New on my other blogs

KERALA LETTER
A Dalit poet writing in English, based in Kerala
Foreword to Media Tides on Kerala Coast
Teacher seeks V.S. Achuthanandan's intervention to end harassment by partymen
Change of heart? Or stooping to conquer?
Some thoughts on the historic Battle of Colachel

വായന

30 September, 2009

AHRC criticizes advertisement campaign against Naxalites

The following is a statement issued by the Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong:

A newspaper advertisement published by the Government of India on Sunday, September 20, 2009, reads 'Naxalites are nothing but cold-blooded criminals'. This advertisement is part of the government's intensified campaign to combat Naxalite activities in the country. It comes a few weeks after the Prime Minister's declaration--later confirmed by the Union Home Minister--that Naxalite activities are the single largest threat to India’s security.

Naxalite cadres in India have repeatedly resorted to violence, and their armed campaigns have resulted in loss of life and property. Their activities have intensified over the past five years, particularly affecting the entire eastern corridor; the states of Bihar, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and parts of Orissa, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh.

While exact data regarding Naxalite activities, including its manpower, is limited, it is estimated that at least 63 districts in the country are seriously affected. There is also no clear information regarding the movement’s sources of financial and logistical support. What is clear however, is the movement’s intense operations in India’s tribal areas. It is no coincidence that these areas are the most neglected and exploited parts of the country.

These are the areas where the poorest of the poor live. Primary government facilities like schools and health care centres are practically absent here. Infant mortality rates are among the highest in the world in the region, owing to malnutrition and hunger. Estimates suggest the infant mortality rate to be at 47 per cent in the Naxalite affected regions of the country, a condition worse than Sub-Saharan Africa.

India’s 'Naxalite problem' is complex and tends to find its justification in the deep-rooted and centuries-old exploitation of the poor, particularly the tribal community, by local landlords and corrupt politicians. There is a high incidence of crimes committed against the tribal community. These include bonded labour, rape of women and girls, and silencing any opposition or dissent by murder and other violence. Petty landlords who commit these evils escape prosecution and punishment due to the support of corrupt and failing state agencies like the police. The Indian government has made no attempt to reach out to these citizens and address their problems, or to prosecute those who have committed crimes.

Of particular concern is the plight of poor families who are systematically denied official assistance to address issues including food security, unemployment and the depletion of natural resources. Neither the state nor the central government has attempted to identify whether official schemes such as public food distribution shops or government health services are available to people in the region.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has documented several cases outlining the role played by local landlords and corrupt government officials in routinely preventing poor families from accessing government sponsored health and food programmes. The lack of cultivable land and the depletion of the forest -- their habitual source of livelihood -- makes tribal communities increasingly dependent upon government sponsored food distribution shops. It is often the case however, that food grains intended to be distributed to the poor through these shops are sold on the black market in distant cities.

Attempts by human rights activists to intervene in these situations result in threats and harassment. When the AHRC reported a case of food distribution corruption in July from Khandwa district, Madhya Pradesh, the minister for health and family welfare accused the organisation of receiving foreign funds to malign the state administration. Needless to say, no investigation was conducted into the allegations of corruption.

Also in Khandwa district, 62 children died from acute malnutrition during 2008. Despite this, in July 2009 the state administration closed schools and other public services like the Anganwadis (child care centers) due to ‘the Naxalite threat’. Within weeks of these closures, three more children died of malnutrition.

In addition to the failure of public welfare schemes, the government is also responsible for sponsoring indiscriminate mining and the destruction of natural resources in the region--all in the name of development. In Chhattisgarh for instance, several large-scale mining operations have been commissioned in the past six years with complete disregard to the life and security of community members living there. A government website highlights the state’s 'red-carpet' policy to private entities extracting mineral resources, but makes no mention of policies regarding people’s loss of livelihoods and displacement, or the operations’ environmental impact.

It is thus clear that state governments in Naxalite affected regions have failed to address deep-rooted issues plaguing the population living below the poverty line. Haplessly, it is this deprived and oppressed population that falls prey to the Naxalite ideology.

Repression and violence against a population forms fertile ground for rebellious ideologies. The Naxalite movement is thus made up of individuals who believe in and justify defensive violence. It is unfortunate that the response by the Indian government has also been the use of force, often brutal. The only lesson to be learnt from the experience of the past 40 years is that violence can neither resolve problems nor be a mode of communication. Any call for violence negates the premise of rule of law. Violence presupposes guilt and perpetuates disagreement. Moreover, it affects and diminishes the space for dialogue, an essential component in any democracy.

The government of India's advertisement campaigning for the rejection of Naxalite activities is also indirectly a call for violence. The premise of the advertisement is the same as that of a Naxalite cadre who views the state and its agencies as criminals. It will encourage 'encounter killings' and justify murder on mere suspicion, denying individuals the basic guarantee of fair trial. Ultimately, it undermines the rule of law and the role of justice institutions. By not taking these effects of the advertisement into account, the newspaper has demonstrated a lack of professionalism and commitment to rule of law and justice.

