It’s been ages since we’ve discussed Sri Lanka, one of our pet topics dating back to this blog’s earliest days. And so it pains us to revisit the island nation under such disturbing circumstances—namely, today’s news that Tamil journalist J.S. Tissainayagam has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for violating the sweeping Prevention of Terrorism Act.
Given the nature of our profession, we’re naturally inclined to side with our fellow ink-stained wretches. But even the most hardened media cynic should be incensed by the flimsiness of the charges against Tissainayagam. The meat of the government’s indictment can be found here; Tissainayagam’s main crime seems to have been the accusation that the Sri Lankan army was committing atrocities. Here’s a few lines from a November 2006 North-Eastern Monthly article that particularly riled the regime:
“Such offensives against the civilians are accompanied by attempts to starve the population by refusing them food as well as medicines and fuel, with the hope of driving out the people of Vaharai and depopulating it. As this story is being written Vaharai is being subject to intense shelling and aerial bombardment.”
Hyperbolic? Perhaps—though, given the Sri Lankan military’s alleged behavior during its endgame versus the Tamil Tigers, it doesn’t seem outside the realm of possibility. But the veracity of Tissainayagam’s claims should be a matter for public debate in Sri Lanka—such is the nature of a free press. There exists no doubt in our minds that simply accusing one’s government of misconduct should be considered tantamount to aiding and abetting a terrorist organization. Yet Tissainayagam was prosecuted and punished as if he’d openly called for his fellow Tamils to slaughter government troops.
We are under no delusion that most of our fellow countrymen give two figs about Sri Lanka. But if ever a case called for folks to take a keener interest in the erstwhile Ceylon, this is it. Learn more about Tissainayagam’s plight here and here. And check out a translation of one of his article on Tamil child soldiers here.