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Jailing the Journalists

Sri Lanka’s anti-terror law quashes dissent

By Adam Sievering · May 11th, 2011 · News

While American civilians were preoccupied with an onslaught of fear-inducing swine flu headlines during the winter and spring of 2010, civilians of Sri Lanka were engrossed in the final chapters of a 26-year civil war that left nearly 100,000 corpses in its wake — many of which are yet to be found.

A frightening percentage of the missing people were Sri Lankan journalists, specifically those who felt confident enough to publish damning information about their government’s military campaign against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Journalists who were targeted were those that exposed war crimes and human rights violations including, but not limited to, the government’s use of nuclear equipment in proximity of civilians, forced recruitment of child soldiers, torture, and the widespread killing of civilians residing in LTTE-occupied areas.

Despite rights ensured in the Sri Lankan Constitution that guarantee freedom of press, numerous reports of government-ordered abductions, assassinations and violent raids on newsrooms circulate, prompting human rights organizations like Amnesty International to demand justice for those who have been tortured, killed or wrongfully imprisoned for exercising their constitutional freedoms.

On May 7, award-winning Sri Lankan journalist Jayaprakash Sittampalam Tissainayagam (known as J. S. Tissainayagam, or “Tissa”) spoke about his experience as a prisoner and martyr of the Sri Lankan government at Amnesty International’s Southern Ohio Meeting, held in a conference room at University of Cincinnati’s College of Law.

During his 20 years as a journalist, Tissa wrote political columns about Tamil issues that were frequently critical of the government, but not partisan to the LTTE.

Notably, he served as a reporter for The Sunday Leader under Lasantha Wickrematunge, who was assassinated in January 2009 following the publication of an editorial that stated “Murder has become the primary tool whereby the state seeks to control the organs of liberty,” among other reflections on the government’s brutal censorship of the media. Also, Tissa founded North Eastern Monthly and contributed columns to The Sunday Times prior to his arrest.

On March 7, 2008, he was taken into custody by the Terrorism Investigation Division of the Sri Lankan Police for writing an article in North Eastern Monthly, that stated:

“Providing security to Tamils now will define northeastern politics of the future. It is fairly obvious that the government is not going to offer them any protection. In fact, it is the state security forces that are the main perpetrator of the killings.”

After five months of detention, during which he was allegedly tortured and forced into writing a letter of confession dictated to him, the Colombo High Courts convicted Tissa and sentenced him to 20 years hard labor in prison for inciting communal violence with his writings and receiving money from the LTTE.

He was sentenced under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Similar in nature to the United States’ Patriot Act passed in October 2001, it provides the Sri Lankan police with broad powers to search, arrest and detain suspects. It was first put in place as a temporary law in 1979, and then made permanent in 1982 when the LTTE resistance became formidable.

Proscribed as a terrorist organization by 32 countries, including Sri Lanka and the United States, the “Tamil Tigers” sought to secede from government order and establish an autonomous state in north and eastern regions of Sri Lanka beginning in the early 1980s.

LTTE supporters say the group’s chief objective was to secure a homeland for Eelam Tamils, who are native to the country, but represent an ethnic minority commonly persecuted by the predominantly Sinhalese government.

“My family couldn’t live in Sri Lanka after I was arrested,” says Tissa, who was released on bail by the Court of Appeals on Jan. 11, 2010, after the government received significant pressure from human rights organizations.

“You see, the biggest problem is, once you’ve been arrested for something that’s labeled a terrorist act, you become a terrorist in the public eye. Your family, your friends, anyone who is out to publicly defend you, will also be labeled a terrorist by the government.”

Tissa and his family have taken asylum in the United States. He now studies at Harvard University and speaks candidly about brutal censorship in Sri Lanka, which continues today.

“People will not speak out on important issues because they are scared,” he said. “Fear rules. There needs to be an impartial, international investigation of the war crimes in Sri Lanka because without accountability, there is no justice. Without justice, there is no resolution.”



05.11.2011 at 11:32 Reply
The above article is composed of such deragatory statements such as ".. the government’s use of nuclear equipment in proximity of civilians, forced recruitment of child soldiers, torture, and the widespread killing of civilians residing in LTTE-occupied areas." Please if you are stating that Sri Lanka used nuclear equipment then you probably do not know what are writing about. The war in Sri Lanka was worse than what US encountered with Al Quida. Families had to split up and take separate routes to school, or visit cities because LTTE bombed and massacred people every where. The ending of the war was a result of LTTE's overestimation of its strength and deliberate attempt lure in Sri Lanka army in to a humanitarian catastrophe. There have been certain journalist targeted for multiple reasons. I say look at it from your perspective. If US Army is fighting the war and all one journalist can do is pass state secrets to terrorists and publish military weaknesses then what would happen to that person in the US?