In a country where even terrorists are given the opportunity of fair hearings in a court of law, the words 'Naxalites are nothing but cold-blooded criminals' negates the constitutional premise within which a government is formed and expected to function. The government has a constitutional duty to listen to the people, to form policies after consultation. Instead of perpetuating violence, a responsible government must take steps to ensure that its citizens’ grievances are heard and addressed. Unfortunately, the government of India does not seem keen to follow this path of non-violence.

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

22 September, 2009

Sri Lanka: Biriyani, arrack and kassipu for some journalists

BASIL FERNANDO

"Go to any police station in the evening. You will find several journalists there. They come on their way home, to have a drink of kassipu, from the stash that the police have collected from raids that day”, says Raju (a fictitious name adopted for security reasons), a life time civil society activist.

They get not only kassipu, but also their news from the police.

Let me give you an example. Two people are killed at a police station. The next day, the heading of a news item in big letters reads, Pathalayan Dennek Maruta, meaning two persons from the underworld have been killed. The heading makes police officers who had done an extra-judicial killing appear as heroes who have eliminated two underworld figures. The free gift of kassipu has not been in vain.

This kind of behavior is explained away by such excuses as the low salaries of local reporters. It is said that these reporters have to travel at their own expense and that they are paid a paltry sum for news items they manage to get published. Publication, it is said, will require the giving of gifts by way of drinks, cigarettes and even cash.

Other places to gather news is the hospitals. There is always some misfortune that ends up in a hospital. With a good contact, such as an attendant, nurse or even sweeper at the hospital, a journalist may find access to such a story. Such trade requires special skills in maintaining contacts and a willingness to give necessary santhosam. However, at police stations, the news, which means the police version of events, is given freely and even with a gift such as a drink of kassipu. Even when an innocent man is arrested, the report in the news paper will read: “Rapist Arrested”, “Kudukaraya arrested”, and the like. Even if the arrested person is released later, no correction of the story is ever made.

It is those in the lower ranks of journalism who may go to police stations for favours. But, the luckier ones have better places to go. The house of a politician is always a place of entertainment for some selected journalists. Most politicians have their own thugs and journalists. The manner in which electorates are managed in Sri Lanka would present interesting material for sociological studies in social degeneration.

The benefits are, of course, higher for journalists who have managed to get closer to small ruling cliques. The ones that do well are those who undertake the task of mudslinging, particularly those who prepare the way for attacks on opponents. Before every political assassination or a serious attack, there is much ‘journalistic’ work to be done. Both before and after the assassination of Lasantha Wickrematunga and the attack on Poddala Jayantha, some journalists worked for a long time preparing the background for these attacks and then creating misimpressions after the attack, both in print and electronic media. Before and after every political event, there are many journalists who play their role and get their share.

The crazier the political situation becomes, the opportunities for the cynic acting as a journalist becomes much greater. When the situation degenerates over several years, the idea of the maintenance of standards in journalism begins to disappear in the same way that the people are made to disappear after abductions. The way journalists conduct their business becomes no different to the way a member of parliament like Minister Mervyn Silva often behaves in parliament. There are journalists who will say anything in any manner they chose without any facts to substantiate what they write. The more they ignore their professional ethics the more benefits they get from their patrons.

The very essence and goal of democracy is to tighten the hands of governments. Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Power, therefore, needs to be bound. The wires that tie the rulers are called laws. That no one is above the law explicitly refers to the fact that that rulers are not above the law. Charles I argued that no one had the right to judge him because he was the king. He relied on a rule that was well-established then. He failed to understand that the views of his the people of his country had changed. He lost his head. No British king or queen ever since has made the same argument.

Then power passed to elected rulers. But the problem still remained. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. New rulers also had to be bound. They also had to obey laws. They were not above the law. Then there were some difficult problems. How, for example, to deal with a war? Your enemy obeys no law. Should you obey law? That even in war there are laws to be obeyed is a rule that evolved over a long period. Finally the Geneva conventions laid down some basic laws of war.

From time to time there are challenges to this principle. George W. Bush, for example, wanted some such laws to be ignored. One law was the international law against torture. Some of his countrymen agreed, at least for sometime. Then, faced with the actual experiences, many were horrified. The voting of the people showed the change in favour of the old rule against torture. Thus, in countries where laws relating to war are accepted, there is a renewed interest in the debates which crated these laws. Charles the First still may have had some admirers. George W. Bush had some also during the Bush era, and many got rich by being “journalists”. By supporting rulers that abuse power, it is possible to get very rich. Today, a political stooge who calls himself a journalist can be assured that biriyani and arrack is served through the backdoor. Such journalist hacks say that the rulers can do whatever they like. The fundamental rule is that hands of rulers must be kept bound if citizens are to live safely. People no longer want monsters to rule over them.

