Apart from the issue of war crimes that I’ve written about lately, there’s another urgent human rights crisis in Sri Lanka: thousands of people are being detained without charge or trial under the country’s repressive anti-terrorism laws. Some have been held for 10 years or more.
Please write to the Sri Lankan government and ask that all those detained under these laws are either promptly released or else charged with recognizable crimes. Sri Lanka’s emergency regulations and Prevention of Terrorism Act should be promptly repealed.
The Sri Lankan journalist J.S. Tissainayagam (often referred to as “Tissa“) is finally free! As I wrote on this site earlier, Tissa had been sentenced last year to 20 years’ hard labor, after an unfair trial, for criticizing the Sri Lankan government’s conduct of the war against the Tamil Tigers in a couple magazine articles. Amnesty International had adopted Tissa as a “prisoner of conscience,” since he was being prosecuted solely for his legitimate journalistic activities. While the Sri Lankan government had announced on May 3 that President Rajapaksa had decided to pardon Tissa, as of June 9 the pardon still hadn’t been issued. Nor did we know whether his rights would be fully restored, including the right to leave the country.
Well, his pardon has finally come through and he has gotten his passport back. As the Committee to Protect Journalists has reported, Tissa arrived in Washington, DC yesterday morning. Thank you very, very much to all those who wrote on his behalf; I’m sure it helped a lot in getting his freedom restored.
Now’s the time for the Sri Lankan government to take other steps to demonstrate its respect for media freedom and human rights, including determining the fate of the disappeared journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda and repealing the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the emergency regulations. I hope I’ll be able to report more good news again soon.
The Sri Lankan Supreme Court yesterday acquitted five soldiers for the murder of 10 Muslim youths in Udathalawinna on December 5, 2001, during a general election. The five had been security guards of Anuruddha Ratwatte, the then deputy minister of defence. Ratwatte and his two sons had earlier been charged for the murders as well but were acquitted in 2006. Ten young men are dead and no one, to my knowledge, has been convicted for their murder. Is this how Sri Lanka punishes the guilty?
I couldn’t help thinking of this case when I heard that a verdict is expected on August 31 in the trial of J.S. Tissainayagam, a Sri Lankan journalist. Tissainayagam is being tried for allegedly violating the country’s emergency regulations and Prevention of Terrorism Act. The only evidence against him are two articles he wrote in 2006 in a monthly magazine criticizing the government’s conduct of the war against the Tamil Tigers and a confession that his lawyer says was obtained under duress. Amnesty International has adopted him as a prisoner of conscience and calls for his immediate, unconditional release and for all charges against him to be dropped. Will we see an acquittal for him on August 31? Or do acquittals only apply for the powerful and those connected to them?