Friday, August 29, 2008

The first instance of a journalist being accused

J.S. Tissanayagam was indicted, in the first instance of a journalist being accused under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, in the Colombo High Court yesterday (Aug. 25th) on charges of having plotted to bring the government into disrepute and having attempted to incite communal feelings.
In the indictment, the Attorney General has mentioned three counts including offences under the Prevention of Terrorism Act in respect of the printing, publishing, and distribution of the magazine 'North Eastern Monthly' during the period between 1st June 2006 and 1st June 2007.
Offences under the PTA in respect of bringing the government into disrepute by the publication of articles in the said magazine.
The third charge is the violation of Emergency Regulations issued under Gazette Extraordinary 1474/3 of December 2006, by aiding and abetting terrorist organizations through the raising of money for the said magazine.
The journalist has been held in detention in the custody of the Terrorist Investigation Department since 7th March 2008.
Tissanayagam's lawyer Nalin Ladduwahetti requested bail for his client, to which the state counsel objected, saying that the HC has no powers to release him on bail as he is being held under detention orders.
Judge Deepali Wijesundara fixed the 09th of September as the next day of hearing.
Several local and international rights groups have been raising Tissanayagam's prolonged detention.
According to the Free Media Movement, the PTA has always been widely regarded as a 'draconian piece of legislation' that has led to the abuse of power, ethnic discrimination, the suppression of liberty, and is inconsistent with international standards of human rights protection.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Reporters Without Borders/Reporters sans frontières

14 August 2008SRI LANKA

Call for release of website editor accused of terrorism

Reporters Without Borders calls on the Sri Lankan government to release J. S. Tissainayagam, a Tamil journalist who has been held since March. A government minister has just said he is charged with terrorism on the basis of articles written in 2006 and his activities as the editor of a website."This respected journalist's illegal and unjust detention is being accompanied by grotesque charges that are a serious violation of the freedom of expression guaranteed in the Sri Lankan constitution," Reporters Without Borders said."How can the expression of a personal view, which is based on facts known to everyone and which does not call for violence, be an act of terrorism," the press freedom organisation said. "We urge the international community, including the European Union, to press for Tissainayagam's release."In a 12 August letter to Human Rights Watch, disaster management and human rights secretary Rajiva Wijesinha said that, after a long police investigation, Tissainayagam was now facing terrorism charges. But the only evidence he offered was a 2006 article in a magazine edited by Tissainayagam in which he spoke of an army offensive in a Tamil region that was being accompanied by a dramatic humanitarian crisis for the civilian population.The letter can be read on the Peace in Sri Lanka website ( contributor to the Sunday Times newspaper, Tissainayagam was arrested in Colombo on 7 March, just a few weeks after creating a news website called Outreachlk with funding from FLICT, an NGO supported by the German development agency GTZ. The authorities extended his detention for another three months on 6 June in order to continue their investigation.The police have apparently tried to establish that articles he wrote in 2006 supported Tamil Tiger terrorism. His case was referred to the attorney-general's office on 4 July. He is being held by the anti-terrorism police in Colombo, where his lawyer has never been allowed to talk to him in private.--Vincent BrosselAsia - Pacific DeskReporters Sans Frontières47 rue Vivienne75002 Paris33 1 44 83 84 7033 1 45 23 11 51 (fax)asia@rsf.org
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A Story About a Tamil Called Tissa Tissainayagam
A Story About a Tamil Called Tissa Tissainayagam
By Eric HüblerThu
. Mar 27, 2008
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A dissident columnist is hauled away on a meaningless “detention order.” His frantic wife says he has been beaten — and is, in all likelihood, being beaten at this moment. She begs a family friend with international ties to get word out; the friend fires off an email to an influential American acquaintance, begging him to use his pull with Washington and the media to put unrelenting pressure on the embassy.
In a world full of violent opposition to insensitive authority, this must happen daily. The difference here is that the role of the influential American is to be played by me. And the gaping hole in the plan is: I’m not influential.
In 1980, as best as I remember, the American Field Service sent a Sri Lankan exchange student to my New Jersey high school, and we fell into the same clique. She was a member of a minority ethnic group, the Tamils, but that didn’t seem significant; she was the exotic kid we liked to hang out with.
Three years later, at college, I learned by crinkly, sky-blue aerogramme that she and her family narrowly escaped lynching when a mob of majority Sinhalese stormed their apartment house to avenge a guerrilla attack on the police. She became a teacher, got married, and raised her children as cycles of insurgency, counter-insurgency and parliamentary incapacity wrecked her country.
Now, thanks to a panicky email from someone I remember fondly but haven’t spoken with for decades, I find myself fretting over a man I never heard of. Knowing nothing about J.S. “Tissa” Tissainayagam except he was there and then wasn’t, I Googled him.
It wasn’t a great way to become acquainted. I found many of his clips on what appears to be the Web site of the Tamil Tiger guerrillas — who, to their eternal damnation, pioneered the suicide bomb, making them and anyone remotely connected with them accessories to so many murders, in so many places, for so many causes that, surely, could have been addressed more intelligently.
Is Tissa a party hack? Does he deserve the international publicity without which, his wife has reason to believe, he’ll die?
“There is no such thing as an independent journalist in this country,” my schoolmate emailed. “Thirty years of viciousness has effectively cleared the middle ground…. The civic institutions and rights that the West take for granted are barely imaginable here.”
Still, she was outraged I would even raise the possibility of Tissa’s being an apologist for terrorism, pointing out that he has twice visited the United States at the government’s invitation.
Perhaps a likelier explanation of his prominence on the guerrillas’ site is that, in addition to being ruthless bastards, the Tigers are greedy bloggers and cast their links wide so as to appropriate those with cleaner reputations. They also pasted up a picture of Jesus, and say what you will about the man, he never shot up a bus.
Maybe I’m over-thinking this. Maybe the essential thing isn’t whether Tissa is a good guy, a bad guy or an enigma. Maybe in an environment as brutal as Sri Lanka has become, to write at all — to think at all — is to pick sides. And with the government resorting to “disappearances” as a political tactic, according to Human Rights Watch, there’s no right side to pick.
In any case, here’s how it’s supposed to be in a free society (or even a free-ish one, which seems to be the best any of us can expect nowadays): Nobody should be punished for having thoughts and sharing them. Not a Tibetan lama, not an Argentine rabbi, not a Palestinian poster-hanger, not a Latin American priest, not a Turkish novelist. Nobody.
The cops of the world may disagree, but there must be a distinction between those who speak reprehensibly and those who act dangerously. Who gets to draw this distinction? We do. I do.
Tissa Tissainayagam is locked up, and somehow it has become my job to bust him loose. If any influential Americans read this: Any ideas?
Eric Hübler is a writer living in Denver