Sri Lanka may be considered the second most dangerous place for journalists. That is for those journalists who take their job seriously. Which is something that the cynics in their profession think only fools should do. Some are assassinated, others have fled the country and one has been jailed for 20 years of rigorous imprisonment. However, to those cynics who want to earn their biriyani, arrack and kassipu, Sri Lanka is indeed a paradise.

Basil Fernando is Executive Director of the Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong, a non-governmental organization monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia.

21 September, 2009

Maoist model schools in Nepal

There are five Maoist schools in Nepal for the children of martyrs. These were set up this yea with funding from the Martyrs’ Association, a government-funded Maoist organization.

Members of the World People’s Resistance Movement (WPRM) from Britain and Ireland, who are now touring Nepal, recently visited the school at Jiri, which serves the central district of Nepal.

This school has three large two-storey buildings plus a washing block. There are 101 students here, all of whom had lost at least both parents as martyrs of the people’s war. There are seven teachers. The students range from the age of 6 to 17. More than 60% of the students are male.

The students learn maths, science, Nepali, English and a general course on Maoism, a fully Maoist curriculum that differs from that of government and private schools. They learn about Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Prachanda. They also learn about Che Guevara, particularly his sacrifice and revolutionary spirit to change the world. They also study the background of the people’s war, about capitalism and communism and the need for Cultural Revolutio, to destroy the old feudal culture and replace it with a new one. To a great extent they do this through the medium of art, music, dance and comedy.

The report prepared by the WPRM is available at its website.

18 September, 2009

AHRC voices concern over safety of Manipur rights defender

The Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong, says in a release:

The AHRC is extremely concerned for the safety of human rights defender and freelance journalist Jiten Yumnam, who it has learned, has been arrested and detained in Manipur. Jiten was reportedly taken into custody by officers from the Manipur State Police Special Commando Unit stationed at Imphal West Police Station on 14 September, while on his way to Thailand. He was scheduled to participate in an international meeting on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The AHRC is concerned that Jiten will face fabricated charges and severe abuse in custody, and calls for his swift and safe release.

CASE DETAILS:

Jiten Yumnam is a human rights defender and freelance journalist and has been actively involved in campaigns involving environmental issues, and the toll taken by militarisation in Manipur.

Jiten was active in an international campaign against police officers who murdered a young man and a pregnant woman in the Manipur capital this July (please see our Urgent Appeal: UAC-098-2009). Bystander photographs proved the involvement of the Manipur State Police Commando Unit and contradicted their official report of the deaths, causing mass civil protests. We have learned that the UN Rapporteur on Torture has also written to the Government of India requesting a report on the incident, though no one has yet been arrested or any action taken against the perpetrators.

It appears that the state administration has instead started to target human rights defenders and political activists involved in the campaign. The state police have arrested several protesters so far and fabricated cases against them using the National Security Act, 1980. The Act is widely misused by the government to lengthily detain human rights defenders and political activists, and we are concerned that it will soon be used against Jiten.

According to the information received by the AHRC, neither the victim nor his family have been told of the charges against him. Unverified reports have suggested that he and seven other persons arrested on the same day will be charged with offenses punishable under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, the Official Secrets Act, 1923 and the Indian Penal Code, 1860. It is also not clear as to whether Jiten has been produced before a local magistrate (mandatory under Indian law). Previous experience in Manipur gives the AHRC strong concerns that Jiten's life could be at risk in police custody.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

The AHRC and other human rights organisations working against militarisation and terrorism in Manipur has documented numerous cases in which detainees are shot dead by police or soldiers in fake encounters (or 'escapes') after arrest. Similar tactics are also used by underground terrorist groups operating in the state. The AHRC is monitoring the situation and will update you regarding any further information regarding this case.

Jiten is one of the founding members of the Asia Pacific Indigenous Youth Network (APIYN) , which issued a statement about his arrest and launched an online signature campaign seeking his immediate release (view and sign here). Jiten is also the Joint-Secretary of the group, Citizens' Concerns on Dam and Development, and has published several articles, including Militarisation and human rights violations in Manipur, which he co-authored for the AHRC publication, Article 2.

SUGGESTED ACTION:

Please write to the authorities below seeking intervention in Jiten's arrest and calling for his safety and humane treatment while in custody.

The AHRC is also writing a separate letter to the Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders and the Working Group on arbitrary detention calling for an intervention in this case.

To support this appeal please click here

17 September, 2009

Venezuela to host international meet of Left parties

Caracas, Venezuela, will play host to one of the most important international gatherings of left parties in years, when delegates from across the world meet for the First International Meeting of Left Parties from October 7 to 9.

The meeting has been called by President Hugo Chavez’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV).

The gathering was agreed upon at the Sao Paulo Forum (FSP) held in Mexico City from August 20 to 22. There, the PSUV delegation presented the proposal to organize an international meeting of left parties.

Some of the member parties are now in government in Latin America and are carrying out policies they once strongly denounced.

In August 2007, Chavez had said it was necessary to convene ``a meeting of left parties of Latin America and organize a type of international, an organization of parties and movements of the left in Latin American and the Caribbean”. He added that “there is a resurgence of the consciousness of the peoples; the movements, leaders and leaderships of this new left, of this new project, this need to continue to grow”.

