Tamil journalists slam draconian laws

[TamilNet, Sunday, 06 May 2001, 15:00 GMT]
"The Emergency Regulations and the Prevention of Terrorism Act are laws designed specifically to oppress the Tamil people", said Mr. P. Manickavasagam, the President of the Tamil Media Alliance, addressing a meeting in Batticaloa organised Sunday by the East Lanka Journalist Association to mark the World Press Freedom Day. "The Amnesty International has said in its report that the Eelam People's Democratic Party is suspected in the murder of Jaffna journalist Maylvaganam Nimalarajan.

We cannot have any faith in the government until it brings his murderers to book", said Mr. R. Thurairatnam, the President of the East Lanka Journalistsí Association in his opening address.

Mr. Manickavasagam said that Sri Lankaís law uses double standards in dealing with Tamil journalists, pointing out how a Tamil journalist was questioned by the Criminal Investigation Department of the Police for carrying a telephone interview with LTTE advisor Dr. Anton Balasingham while Sinhala and English papers that published interviews with the organisationís political wing leader S.P Thamil Chelvan had no problems with the law.

Mr. R. Thurairatnam, President of the East Lanka Journalists' Association addressing the meeting at the Teachers' Training College auditorium in Batticaloa town Sunday. (Photo: TamilNet)
Mr. D. Sivaram, columnist for the Daily Mirror underscored the fact that the media cannot dissociate itself from the freedoms of the larger society in which it functions, that its freedom is quintessentially bound with that of the society in which it functions. "There is no room at all for justice in the Emergency Regulations, the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the Proscription of the Liberation Tigers Act. They hang like the sword of Damocles over the Tamils. One could be sentenced from seven to fourteen years in prison purely at the discretion of the Minister of Defence for publishing an interview with a member of the Liberation Tigers under the Proscription of the LTTE Act that was passed in 1998".

"It is nothing but the fear of international media exposure, the concern that unmitigated injustice would send more recruits to the Tigers and the discretion and boldness of a few judicial officials that prevent the system from using these laws to inhumanly and comprehensively destroy the Tamil people. This should be clearly understood. Human Rights NGOs wittingly and unwittingly create the illusion that a degree of justice is possible within the regime of these lawsî". "In that sense the Tamil media itself is often guilty of creating the illusion that the system is just by giving prominence to stories relating to temporary relief or judicial measures", Mr Sivaram said.

Mr. Perinpam Premnath, attorney at law who spoke on 'press freedom under the Emergency Regulation and the Prevention of Terrorism Act' said although the Sri Lankan government passed the Torture Act in 1994 under which the Attorney General has to file action against members of the security forces who have been found guilty of torture in courts very little action has been taken to date. He said that courts have found several members of the security forces guilty of torture in hundreds of cases from the north and east but little has been done under the Torture Act.

"The Police or the security forces can silence a journalist by arresting him under the Emergency Regulations and then prolonging his detention under the Prevention Terrorism Act indefinitely. 'Failing to provide information about the activities of terrorists' is a crime punishable under the PTA. Tamil journalists living in the war zones are particularly vulnerable under this provision of the PTA and hence they cannot carry out their duties without the constant fear of this law being used against them at the back of their mind", Mr. Premnath said. He pointed out that there is no law of the land that prevents a person from going to a place because the freedom of movement is a fundamental right; but that this right is denied by the Pass system in Vavuniya and Mannar and restricts journalists from reporting the truth in areas that are not under the armyís control.

"There are two important issues that have to be consistently and cogently explained to the Tamil people by the media because they have been violated and denied systematically. They are the right to life and the right to self-determination. The right to self determination is the right of a community to determine its own political future", said Mr. J.S Tissanayagam, columnist for the Sunday Leader paper in his address.


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