We have been getting several tips about the conviction of a Sri Lankan journalist, J.S. Tissainayagam, who has written articles critical of the Sri Lankan government for a magazine. Tissinayagam has been sentenced to 20 years in prison under Sri Lanka’s emergency laws:
J. S. Tissainayagam, editor of the North Eastern Monthly magazine, wrote articles highly critical of a government military offensive against Tamil Tiger rebels who had controlled a large chunk of Sri Lankaâ€™s north. The government decisively defeated the Tigers in a bloody final battle on a strip of beach in northern Sri Lanka in May.
Mr. Tissainayagam was arrested in 2008 and charged under Sri Lankaâ€™s powerful emergency laws, which were enacted in response to the Tamil Tiger insurgency. The insurgents, members of the Hindu Tamil minority, sought a separate state from Sri Lankaâ€™s Buddhist, Sinhalese majority. Prosecutors argued that Mr. Tissainayagam had received money and other support from the Tamil Tigers in exchange for writing articles critical of the government. Mr. Tissainayagam has repeatedly denied this.
As is often the case with local journalists in conflict zones, Mr. Tissainayagamâ€™s reporting reflected the prevailing point of view of the minority to which he belonged, but the government argued his work went further. (link)
I don’t know about the supposed evidence that Tissainayagam ever took money directly from the LTTE, or gave money to them. It’s very difficult, from this distance, to know whether there is any validity to that. Obviously, if you’re critical of the Sri Lankan government you’re likely to be extremely skeptical about that part of the story. By contrast, if you’re critical primarily of the LTTE, you might wonder where the funding for Tissainayagam’s magazine, North Eastern Monthly came from. While it is difficult to find neutral answers to those sorts of questions from a distance, it is possible to read his journalistic work, and see whether Tissainayagam seems like an honest broker or a propagandist. It may not really make much difference in the end (even if he is primarily a propagandist, he shouldn’t be in prison for merely expressing his opinion), but it’s better than simply throwing up one’s hands yet again in frustration.
A pro-LTTE site named TamilNation has links to many of Tissainayagam’s articles over the past few years. I have only read a few, and my initial inclination is to say that while Tissainayagam seems to clearly have a pro-Tamil bias, it is far from clear from what I have read that he is unambiguously pro-LTTE. For example, this article focuses on the U.S. decision to withhold military aid to Sri Lanka on account of human rights violations seems pretty straightforward and defensible. But I found it harder to follow Tissainayagam’s point of view in another piece, reacting to a GoSL report on LTTE child soldiers. There are simply too many acronyms (for me at least); it appears he’s defending the fact that the LTTE abducted children by suggesting that other parties in Sri Lanka do this too…?
Incidentally, President Obama singled out Tissainayagam in a speech some months ago as an example of a journalist who had been imprisoned purely for expressing his opinion.