There is a revival of socialist ideas that, at least in Venezuela, has become embodied in the actions of millions who are fighting to create “socialism of the 21st century”. Millions more people worldwide look to Venezuela as proof that revolutionary change is possible. The challenge is to see how this force can be organized, in each country and internationally, into a powerful force capable of defeating capitalism.

This write-up is based on an article by Federico Fuentes which appeared in the September 9, 2009 issue of Green Left Weekly nd can be seen at the Links website.

11 September, 2009

People’s March set to come back

People’s March, which ceased operations following the arrest of its editor, P. Govindan Kutty, in January 2008 and the cancellation of its registration by the District Collector of Ernakulam, is set to reappear.

The charge against Govindan Kutty and the publication was that they had links with extremists. Govindan Kutty was released on bail a month after he was arrested. No charge-sheet was filed against him. The Collector’s order canceling the journal’s registration was set aside by the Press and Registration Appellate Board in New Delhi last month.

In a communication, Govindan Kutty says:

On 7th August 2009 the Hon'ble Press & Registration Appellate Board, New Delhi, set aside the order dated 15-01-2009 of the District Collector, Ernakulam cancelling the Declaration furnished by People's March, which was forwarded to the Registrar of Newspapers for India, New Delhi. It showed the utter vindictiveness of the Government/State to suppress views hostile to it. People's March has uncompromisingly stood on the side of the oppressed, exploited masses and the middle classes of our country who comprise an overwhelming 90% of our population. The Government/State represents the mere microscopic moneybags of this country and their agents and hangers-on who comprise barely 5% of the population. Both stand in direct conflict to each other. But the interests of the country must and always be the interests of its bulk population. Before the Appelate Board stood a lawyer paid by the Government. On the other side stood me, the Editor without any lawyer. The Government/State has no answer for the arguments and grounds put forth by me in my appeal as to under which clause under Section 8 B of the Press and Registration of Books Act 1867 the Declaration furnished by me was cancelled. After a few minutes of silence by the Government advocate, the Press & Registration Appellate Board set aside the order of the Collector, Ernakulam. A copy of the order is awaited.

Likewise after my illegal and arbitrary arrest and release on bail, even after 21 months the Government/State charge-sheets were not filed. But the cases foisted on me are pending as a form of threat.

It is clear that both the arrest and the banning of the non-publishing magazine while I was under custody together with the earlier banning of the website www.peoplesmarch.com was nothing but a crude attempt by the Government/State to stifle the freedom of speech in this fake democratic setup. It sought to muffle the revolutionary voice of the oppressed masses, their cries of agony and their call for liberation. People's March represented the truth and stood on the side of justice. The moneybags and their government/State could not tolerate this, so they resorted to suppressive measures.

People's March will never be cowed down by these efforts of the Government/state to muffle its voice. It will continue to stand up for the truth, will forever be on the side of justice and will never bow down before any fascist authority.

We apologize to our readers for this gap, but we thank you for your unstinting support in this period of trial. We request you to fight this conspiracy of silence by the Government/State by supporting People's March in all possible ways and propagating widely this victory of People's March to renew publication. You can do by renewing your subscription and each reader making personal attempts to get at least 10 subscribers. We request you to propagate widely in the media and the net this victory of People's March fraternity of patriotic, democratic and revolutionary people can grow and grow, both in India and abroad. We also request you to donate your mite with all your material and financial support in our attempts to change the world. We once again thank you for your unstinted support in our period of difficulty.

With revolutionary greetings,

Editor

Related posts:
Release P. Govindankutty unconditionally (January 26, 2008)
P. Govindankutty gets bail (Februaty 25, 2008)

10 September, 2009

Tharoor has many followers, but finds few worth following

A website reported on Monday that Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor has become the first Indian celebrity with more than 100,000 followers on Twitter.

It said “his popularity on Twitter has been such that even Priyanka Chopra's followers’ count pales in comparison…”

At last count Tharoor had 123.825 followers and Priyanka Chopra 49,655.

The website quoted Tharoor as saying, "I just try to be myself and am glad
so many are interested." It went on to observe that “If Shashi Tharoor ever decides to become a prime ministerial candidate for India, he'd be doing what Barack Obama did on Twitter and maybe even better.”

While Tharoor is way ahead of Priyanka Chopra he has to go a long way to catch up with Obama, who, with 2,147,674 followers at last count, perhaps qualifies for the title of Mr. Twitter World.

While tens of thousands consider Tharoor and Priyanka worthy of following, they seem to have difficulty in finding people whom they can follow. Tharoor has so far found only seven persons worth following. Two of them are his sons, Ishaan and Kanishk, and two others are fellow Congressmen, External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and K. Sudhakaran, Kannur MP. Priyanka Chopra follows a score of people, including Barack Obama and Maria Carey.

Look at Obama’s figures: 2,147,674 followers; following 758,533.

