Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

The Arrest, Trial and Conviction Of J.S. Tissanayagam Is A Racially Motivated Revenge Act

by Nakkeeran, Canada, September 5, 2009 [English translation by A.T.]

Since Mahinda Rajapakse’s elevation as president, 27 journalists and media workers have been killed in cold blood.  Out of those three were Sinhalese, one Muslim and 23 Thamils...

The political system of Sri Lanka since 1948 has failed the Thamil people and is rotten to the core. It has been infected by the virus of racism. Now the virus has spread to the judicial system as well.

The judgment by the Supreme Court on the demerger of the North and East provinces was a classic case where racism got the better of jurisprudence.

THE sentencing of J.S.Tissanayagam, editor of the NorthEastern Monthly ezine, to 20 years hard labour by a Sinhala judge after being convicted for using racially divisive language under the country’s tough anti-terrorism laws, comes as little or no surprise to us. Tissanayagam was further charged with having taken money from the LTTE to operate a website providing the Thamil version of facts about the civil war. His main crime was to write 2 articles in the now-defunct Northeastern Monthly in 2006 and 2007 criticizing the Sri Lankan persecution of the Thamils who were seeking an independent homeland.

J S Tissainayagam Sept 2 2009In fact, Tissanayagam is extremely lucky he is still alive, unlike many of his colleagues who have paid the price of media freedom with their own lives.

The arrest, trial and conviction of Tissanayagam is a racially motivated revenge act and confirms the widely held belief that Sri Lanka is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for independent journalists.

According to Amnesty International and the Asian Human Rights Commission, Tissanayagam’s evidence that he purportedly co-operated with the LTTE was fabricated and the criminal charges against him were trumped up in order to silence his anti-government views.

Sri Lanka has an abysmal record regarding press freedom. The International Committee to Protect Journalists (ICPJ) ranks only Iran, Sierra Leone, Somalia and Colombia as worse in their mistreatment of reporters.

Since Mahinda Rajapakse’s elevation as president, 27 journalists and media workers have been killed in cold blood.  Out of those three were Sinhalese, one Muslim and 23 Thamils.

Well known defence analyst Dharmaratnam Sivaram was abducted by 4 men in a white van in front of the Bambalapitya police station in Colombo on April 29, 2005. Later his body was found near the parliamentary complex within a high security zone.

The Editor in Chief of the Sunday Leader and one of Sri Lanka’s best known journalists Lasantha Wickremetunge was murdered by gunmen on motorcycles in broad daylight on January 09, 2009 en route to work. The murder of Lasantha came just two days after the arson attack against private TV broadcaster MBC / MTV networks that destroyed their Main Control Room and studios worth millions.

In all these murders there were few arrests and no convictions in a court of law. Understandably, the accused fingers were pointed towards top elite of the government, especially Defence Secretary Gotabhaya.  

However, the Rajapakse government points to some mysterious armed force hell bent on discrediting the government. It has done what it does best – expressed outrage, ordered a full investigation and appointed a committee to investigate the attacks.

If there are mysterious armed groups on the loose wantonly murdering journalists and vandalising private and independent media establishments, one must ask why the Government has done to protect the freedom of expression and media freedom from such armed groups?

The Rajapakse brothers are virtual dictators who have displayed scant regard or tolerance for criticism against their policies, practices, statements and beliefs. The conviction of Tissanayagam confirms fears of planned terror campaign against critical voices, conducted without pause and in complete impunity.

If Tissanayagam is  sentenced for 20 years hard labour  for using racially divisive language under the country’s Anti-Terrorism law,  how many years should  a racist and brutish Lt. General Sarath Fonseka be put behind the bars  for saying  publically  that Sri Lanka ‘belongs’ to the majority Sinhalese?  

Sarath Fonseka told the National Post “I strongly believe that this country belongs to the Sinhalese but there are minority communities and we treat them like our people...We being the majority of the country, 75%, we will never give in and we have the right to protect this country...We are also a strong nation ... They can live in this country with us. But they must not try to, under the pretext of being a minority, demand undue things." His interview to the National Post of Canada on September 23, 2008 remains un-contradicted.  

