Save Tamils Movement
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Tissainayagam Case: Brief Facts
S. Tissainayagam, a senior journalist and Sunday Times columnist, was sentenced to twenty-year rigorous
imprisonment by Colombo High Court on 31st August 2009. Mr. Tissainayagam has been indicted under the notorious Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), 1979 and Emergency Regulations (ER), and was charged on three counts including printing and distributing the publication North Eastern Herald Monthly magazine.
Journalist Tissainayagam was detained on March 7, 2008 when he went to the Sri Lanka's Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) to look for his colleagues Jasikaran and Valarmathy. He was detained for almost six months without charges.
The evidence against Tissainayagam and Jasiharan amounts to little else than two articles published in the
Northeastern Monthly. The first of these, which ran as an editorial in the July 2006 issue, commented that “the inability to protect its citizens within the areas it controls has caused Sri Lanka international embarrassment”. After a brief consideration of the security dilemmas faced by Tamils in government-controlled areas in the north and east of Sri Lanka, the editorial argued that they could expect no protection from the Government, since “it is the state security forces that are the main perpetrator of the killings”.
The second article, published under Tissainayagam’s initials in November 2006, drew attention to the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the eastern provincial town of Vaharai, which had been targeted by a sustained campaign of artillery and aerial bombardment as Sri Lankan forces sought its recapture from Tamil Tiger rebels.
Tissainayagam commented that the Government was not doing this “without design”. “By trapping the Tamil population inVaharai”, he argued, the Government hoped to create a “human shield” that would prevent any Tamil Tigeroffensives further south. “At the same time, starving and bombing Tamil civilians in Vaharai (would) createdisaffection between them and the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) leading to friction and ill-will.Such internal quarrels (would) act as insulator for the Government in the highly vulnerable East.”
Tissainayagam for his part said in his testimony before the High Court in Colombo that he stands by all that he has written. Aside from what he wrote in 2006, the main evidence against Tissa is the confession that he is purported to have voluntarily signed. But then, Tissa’s defence has got evidence that his confession statement, as recorded by the cops who arrested him, was seriously tampered with. There are 57 alterations made in black ink, where Tissa has signed off on the margins. There is one which is made in blue, where he has not signed. And this is a crucial detail: in place of “I told the LTTE, I do not need your money”, we have the confession stating “I told the LTTE I do need your money”.
The defence has made the case that apart from the discrepancy in the inks used and the absence of Tissa’s initials in the margin, this particular detail is wrong in terms of the written syntax of Tamil (diacritics etc) and was obviously interpolated into the statement by somebody who did not know the language.
The defence is appealing against this sentence shortly.
Mr. Tissainayagam also won Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism by RSF and Global Media Forum (GMF) in the month of August 2009.
US President Barak Obama on Tissainayagam during World Press Freedom Day speech in May 09 says
“Tissainayagam and journalists like him are guilty of nothing more than a passion for truth and a tenacious belief that afree society depends on an informed citizenry”
Srilankan State’s Oppression of Media
The present government headed by Mahinda Rajapaksa has systematically targeted the media community to
ruthlessly suppress all freedom of expression in the country. The violence unleashed against the media can be
gauged by the fact that in the last two and a half years about 20 journalists have been killed and over 35 journalists driven by fear and threat had to flee the country and live in exile. A matter to be noted is that in the killings of journalists, a distinctive feature is the targeting of Tamil journalists, especially those who exposed the human rights abuses of the government. The best known example of the state of terror and impunity is the killing of well known editor of the Sunday Leader, Lasantha Wickramathunge on January 7th, 2009 by a gang in broad daylight as he was traveling in his car from his residence to his office. The killers have still not been apprehended. 17.
We attach a list of media workers killed, abducted and arrested between 24th January, 2006 and February, 2009 as an illustration of the state of terror prevailing in Sri Lanka.
- Lasantha Wickrematunge, Editor of Sunday Leader daily, also a freelance reporter for TIME was shot dead by unidentified men in January 2009. Lasantha was an outspoken critic of Sri Lankan Government’s conduct on warfare.
In the words of Mr.lasantha in his last article title ‘And Then they came for me” says
“Indeed, murder has become the primary tool whereby the state seeks to control the organs of liberty. Today
it is the journalists, tomorrow it will be the judges. For neither group have the risks ever been higher or the
Prohibition of Media Reporting & Denial of Free access to International Media: The Sri Lankan government has ensured that no independent media persons are allowed access to the war zones or to the camps. Even UN agencies and other aid workers have been barred from visiting or working in the area. As a result there is no independent verification of events occurring in the war zones. Whenever media people are allowed access it is by way of a guided tour of specified areas under the watch of security forces without free access to meet with people and collect information. Thus all information emanating from the war zones are only the official statements of the Sri Lankan government. The outside world has no means to verify the same. Anyone violating the government’s ban is visited with serious life threatening consequences.
Appeal to the Journalist Community
We “Save Tamils Movement” an independent IT professional’s movement condemns the sentencing of journalist J.S.Tissainayagam and to twenty years rigorous imprisonment under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) on August 31,2009.
We “Save Tamil Movement” denounced the verdict as a direct violation of Tissainayagam's right to freedom of expression and more broadly as an assault on press freedom in Sri Lanka. The right to freedom of opinion and expression is protected under international law and is also recognized in the Sri Lankan Constitution. Sri Lanka has misused the PTA and the Emergency Regulations (ER) to silence a critical voice and violate Mr Tissainayagam's rights to freedom of opinion and expression.
We “Save Tamils Movement” appeal to the Journalist community in India & South Asia to appeal with the Co-Chairs and pressurize the Sri Lankan Government on the following:
1. Unconditional release of Journalist Tissainayagam and his two colleagues and dropping the
charges framed under PTA.
2. Free access to International Media to the IDP camps located in vavuniya