08 September, 2009

Media: some things don’t change

Not only newspapermen but also newspaper readers of my generation often complain that journalism has declined since our time. But some things in the media do not change.

In an English language text-book which I studied at college 60 years ago there was an essay “On becoming a journalist”, written by Rose Macaulay, It was a tongue-in-cheek piece, commenting on various aspects of journalism.

Miss Macaulay, who wrote for The Times of London, advised those who only wanted to see their names in print to write letters to the editor. She also offered a few tips to help get into print. The Times was interested in pets and gardening and there was a good chance of the newspaper publishing letters on these subjects. She observed that editors like to be flattered and suggested that the letter could start with words like “As always you were right when you wrote…”

Decades later Miss Macaulay’s advice apparently still holds good. Look at the opening lines of the five top letters published in The Hindu on Monday, September 7:

The editorial “Political feudalism” (Sept. 5) rightly cautions against dynastic politics… R. M. Manoharan, Chennai.

The editorial rightly says that the middle-level Congress leaders … K. A. Suresh Kumar, New Delhi.

The editorial was brilliant and forthright in questioning the irrational demand …S. Sarangan, Secunderabad.

As the editorial rightly points out, Jagan Mohan is a political novice… S.Padmaja, New Delhi.

The editorial has sounded a timely caution to the Congress high command …. Comdt. G. V. Mathew (retd.), Thiruvananthapuram.

07 September, 2009

The Times group steps in to help revive a dead myth

We do not know how the popular myths of today originated. But we can make out how the media propagate them.

The Times of India group has just brought out a ‘coffee table book’ (the description is the newspaper’s own) titled “The Holy Sankara Mutt”. In a report from Chennai, the paper says the book puts together “the proud lineage of the Kanchi Mutt and its 70 Acharyas, starting from Adi Sankaracharya’s setting up of the Mutt in 482 BC”.

This date is mentioned also in a feature, which appeared in the newspaper’s Chennai edition on Sunday, under the headline “Unbroken Lineage of 2500 Years” The paper has described the feature as “a spiritual connect initiative”.

The claim that the Kanchi mutt was established 2,500 years ago is one that even the mutt authorities have not pressed seriously for nearly a century. Clearly the newspaper group has taken upon itself the task of helping the mutt to revive a myth which was laid to rest towards the end of the 19th century.

According to history books, Sankaracharya lived from 788 to 820 AD. How could he have established a mutt in 482 BC?

The short answer to the question is that the Times group has produced the coffee table book by drawing fabricated material in the mutt’s archives. The material includes the names and dates of 70 sanyasins who are said to have presided over the mutt since 482 BC.

What little we know of the life of the philosopher, who is credited with having restored the glory of Hinduism which had been eclipsed by Buddhism, is based on accounts contained in a Sanskrit work, Sankara Vijayam, which got embellished as it passed from one generation to another.

At least two versions of this work with conflicting details were in circulation. According to the version promoted by the Kanchi mutt, Sankara was a Tamil Brahmin, born in the present state of Tamil Nadu.

The Kanchi mutt’s claim that it was established by Sankara is a disputed one. According to most authorities, he established four peeths in the four corners of the country—Sringeri in the south, Dwarka in the west, Puri in the east and Joshimath (Uttarkhand) in the north.

There was intense rivalry between the Sringeri mutt and the Kanchi mutt. In late 19th century, the Sringeri mutt, located in Mysore, requested the state’s maharaja to help resolve the controversies over when and where Adi Sankara was born. The maharaja asked the Dewan, Seshadri Iyer, to look into the matter.

After examining literature on the subject with the help of scholars, Seshadri Iyer said that Sankaracharya was a Kerala Brahmin, born at Kaladi in 788 AD. Historians accepted this date.

With the help of the maharajahs of Mysore and Travancore, the Sringeri mutt took over the place at Kaladi, which was identified as the Acharya’s birthplace and built a temple there. The shrine was consecrated in 1910.

For a long time the Kanchi mutt refused to accept the findings of Seshadri Iyer, who, incidentally, was a native of Kerala. It claimed that the eighth century Sankaracharya was not Adi Sankara but a later saint of the same name, who too had served as the head of the Kanchi mutt.

However, as Kaladi’s fame as Sankara’s birthplace spread, Kanchi softened its opposition. A few years ago the senior and junior Sankaracharyas of Kanchi visited the Kaladi temple for the first time.

Seshadri Iyer could not put an end to the controversy over Sankara’s end. The Kanchi version, which the Time of India has reproduced in Sunday’s feature, is as follows: “He retired to Kanchi, the Southern Mokshapuri, towards the end of his earthly career and shook off his mortal coils in the sacred city.”
Many of Sankara’s followers, however, believe that the end came when he was at Kedarnath. There is a Samadhi Mandir behind the Kedarnath temple. A statue of Sankara is also installed there. (See picture)

The Kanchi mutt’s desire to push back Sankaracharya’s birth to the fifth century BC and revive its claim of 2,500 years of unbroken lineage is understandable. Commercial rather than spiritual considerations seem to have persuaded the Times group to join the fraudulent exercise.

