The following article appeared in TamilNet and has been republished below.
Economic aid should be linked to press freedom in Sri Lanka, veteran Tamil journalist J. S. Tissainayagam, who was released from government custody by international pressure earlier this year, said on Wednesday. In his first interview since his release, Mr. Tissainayagam rejected arguments that ‘quiet diplomacy’ would achieve better conduct from President Mahinda Rajapakse regime, and said “the more pressure that is put publicly, the more the government is willing to act”. He linked his own release directly to the government’s then efforts to retain the EU’s GSP+ trade concessions. Tissainayagam is currently a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University Journalism School in Boston.
Mr. Tissainayagam’s first interview since he was released, was conducted by the international media watchdog, Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Speaking about press freedom today in Sri Lanka, Mr. Tissainayagam said, “the situation is very dire. … Dissent is what the government fears.” There is a lack of physical security for journalists, he said, referring to those who have been killed, disappeared and incarcerated.
“There are also legal aspects,” he said, referring to the Emergency Regulations, which allows the government to detain and imprison reporters. Consequently, there is “extensive self-censorship amongst reporters and editors, who fear to say what they feel and believe,” he said. “I think one of the most important things is to keep up the pressure on the government,” Mr. Tissainayagam said. “I can speak of my own case, where I was sentenced to 20 years hard labour for what I’ve written. I know that my freedom, my release, was linked to the GSP+ issue sometime ago.”
“The European Union could use that as a bargaining chip for my release, which eventually forced the Sri Lanka government to first give me bail and then finally a presidential pardon.” Mr. Tissainayagam went on to say:
“I think it’s very important that economic aid is linked to press freedom in Sri Lanka. … That is the way pressure could be put on Sri Lanka.
“Certainly I can say in my own case it did make a difference.”
“I believe that publicity does help a lot, contrary to what the government says.”
“[They say] don’t talk about it, if there is quiet diplomacy, we will be more receptive to your demands
“But I don’t believe that is true. I believe that the more shaming that is done, the more pressure that is put is put publicly, the more the government is willing to act”
“… If media organisations can continue to do that, it will be very helpful, it will be very helpful on the ground”.