I haven’t written on the arrest of Tissainayagam till now. For one thing I didn’t know that much about the case, for another I’ve been a bit scared myself. The one thing I’ve personally drawn from the case is that they can do whatever they want. I read through the case finally and it seems that he was convicted for 20 years for publishing a magazine that sold about 50 copies and for receiving deposits of about Rs. 50,000. There must be more, but that’s what seems to have been said in court. I read some of the stuff and I don’t agree with it, but it is what many people think, especially among the Tamil community. I think the sentence and the prosecution is a bit absurd, and tragically so.
I say absurd because Tissainayagam is such a small fish. No one’s ever heard of the North Eastern Monthly and the Sunday Times pieces weren’t that big. He wasn’t reporting specifically on defence affairs, procurement, or sensitive information. He was saying that the army was bombing and blockading Vaharai. In the common view, criticizing the military is tantamount to treason. It is quite possible that Tissainagayam didn’t want the army to win. However, I’m not sure this is enough to prosecute him under the Prevention Of Terrorism Act.
That Act, applicable under emergency, basically makes it illegal to rile up communal tension. It is already illegal under the Constitution to call for a separate state. However, I think it’s a bit of a stretch to say that a little read magazine was riling up communal tensions so. Many if not most Tamils didn’t support the war. It is also quite possible to be, say, a Buddhist and not support the war, or not support it for any number of reasons. That doesn’t make one a traitor.
The most damning accusation for Tissa, however, was that he met with the LTTE and took money from them. I do think it’s possible for a journalist to meet terrorist groups in the course of doing a story. Reporters do meet with the Taliban, Hamas, etc. People did meet with the LTTE. Taking orders and money from them, however, is something else. That charge, however, seems to rest as much on the deposits being anonymous as anything else. And they were tiny amounts.
All in all it adds up to a small and probably harmless fish, fried at very high temperature. I don’t think it’s about the case so much as just showing that the government can do what they want. That dissent, especially anything akin to Tamil Nationalist dissent, will be crushed. I should be clear that I don’t agree with Tamil Nationalism/Chauvinism myself, but I’m not sure punishing its expression with hard labor is either proportional or just.
Tissa’s prosecution plus Lasantha’s killing all send a pretty clear signal. The government can do whatever they want. People had better stay in line. That’s kinda why I didn’t say anything for so long. I heard the message loud and clear.