Sankaracharya’s major contribution was to accord primacy to the Upanishadic concepts. However, the followers of the Vedic tradition used his teachings to reinforce their position.

The popular belief that Sankaracharya revived Hinduism and unified the country deserves close scrutiny. The term ‘Hindu’ does not figure in the writings attributed to him.

Also, facts do not support the view that his work strengthened the national fabric. The reappearance of caste divisions in the wake of the decline of Buddhism and the resurgence of Vedic thoughts weakened the country, making it possible for foreign invaders to establish themselves as the rulers.

02 September, 2009

Show trials: cases of Aung San Suu Kyi and J.S. Tissainayagam

The following is a statement issued by the Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong:

The recent case against Aung San Suu Kyi by the Burmese junta is internationally well known. The case and the verdict were condemned all over the world as one more demonstration of a completely fake trial merely orchestrated to silence Burma’s opposition leader. She has already been under house arrest for two decades. Aung San Suu Kyi was charged with violating the rules relating to detention. The court sentenced her to five years of rigorous imprisonment. Within hours the Burmese junta, which was aware of the tremendous adverse impact of their decision throughout the world, reduced the sentence to 18 months of detention in her own home. The sole exercise of the trial was to give a semblance of legality and legitimacy for further imprisonment of this lady in a way so that she could not participate in any events relating to proposed elections in the country.

J.S. Tissainayagam’s case from Sri Lanka, though not as well known as Aung San Suu Kyi case, is also quite well known internationally. The arrest, detention and the trial against this man, a well known journalist and a human rights activist, received the attention of many governments. The American president, Barrack Obama himself mentioned this case as an example of the repression of journalists throughout the world. All leading media organizations worldwide condemned the arrest, detention and trial and repeatedly called on the government for Tissainayagam’s unconditional release.

Tissainayagam was charged with aiding and abetting terrorism and instigating racial violence by writing a few lines in an article which referred to the armed conflict then taking place in the north. Tissainayagam, who had been a veteran journalist and a human rights activist, had over a long period of time reported matters regarding internal conflicts in the south as well as the north and east. In the late eighties he helped the incumbent president of Sri Lanka, who was then an opposition Member of Parliament, by preparing and translating documents relating to disappearances and other atrocities in the south. There was nothing in the alleged document on which he was prosecuted, to indicate any attempt to instigate violence or promote racial hatred. There are thousands of pieces of writing of many persons who have written about the armed conflict from different perspectives and Tissainayagam’s writing was no different to any of these.

As a Tamil, it was quite natural for him to write about the problems of the Tamils in the same way as others have written about the problems of their groups. Tissainayagam was singled out for arrest, detention and prosecution solely for the purpose of intimidating other journalists and newspaper editors from publishing materials relating to the war. Several other journalists were exposed to serious dangers and some fled the country during this time.

Like the case of Aung San Suu Kyi, the case of Tissainayagam had no real grounds on which to base a criminal charge. In both cases the charges were fabricated. The charges were based on special regulations and not on the normal laws of the country. These regulations themselves were made in order to give enormous powers of harassment over dissidents and anyone who holds any form of opinion that is opposed to that of the regime in power.

Where the charges themselves are not valid there cannot be a fair trial. The issue before the court in both cases was to decide on the legality and the validity of the charges in the first instant. Both courts proceeded on the basis of these bloated charges and found the two persons guilty.

The transformation of independent courts into those that merely carry out the wishes of the executive has taken a long period of time in both countries. And now, in both countries there is the possibility of having show trials.

The Sri Lankan court sentenced Tissinaiyagam to 20 years. Previously the Sri Lankan Supreme Court has, over and over again asserted the right of citizens for freedom of expression and publication. The court has also held the rights of citizens to criticize the existing government. However, the High Court trying a case based on special regulations under anti-terrorism laws has completely altered the democratic tradition which previously existed.

Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has gone further and in a communiqué issued by it stated that criticism of the judgment in the Tissainayagam case is a slur on the independence of the judiciary in the country. However, this case, like that of Aung San Suu Kyi’s demonstrates that the independence of the judiciary in both countries has suffered serious setbacks.

It is therefore fitting that J.S. Tissainayagam has been named as the first winner of the Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism. This award should bring to global notice the manner in which courts can be manipulated for the purpose of suppressing freedom of expression and publication.

Show trials: cases of Aung San Suu Kyi and J.S. Tissainayagam

The following is a statement issued by the Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong:

The recent case against Aung San Suu Kyi by the Burmese junta is internationally well known. The case and the verdict were condemned all over the world as one more demonstration of a completely fake trial merely orchestrated to silence Burma’s opposition leader. She has already been under house arrest for two decades. Aung San Suu Kyi was charged with violating the rules relating to detention. The court sentenced her to five years of rigorous imprisonment. Within hours the Burmese junta, which was aware of the tremendous adverse impact of their decision throughout the world, reduced the sentence to 18 months of detention in her own home. The sole exercise of the trial was to give a semblance of legality and legitimacy for further imprisonment of this lady in a way so that she could not participate in any events relating to proposed elections in the country.

