Colombo, Media and Communications, Peace and Conflict, Post-War

The sentencing J.S Tissainayagam: Not in my name!

I am Sandun Ratnaweera, a 59 year old Sri Lankan Sinhalese from the Galle District. I attended Richmond College, and I have a government job.  Sinhalese is the language that my family speaks at home. Therefore I would consider myself a very common Sinhalese man  – just as regular as most of all other Sinhalese in this island.

It is on this basis and identity that I was shocked and appalled at the conviction and the sentencing of J.S Tissainayagam when I first heard it. I was even more appalled when I read more carefully media coverage of his case and sentence. How could anyone come to the conclusion that the common Sinhala man (which I consider myself) could have been incited into violence  – into killing innocent Tamil neighbours  – by two paragraphs? What kind of race do our law-makers think we are – rabble-rousing, irrational, unthinking murderous?

Let us look at the evidence  – these obviously “murderous” paragraphs:-

  1. In the July 2006 the editorial of the North Eastern Monthly Magazine under the heading “Providing security to Tamils now will define northeastern politics of the future” stating, “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.”
  2. In the November 2006 North Eastern Monthly Magazine, under the heading “With no military options Govt. buys time by offering watered-down devolution” he states, “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.”

Considering that the Nishantha Gajanayake (I believe he was the Air Force Commander’s Aide De Camp but I could be wrong) was ultimately arrested for being the master mind behind Tamils being abducted and killed in Colombo and the southern areas, Tissainayagam was right to say that the state security forces were the main perpetrator of the killings. So obviously nothing wrong with that paragraph.

It is the second paragraph then that is supposed to be questionable. From what I know of the news reports everyone was shelling in and out of the area and civilians on both sides were being killed. This statement of Tissainayagam’s is not a ground-breaking statement  – UN officials, the Sunday Leader all reported on the same lines and until there is an official inquiry into the matter one would never know what really happened. But irrespective of the truth or falsity of the matter, this paragraph does not incite me to go and kill, maim or burn any Tamils in the country. As I said earlier in 2006 the Sunday Leader reported these same actions – Kathiravelli bombing etc – it did not incite me then and it does not incite me now.

I have been reading Tissainayagam’s articles for the last 20 years, in all of the English newspapers that he shifted to. I did not agree with almost all of the opinions that he expressed  – but then he was entitled to his opinion and I was entitled to mine – and the world turned as it always had. I was never incited  – not to cause violence not even to take up my pen and counter his opinion.  However I am incited now to take up my pen as the judge has insulted the Sinhala people.

Lets look at the third accusation that has imprisoned Tissainayagam  – that he received 105,000 rupees from the LTTE. Just to make it clear  – it was not 150,000 rupees  – it was 105,000 rupees. In Tissainaygam’s confession he says he received 4 installments amounting to 150,000 but in the indictment, the Attorney General’s department has only considered that three installments were by the LTTE and not the fourth installment. How they came to this conclusion (of 3 not 4) if they only relied on the confession is beyond me  – but these are the facts of the case. Anyway, the Judge thought that Tissainayagam received money for his magazine from the LTTE and that this furthered his intent to incite Sinhalese, convicting him to ten years for this accusation alone. Considering as I have said before that neither my neighbours nor myself have been incited to violence on account of this writing  – that Tissainayagam furthered terrorism is simply not true.

I heard today that Daya Master the LTTE Media head had been released on bail and that according to the Daily Mirror the CID found that they had committed “no crime under the prevention of terrorism act.” If Daya Master, whose only livelihood for the last 30 years was blatant LTTE propaganda and who obviously drew a pay check from the LTTE every month is, in the eyes of our courts, not guilty of any crime under the PTA, I am really at a loss to understand the sentence handed down to Tissainayagam.

Farce is the only word that explains it all.

I am against terrorism and I am glad and very proud that President Mahinda Rajapakse got rid of terrorism in our land. However judgements like this that give our country a bad name, give our race a bad name and undermine all the good work of President Mahinda Rajapakse. Therefore I ask President Rajapakse to restore the Sinhala pride and name and pardon Tissainayagam to show the world that the Sinhalese are actually a peace-loving compassionate people and not easily excitable killers.