National Sections of the L5I:

Sri Lanka: Repeal the Prevention of terror Act! Release JS Tissainayagam!

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A campaign has been launched in Sri Lanka to release a journalist imprisoned for criticising the Rajapakse government

One hundred and fifty supporters of the jailed journalist JS Tissainayagam packed into Colombo's Public Library today to launch a campaign for his release from 20 years’ "rigorous imprisonment" on 17 November. His "crime" was to report the bombardment of civilian areas by Sri Lankan government forces in the last phase of their offensive against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE, the Tamil Tigers). For this he was found guilty under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act of reportage "designed to create agitation between Tamil minority and the Sinhala majority".

Coming at a time of rising political tension in advance of an anticipated early presidential election, the meeting brought together a range of prominent speakers. These included the lawyer, Chandrapala  Kumarage the journalist, Dharmasiri Lankapeli religious leaders such as Fr. Yohan Devananda as well as Dr Vickramabahu Karunarathne of the Fourth International section, representing the Left Front, Ajith Rupasinghe from the Ceylon Communist Party (Maoist) and Mahinda Devege of the Socialist Party of Sri Lanka (SPSL) the Sri Lankan section of the League for the Fifth International. The SPSL was also represented on the praesidium by PD Saranapala, national secretary of the Joint Health Workers' Union.

Speaker after speaker condemned not only the outrageous sentence but also Tissainayagam's treatment at the hands of the police and the clearly unjust attitudes shown by the court. The prosecution itself was based on a supposed "confession" which was repudiated by the journalist as soon as he was allowed to talk to a lawyer. The attitude of the court was well summed up by the presiding judge, who ruled that any criticism of the PTA was itself a crime against the provisions of that act!

In his speech, Mahinda Devege stressed the political context in which the trial had taken place. Both the prosecution and the verdict could only be understood in the context of the Rajapakse government's need to suppress all criticism and exposure of its war crimes. The victory over the Tamil Tigers, which had only been achieved at the cost of a barbaric bloodbath and the herding of hundreds of thousands of civilians into concentration camps, was now to be used to extend Rajapakse's term of office. Honest reporting of the war threatened Rajapakse strategy of stoking up Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinism in advance of the early election he is expected to call.

"In the longer term" he said, "the government is preparing a new offensive, an economic offensive against the working class of all communities, to pay for the war and for the cost of the economic crisis". Against this background, as well as campaigning around particular issues such as the jailing of Tissainayagam, what was necessary was the building of a new working class political party that could not only lead the defence of working class jobs and living standards but turn it into an offensive against the government and the capitalist system it represented.