J.S. Tissainayagam’s case from Sri Lanka, though not as well known as Aung San Suu Kyi case, is also quite well known internationally. The arrest, detention and the trial against this man, a well known journalist and a human rights activist, received the attention of many governments. The American president, Barrack Obama himself mentioned this case as an example of the repression of journalists throughout the world. All leading media organizations worldwide condemned the arrest, detention and trial and repeatedly called on the government for Tissainayagam’s unconditional release.

Tissainayagam was charged with aiding and abetting terrorism and instigating racial violence by writing a few lines in an article which referred to the armed conflict then taking place in the north. Tissainayagam, who had been a veteran journalist and a human rights activist, had over a long period of time reported matters regarding internal conflicts in the south as well as the north and east. In the late eighties he helped the incumbent president of Sri Lanka, who was then an opposition Member of Parliament, by preparing and translating documents relating to disappearances and other atrocities in the south. There was nothing in the alleged document on which he was prosecuted, to indicate any attempt to instigate violence or promote racial hatred. There are thousands of pieces of writing of many persons who have written about the armed conflict from different perspectives and Tissainayagam’s writing was no different to any of these.

As a Tamil, it was quite natural for him to write about the problems of the Tamils in the same way as others have written about the problems of their groups. Tissainayagam was singled out for arrest, detention and prosecution solely for the purpose of intimidating other journalists and newspaper editors from publishing materials relating to the war. Several other journalists were exposed to serious dangers and some fled the country during this time.

Like the case of Aung San Suu Kyi, the case of Tissainayagam had no real grounds on which to base a criminal charge. In both cases the charges were fabricated. The charges were based on special regulations and not on the normal laws of the country. These regulations themselves were made in order to give enormous powers of harassment over dissidents and anyone who holds any form of opinion that is opposed to that of the regime in power.

Where the charges themselves are not valid there cannot be a fair trial. The issue before the court in both cases was to decide on the legality and the validity of the charges in the first instant. Both courts proceeded on the basis of these bloated charges and found the two persons guilty.

The transformation of independent courts into those that merely carry out the wishes of the executive has taken a long period of time in both countries. And now, in both countries there is the possibility of having show trials.

The Sri Lankan court sentenced Tissinaiyagam to 20 years. Previously the Sri Lankan Supreme Court has, over and over again asserted the right of citizens for freedom of expression and publication. The court has also held the rights of citizens to criticize the existing government. However, the High Court trying a case based on special regulations under anti-terrorism laws has completely altered the democratic tradition which previously existed.

Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has gone further and in a communiqué issued by it stated that criticism of the judgment in the Tissainayagam case is a slur on the independence of the judiciary in the country. However, this case, like that of Aung San Suu Kyi’s demonstrates that the independence of the judiciary in both countries has suffered serious setbacks.

It is therefore fitting that J.S. Tissainayagam has been named as the first winner of the Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism. This award should bring to global notice the manner in which courts can be manipulated for the purpose of suppressing freedom of expression and publication.

01 September, 2009

Reporters Without Borders condemns jailing of journalist

The following is a statement by Reporters Without Borders condemning the ‘shameful’ 20-year jail sentence given to Sri Lankan Tamil journalist T. S. Tissainayagam (photo on the right)

Reporters Without Borders is appalled by the “shameful” 20-year jail sentence which a Colombo high court passed today on journalist J.S. Tissainayagam on charges of supporting terrorism and inciting racial hatred in his articles.

"The imposition of this extremely severe sentence on Tissainayagam suggests that some Sri Lanka judges confuse justice with revenge,” Reporters Without Borders said. “With the help of confessions extracted by force and information that was false or distorted, the court has used an anti-terrorism law that was intended for terrorists, not for journalists and human rights activists."

The press freedom organisation added: “We strongly hope that the appeal process adheres to the facts of the case and the spirit of the law. Meanwhile, until the appeal is heard, we urge the authorities to guarantee this journalist’s physical safety and health, which has deteriorated greatly while in detention.”

Global Media Forum and Reporters Without Borders have chosen to announce today that Tissainayagam will be the first winner of the Peter Mackler Prize, a newly-created award for journalists who display great courage and professional integrity in countries where press freedom is not respected.

The prize will be awarded at a ceremony presided over by Washington Post executive editor Marcus Brauchli at the National Press Club in Washington on 2 October. The award honours the memory of veteran Agence France-Presse reporter and editor Peter Mackler, who died last year.

When a Reporters Without Borders representative met Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse last October in Colombo, the president pledged to examine the Tissainayagam case.

Aged 45, Tissainayagam, wrote for the Colombo-based Sunday Times newspaper and edited Outreachsl.com, a website targeted at Sri Lanka’s Tamil population. The charges on which he was convicted include taking money from the Tamil Tiger rebels to fund the website. In fact, Reporters Without Borders established that the site was funded by a German aid project.

