam,

I am aware of the inclusion on your list at of Mr. Basil Fernando, and have now read the letter sent by the Asian Human Rights Commission that you have posted on your site. While I commend you for posting that letter and quickly placing this listing under review, I am writing to make certain you understand the seriousness of even leaving Mr Fernando’s name up on your site while you conduct your review.

You will surely realize that the laws of libel and defamation do not protect you from repeating false information generated by others, and each day you keep this listing up (even under review) is one day that you are failing to mitigate the harm to Mr Fernando’s reputation. The fact that the ‘method’ you use is Internet data-mining exacerbates your liability because of the sheer unreliability of such a method given how much false (including deliberately false) information appears on the Internet and how there are actors whose business is to smear critics of the government of Sri Lanka with the slur of being LTTE supporters. Finally, the harm here is not just to reputation but you should realize that, in the context of the problems with the rule of law in Sri Lanka, any allegation that someone is a supporter of the LTTE not only places that person in criminal-law jeopardy but also provides an added excuse for certain actors to engage in practices such as disappearance and extra-judicial execution should the person ever set foot in Sri Lanka.

Whatever public service you feel you are providing with your list, you have an ethical and legal responsibility to have measures in place to be accurate. You place names on that list at risk not only of your own reputation but also at risk of serious legal liability for defamation. I would urge you to adopt a much more rigorous approach in future. I have seen too many occasions when flagrantly false information – indeed, planted information – on the Internet gets repeated as the truth by other websites, and you have fallen into that same trap. The kind of list you are hosting here cannot – ethically or morally – be susceptible to such laziness.

The purpose of my letter is to alert you to the fact that you should be taking Mr Fernando’s name down, now, and offer an apology as soon as you confirm your error. It is not my purpose to defend Mr Fernando at any length as his letter does this well and as his worldwide reputation simply makes laughable the inclusion on your list. But, allow me to say that, in my capacity as a member of the Advisory Council of the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice, I have had much contact with Mr Fernando and read many of his writings. By no stretch of the imagination does Mr Fernando come even close to being a supporter of the LTTE let alone of the brutal methods used by the LTTE over the years. He is a supremely honourable man who has dedicated his life to defending human rights and human dignity. You owe him the courtesy of recognizing this – immediately – and removing your listing.

Yours sincerely,

Craig Scott

For further information on this issue please refer to SRI LANKA: AHRC tells the Canada-based Sri Lankan intellectual to stop distribution of false and defamatory material and a death list at:, SRI LANKA: Dr. Chandre Dharma-Wardana admits to the publication of false and defamatory material and a death list at and SRI LANKA: Demand from the Webmaster — for revealing the details of the ‘Colombo Editor’ at

The reply to Prof Scott from the webmaster who refuses to reveal his identity

From: “place.names (slplz_nm)” []
Sent: 01/06/2011 11:58 AM PST
To: Craig Scott

Subject: Re: Letter from Professor Craig Scott regarding unjustified listing on your site of Mr Basil Fernando
To: Prof. Craig Scott From:Webmaster

Dear Sir

Thank you for your message. I have copied it (and also this reply) to Prof. Dharma-wardana, who maintains the root website (dealing with botany and toponyms), and keeps an eye on all other hosted pages as well. He is the best person to deal with all your concerns.

I believe Mr. John Sloan of ASIAN Human Rights has been discussing directly with him, similar issues.

However, I will just add a few points based on my experience. The cyberworld is also a valid object for empirical study. A dollar bill has a value only because everyone perceives it to be so. What is in the Internet reflects a given perception, as well as other phenomena designed to obfuscate what you may call the ‘truth’. But as you see, this website is very effective because within a short time corrective mechanisms kick in, as in Basil Fernando’s case. We deal with requests for corrections etc., very regularly, and usually without any problem. I submit that the Internet works differently from old-time journalism and its rules.

Your claim that listing peoples’ names adds danger to them is, I think, invalid in this case.

By listing a name, we give an identity to a person and recognition. This was an old idea of Amnesty International. IT IS THE UNIDENTIFIED WHO RUN RISK OF BEING ILL TREATED.

Besides, all the people listed here are ‘somebodies’, like Basil Fernando, and you see how it is for our Colombo Editor to even write the trial column about him, based on snippets that refelct the image of Basil Fernando as seen from Colombo.

This website is used by the RCMP in Canada. They have found it very useful, and they have said so. It helps to protect innocent people from those who believe in violent methods.

That is why I volunteer to do this, even while working on my academic thesis.

Regarding contacts with the RCMP etc., please check with Prof. Dharma-wardana (I do have permission to say this. But this is not for circulation).

Thank you

The reply from Professor Scott to the anonymous webmaster of

Dear ?,

Thank you for taking the time to respond. The Internet can certainly be a valid place for research, but one has to take into account its pathologies and the corresponding risk one will get it wrong regarding a given person. Self-correcting mechanisms based on feedback do not prevent defamation in the first place, although I acknowledge that they do provide an opportunity for a website to quickly retract and apologize which at least mitigates the harm. As for putting in danger, I suspect we have a very different view of the realities of Sri Lanka. Your list is not of the sort that provides protection because of inclusion because it does not come from an organization whose purpose is to signal protection as its mission. Instead, buried as it is as a specialty list produced with some anonymity, it does not create the kind of profile of the sort you claim — even if shadow-state actors in Sri Lanka were to be deterred by someone having a high profile abroad. You clearly believe in research: you should do some research on how some and perhaps many of those killed extrajudicially over the decades in Sri Lanka appeared on lists that brought them to the attention of their killers. I repeat my advice that you remove Mr Fernando’s name now, issue an apology, and then revisit your methodology as well as review all the names on your list.

Do you have a name that is publicly known?

Yours sincerely,

Craig Scott

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Document Type : Forwarded Open Letter
Document ID : AHRC-FOL-001-2011
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Issues : Fabrication of charges,