To be charitable to Sarath Fonseka, J.R. Jayewardene referring to the 1983 racial pogrom vomited undisguised racism. He said -

“But I cannot see, and my Government cannot see, any other way by which we can appease the natural desire and request of the Sinhala people to prevent the country being divided, and to see that those who speak for division are not able to do so legally." (Quoted in Lawasia Report 'Democracy in Peril - Sri Lanka, a Country in Crisis' by Patricia Hyndman, 7 June 1985)

Tissanayagam's conviction is not the beginning but the culmination of years of racist discrimination, ethnic cleansing, suppression and a brutal war that claimed the lives of over 100,000 Thamils.

Those who claim they are fighting a “War against Terrorism” should themselves scrupulously respect the norms and values of democracy and human rights, of which the tolerance of criticism is a fundamental facet. Those who resort to egregious violence are enemies of democracy and become terrorists themselves.

The International media rights groups have rightly accused the government of using emergency laws to silence public criticism of its conduct and has failed to investigate violent attacks – and killings – of journalists. They have opined that we may as well write the obituary for media freedom and the freedom of expression in Sri Lanka.

"The imposition of this extremely severe sentence on Tissainayagam suggests that some Sri Lanka judges confuse justice with revenge," says Reporters Without Borders, adding that it is “appalled" by the sentence.

As reported by The Economist, “Sri Lanka has failed to honour important human-rights commitments, and is ineligible for GSP Plus. Widespread police torture, abductions of journalists, politicised courts and un-investigated disappearances have all played a part in creating a state of “complete or virtually complete impunity in Sri Lanka.”"

This is why we say the conviction of Tissanayagam on some ludicrous charges under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) was no surprise.

Tissanayagam criticized Mahinda Rajapakse’s government for using food, medicine and other essential items as weapons of war.  He also accused the Sinhala armed forces of carrying out extrajudicial executions -- murdering civilian Thamils as a warning to Thamils not to support the LTTE.  

The Sri Lankan government stoked fears of terrorism to provide a pretext for draconian anti-terrorism laws and regulations. It uses  the  PREVENTION OF  TERRORISM ACT  (PTA) and the armed forces  as  instruments  of  STATE TERROR to cow down the Thamils at the point of  the gun and keep them  in chains. Even after the recent military victory - abduction, detention, disappearances, collective punishment, extra-judicial executions and the systematic use of torture by the armed forces continue unabated.  

The political system of Sri Lanka since 1948 has failed the Thamil people and is rotten to the core. It has been infected by the virus of racism. Now the virus has spread to the judicial system as well.

The judgment by the Supreme Court on the demerger ofthe North and East provinces was a classic case where racism got the better of jurisprudence.  Addressing a gathering in Trincomalee on   June 07, 2009   the former Chief Justice Sarath N.  Silva claimed   he carefully studied the Sinhala heritage in the provinces before delivering the judgment. 

We blame the Western countries, notably the US which by banning the LTTE and providing arms, intelligence, surveillance, etc. gave the Rajapakse government a green light to decimate the Thamils and is guilty of aiding and abetting a rogue state. Rajapakse simply exploited the cynical cry of “War against terrorism” to defeat the LTTE, impose Sinhala hegemony and subjugate the Thamil race.

The Canadian government voted to give a whopping US 2.6 billion (690 million more than the amount asked) to a government that is accused of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Hitherto the international community demonized the LTTE ,which fought a liberation war that mirrored Thamil aspirations, as a “terrorist organization” engaged in suicide bombings, child soldiers, human shields and "terrorism". Such conditions no longer exist according to the Sri Lankan government's own proclamations. Now the international community has no excuse to stand by and watch the continuing violence of genocidal proportions against an entire people. The New York Times in an editorial said "The time for silence is over. The best way to help the Thamils is by demanding their freedom and an end to their long ordeal.”

The vanity, avarice and arrogance demonstrated by the Sinhala rulers with a servile media are mind boggling.

We repeat the charge that the arrest, detention, trial and conviction of Tissanayagam are racially motivated.  Based on our past experience, we realise the futility of appealing or pleading with the international community and lame duck UNO, UNHRC for justice and fairness.

Unless the international community displays political will to see the true nature of the Sri Lankan polity, where racism has infected the entire political and judicial system, there is no hope for peace, stability and security.  

The US Declaration of Independence states rather pompously, “We hold these truths to be as self-evident that all men are created equal,” but who is listening? Karl Marx put it, perhaps, not very differently: "Philosophers have interpreted the world, the point, however, is to change it.”