Tissainayagam has been detained since 7 March 2008, when he was arrested by the Terrorism Investigation Division. He spent his first five months in detention without any charges being brought against him. Judge repeatedly extended detention orders and rejected requests for his release on bail.

After five months in detention, during which many national and international press freedom organisations appealed for his release, he was suddenly transferred to Colombo’s Magazine prison, which is notorious for the physical mistreatment of Tamil detainees. It was reported at the time that he had been beaten.

During his initial period in detention, Tissainayagam was allowed only sporadic visits by his family and his lawyer and was denied the medicine he needs for tuberculosis and infections linked to the scabies that he contracted in prison.

Tissainayagam is the first Sri Lankan journalist to be convicted under the anti-terrorism law. In fact, he is one of the few journalists anywhere in the world to be accused of terrorism because of their reporting.

The origin of the charges against him boils down to two articles published in 2006 in North-Eastern, a magazine he edited that no longer exists. The magazine’s printer, Jasiharan, and his wife are also charged in connection with the case.

Tissainayagam’s family and lawyers have said he will appeal against his conviction.

---------------------
Vincent Brossel
Asia-Pacific Desk
Reporters Without Borders
33 1 44 83 84 70
asia@rsf.org

Following are links to material relating to the case of T.S. Tissainayagam, Sri Lankan Tamil journalist, who has been sentenced to 20 years’ rigorous imprisonment on charges of aiding terrorists, as well as some of his writings. Source: Tamil Nation website

1. Journalist Tissainayagam's Arbitrary Detention - Appeal by Amnesty International
Jasikaren’s wife the previous day. When arrested J. S. Tissainayagam was not ... not fulfilled, J. S. Tissainayagam suffers from ... concern that J. S. Tissainayagam is being
www.tamilnation.org/indictment/media/080404tissainayagam.htm

2. http://www.tamilnation.org/indictment/rape/0202omct.pdf
Leader, 8 April 2001, p. 10; J.S. Tissainayagam, “Rape case will ... p. 10. 66 – J.S. Tissainayagam, “Rape case will ... April 2001. 67 – J.S. Tissainayagam, “Is rape just
www.tamilnation.org/indictment/rape/0202omct.pdf

3. Tamil journalist J.S. Tissainayagam indicted on terrorist charges
Murder of Journalists > Tamil journalist J.S. Tissainayagam indicted on ... Tamil journalist J.S. Tissainayagam indicted on ... ago. "We condemn J.S. Tissainayagam's long detention
www.tamilnation.org/indictment/media/080825tissa.htm

4. Journalist Tissainayagam's detention extended for 90 days, still held without...
Journalists (IFJ) is extremely disturbed by a new 90-day extension of a detention order against journalist J.S. Tissainayagam , who has been held without charge in Sri Lanka since
www.tamilnation.org/indictment/media/080611ifj.htm

5. The Conflict in Sri Lanka: Ground Realities - International Federation of...
Tamils living in the US. J. S. Tissainayagam has a M.A in International ... Wakeley Paul 3. The Strategy of Delay - J. S. Tissainayagam 4. The War Imperative - S Sathananthan 5
www.tamilnation.org/tamileelam/ift/0512groundrealities.htm

6. Joseph Pararajasingham - V6.indd
Strategy of Delay ... 12 By J. S. Tissainayagam The War Imperative ... 22 By S ... Association of Tamils living in the US. J. S. Tissainayagam has a M.A in International Relations
www.tamilnation.org/tamileelam/ift/0512groundrealities.pdf

7. Tamil journalist shot dead by Sri Lanka aligned group
Wilson Gnanadas, news editor; J.S. Tissainayagam; Sunday Times: Anthony David; Shelani de Silva; Faraza Farook; Nilika de Silva; Taniya Fernando; Chris Kamalandran; Dunstan
www.tamilnation.org/indictment/genocide95/gen95158.htm

8. Violence Against Women in Sri Lanka - Report by World Organisation Against...
Leader, 8 April 2001, p. 10; J.S. Tissainayagam, “Rape casankan tamil journaliste will ... p. 10. 66 – J.S. Tissainayagam, “Rape case will ... April 2001. 67 – J.S. Tissainayagam, “Is rape just
www.tamilnation.org/indictment/rape/0211omct.htm

9. Tamilfile jan15.qxd
Implement CFA, or quit Jaffna (J. S. Tissainayagam Northeastern Monthly -January 2006) Ever since the LTTE’s Batticaloa-Amparai commander, Karuna, decided to raise the flag of
www.tamilnation.org/tamileelam/ift/060115tamilfile.pdf

10. Selected Writings - J.S.Tissainayagam
National Forum > Selected Writings - J.S.Tissainayagam> ... Selected Writings - J.S.Tissainayagam, Eelam J. S. Tissainayagam has a ... Tamil journalist J.S. Tissainayagam indicted on
www.tamilnation.org/forum/tissainayagam/index.htm