Tissa against terrorism but for justice

Remanded journalist makes statement from the dock

Columnist J. S. Tissainayagam, indicted in the High Court under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and making a statement from the dock on Friday, said he had always agitated against terrorism and for justice for the oppressed, and that he was once in a movement to which President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Presidential adviser Vasudeva Nanayakkara gave political impetus.

He said that by writing the two articles to the North Eastern Herald magazine referred to in the indictment, he had not intended to cause violence or communal disharmony, and that no such thing ever occurred as a result of those articles.

Mr. Tissainayagam made the statement when his case was taken up before High Court Judge Deepali Wijesundara. He said his father was a public servant for 40 years and served at the Department of Information, retiring as its director. He said his father later worked in the Prime Minister’s office as an Assistant Secretary and was the speech writer to the Prime Minister (R. Premadasa).

Mr. Tissainayagam said his first language was English, and although he could speak Tamil he was not very fluent in it. Mr. Tissainayagam said after his high school education he entered Peradeniya University and studied in English where his friends were from different ethnic backgrounds.

“I joined The Sunday Times in 1987 after leaving the university and later worked as a journalist in a few English language national newspapers. I joined MARGA in 1989, pioneered discussions and engaged in research on how to solve the national issue peacefully,” he said.

He explained that while at MARGA he helped the Organisation of Parents and Family Members of the Disappeared (OPFMD).

He said OPFMD was at one stage involved in securing the release of soldiers and policemen captured by the LTTE and OPFMD members made contact with the LTTE for this purpose travelling to the Wanni when required. He said in order to arrange these trips, he had often spoken on the phone in Tamil.
He said he helped the families of persons from the South whose kin had disappeared due to the insurrection, by collecting information and translating them into English to send to organisations such as Amnesty International and the UN.

He said that Mr. Vasudeva Nanayakkara and President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was at the time an Opposition member, gave it political leadership and took the documents to Geneva. Mr. Tissainayagam said he always worried for the safety of the civilians and his intention was to stop the killing of youth, whoever they were.

He said although he had mentioned these matters when he was questioned at the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID), the officers there never wrote these down. He said from 1994 to 1995 he worked on a project for UNICEF through an organization called "The Medium" and he visited the East and did a documentary on children left parentless due to the conflict and the activities of the LTTE, JVP, EPRLF, IPKF, State created violence and other paramilitary groups. He said this too was left out in his statement to the TID.

He said that between 1994 and 1996 he helped the Disappearance Commission to collect information, translate this information into English and co-ordinate with families. This too had not been mentioned in his statement, he added.

“I am not fluent in Tamil, my work has always been in English. I can speak Tamil, but I am not fluent. For the first time after I left school I was made to write in Tamil when [investigating officer] Razik forced me to take down what he dictated. This is what is now claimed to be my confession. I never wrote it on my own and I stand by the evidence I gave at the voir dire,” he said.

“I was also scared because of my eye condition, since I have had surgery for retinal detachment. If it recurred, I would go fully blind. Therefore, even when I protested at the factual inaccuracies in what is said to be my confession, I wrote it since Razik threatened me and also told me I would be released soon if I co-operated," he said.

Mr. Tissainayagam said it was unfair and illegal to charge him under the PTA for acts said to have been committed during the operation of the ceasefire agreement when the government had given an undertaking to relax the operation of PTA and allowed the free movement of the people from North and South into both LTTE and government-controlled areas.

“I travelled to the North and East during the CFA, as a journalist, collected information about life there to include in my writings, interviewed people from a vast spectrum such as political leaders, religious leaders, scholars, displaced people, activists, NGOs and LTTE leaders. I personally know that many other journalists also travelled to the North and East during this time for the same purpose. I have also spoken on the telephone many times with persons who lived in those places to obtain information,” he said.

He said a person called Baba never offered him any money and he never received money from him or the LTTE.

“North Eastern Monthly was run on a commercial basis. It was sold at places like Vijitha Yapa and Makeen bookshops. There were subscribers too. The account number to which the subscription money was to be deposited was printed in the North Eastern Monthly from January 2007. Therefore the account number was available to anyone who bought the magazine,” he said.

"I was and am still an advocate against terrorism. I have criticised terrorism in whatever form. I never advocated violence, my objective was to generate non-violent means of resolving the conflict, my research, writings and work were towards achieving this,” he said.

Meanwhile, Sakya Nanayakkara, a former employee of the Marga Institute, also gave evidence.
The court summoned Mr. Vasudeva Nanayakkara and a representative of the Peace Secretariat to be present in courts tomorrow, following a request from the defence counsel.

Attorney-at-Law Anil Silva, M.A. Sumathiram and Sharmaine Gunaratne appeared for the defence, while State Counsel Sudharshana de Silva appeared for the prosecution.

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