Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Free Journalist, Protect Human Rights

Boston Globe editorial, September 7, 2009

Journalists rarely set out to become like the proverbial canary in a coal mine. But in certain places, at certain times, they can’t help themselves. If they insist on doing their jobs and a government doesn’t like what they publish, they may be thrown in prison or killed by an assassin who goes unpunished. And usually, where reporters and editors are treated this way, a greater humanitarian catastrophe is at hand.

So it is with J. S. Tissainayagam, the Tamil editor of a defunct monthly magazine in Sri Lanka who was sentenced a week ago to 20 years in prison under a law that criminalizes writings intended to create communal disharmony. The terrible irony is that 280,000 Tamil civilians displaced by the government’s victorious war against the separatist Tamil Tigers are currently suffering and dying in flooded, ill-provided camps. This is a real source of communal disharmony. This is what makes Tissainayagam a canary in a coal mine.

On World Press Freedom day, President Obama cited Tissainayagam’s case as an example of what can happen to journalists who displease governments intolerant of criticism. Obama should call for his release and for Sri Lanka’s uprooted civilians to be returned to their homes.