05.12.2011 at 03:55
http://transcurrents.com/tc/2011/02/what_our_country_consequently.html Independence Day Message from the Rt. Rev. Duleep de Chickera, Metropolitan’s Commissary and Vicar General of the Diocese of Colombo, 2 February 2011: ‘’.... The end of the war provided an excellent opportunity for healing the wounds of the past. …. We have failed to address the pressing crises of displacement and poverty, corruption and waste, good governance and national integration. …. The old order is either incapable of, or reluctant to replace unjust systems and discriminatory trends with a more just order for the good of all our people. What our country consequently needs is a new political will that will restore the sovereignty of the people and bring about true national integration. .…’’


05.11.2011 at 01:00 Reply
LTTE's use of terror made possible for Sri Lanka to fig leaf its chauvunist agenda. From disenfranchisement to pogroms and enforced disappearances, Sri Lankan agenda is to uproot as much Tamils as possible from the island nation, ever since the British handed over the country to the majority Sinhalese. Sri Lanka was not conducting a "war on terror" but it was a cover to uproot Tamils. No compensation was ever paid to Tamils for all the pogroms Sri Lankan govt organized since 1956. Recently the United Nations published a report alleging Sri Lankan govt. willfully attacked Tamils civilians during the 2008-2009 scorched earth onslught. And the govt. goes arounf thretening Tamils to sign a petition against UN Secretary General. Even a Catholic priest was dragged and forced to sign the pettion.


05.11.2011 at 10:45 Reply
In April 2010, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) ranked Sri Lanka the fourth worst country in the world for press freedom on its Impunity Index, which spotlights places where "journalists are slain and their killers go free". Over 10 journalists have been killed in as many years, and CPJ alone has helped over 19 journalists to flee the country since 2009. http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=54308 Lasantha was an editor of a leading newspaper, an equivalent of Washington Post. He was among the many journalists murdered in Sri Lanka. In Sri Lanka, members of Parliament have been murdered in day-light for not toeing the government’s line. These people are the equivalent of the US House representatives or Senators. But, nothing has been done about all these killings. Imaging these murders and abuse happening in the US, let alone killing more than 40,000. The recent UN report said Sri Lanka asked civilians to go to “safe areas” designated by the government and then bombed and shelled the area, and said the government bombed frontline hospitals. sri lanka still doesn’t allow indepebndent journalist to the Tamil areas in the North East, and even the ICRC is banned from access to these areas. Any genuine person would cry foul. Defending this murderous terrorist Sri Lankan regime? Compare it with the US? No shame?


05.12.2011 at 07:58
who sponsored that commitee.


05.12.2011 at 02:08 Reply
Here is the US ambassador Robert Blake's assessment. The tamils you will see are hardly the victims. " The LTTE, the so-called Tamil Tigers, have been on our terrorist list since 1997. One of the most brutal, lethal terrorist organizations in the world. As the Sri Lankan army was pushing north into the Tamil areas, the predominantly Tamil areas that were controlled by the LTTE for more than two decades, they displaced, the Sri Lankan army displaced a large number of Tamil civilians and they all began to move northwards. The LTTE systematically refused international efforts to allow those internally displaced persons to move south. To move away from the conflict areas where they could have been given food and shelter and so forth. So they systematically basically refused all efforts and in fact violated international law by not allowing freedom of movement to those civilians. So had the LTTE actually allowed people to move south, none of this would have happened in the first place, so it’s important to make that point. I think that often gets lost in the debate on this. Secondly, the LTTE often deliberately put its heavy artillery in the midst of civilian encampments, precisely to draw fire so that people would get killed in the hopes that there would then be international outrage and there would be essentially demands on the Sri Lankan government to stop the fighting and [agree to] some sort of negotiated settlement. The Sri Lankans, not without reason, argued that the LTTE was really never interested in peace and that they had always used ceasefires as a way to regroup and rearm themselves, so they essentially refused any efforts to resume the peace process. So we faced this very very difficult situation. On the one hand we wanted to see the defeat of a terrible terrorist organization that had been responsible for hundreds if not thousands of civilian casualties. On the other hand we wanted to ensure that there were not going to be civilian casualties as a result of this. I have to say, both sides were guilty of massive human rights violations that caused the deaths of many many civilians. I think, just to say what I said earlier, which is for this country now to recover from this experience


05.12.2011 at 03:51
http://transcurrents.com/news-views/archives/139 National integration is still where it was when Prabhakaran’s body was found at Nandhikkadal, Somapala Gunadheera(a Sinhalese retired senior civil servant), 2 May 2011: It is an open secret that there is widespread disappointment and disillusionment about the inordinate delay in implementing urgent measures to bring about national reconciliation, as promised at the victory celebrations. This lethargy has caused much loss of face to the Government, nationally and internationally and resulted in substantial material loss to the country. The credibility gap created by the inaction is widening day by day. Lip service alone cannot bridge it convincingly. What is needed is prompt action.


05.12.2011 at 07:55 Reply
Srilanka has been a democracy since it gained independece from British conquest. The country boasts to have reached all millenium developmental goals set by the UN well befre any other nation in South Asia and Latin America. Even Tissa got absolute free education in Srilanka including free heath care. British brought 2 million Tamils from South India and enslaved them. All those were just abondoned when British had to leave beccuse Hitler was hiting England. Srilankan majority graciously absorbed them into their nation. No tamil in Srilanka was ever treated as bad as Blacks were/are treated here in these United States. Guantanamo may have some innocents there, Even Obama the half whie President who got elected by promising closure of Gitmo is holding those prisoners there. It is easy to criticize a small island nation who has been free for suppressing terror that plagued them for 30 years. We only had one 9/11, they had that for 30 consequetive years.


05.12.2011 at 03:40
Remember how over half a million up-country-Tamils were disenfranchised and repatriated. How could you forget?