It is unnecessary to remind again how bad the period of the former Rajapaksa regime had been for journalists. Other than those who had sold their souls for the cutlets, rolls given at the Temple Trees ‘Dansela’ and other gratifications and written according to the wishes of the royal family, journalists who appeared for the truth had to engage in their profession like in a tightrope walk.
At a time when white vans came in search of those who had written against the terror, corruption and repression of the then regime, and Sivaram alias Tharaki was abducted and killed, the daylight murder of Lasantha Wickramatunga, enforced disappearance of Prageeth Ekneligoda and attacks on Sanath Balasuriya, Poddala Jayantha and Keith Noyarh, several others had to flee the country, sometimes illegally, in order to save their lives.
Public aspirations for democracy and against these repressions resulted in the collapse of that powerful Rajapaksa administration. People were disgusted with the glorification and utter falsehoods being carried in the electronic media and in newspapers. One of the key promises given by the new Yahapaalana regime was to establish media freedom. After the January 08, 2015 revolution, president Maithripala Sirisena and prime minister Ranil Wickrermesinghe openly invited the journalists who had fled the country to return.
It is not a simple tragedy that they had to remain in self-exile, away from the land they were born and bred, away from their relatives and friends. If such a person returns in search of the love of his loved ones and to take a breath of air freely in his motherland, but finds himself arrested soon after placing his feet on the ground at the airport, will not that be a double tragedy struck?
Battiocaloa correspondent for Ran FM and supplier of news to several websites and a recipient of media ministry press accreditation, the Tamil journalist P. Sasikaran of Mamagam, Batticaloa had to flee the country illegally for Australia after he had come under intimidation during the Rajapaksa regime and had white vans come in search of him. That was around four years ago. While serving as a journalist for Australian government affiliate SBS media institution, he had decided to return to his home country to be among his relatives and friends due to the open invitation extended by the president and the prime minister of Yahapaalana regime.
Before leaving Australia, he has sent a letter to the president, the prime minister, the media minister, the deputy media minister, the foreign affairs minister, the action committee for media freedom, the free media movement and human rights organizations, in which he has sought protection. After all these, when he arrived in Sri Lanka at 9.00 am on January 20, he had to fall into the custody of immigration officials. He had fallen from the frying pan (of self-exile in a foreign country) into the fire (getting arrested in his own country).
At the immigration unit, he had to fill more than 20 forms, detailing everything about himself. Thereafter, he got arrested, but not even his lawyer was informed as to whether Sasikaran was arrested by the CID or the TID.
The most despicable thing happened thereafter.
Taken to the TID for questioning, he was asked as to who was the journalist attached to the president’s media unit and known to him, and as to why he was working with the Sinhalese. Is there any other despicable thing to ask than as to why he was working with the Sinhalese, from a Tamil journalist who had returned home under a government that rode to power on thousands of promises including the establishment of media freedom and cried from every platform about communal harmony and reconciliation? After 30 years of war and six more years of selling the war, this is how words become action while slogans of ‘one country – one nation’ are carried on newspapers and on walls.
Without producing him before courts, the authorities concerned had said that no vehicle was available to take him to court. Taken by a private vehicle, he was given bail on strict conditions. A Rs. 10,000 cash bail and two sureties of Rs. 100,000 each were issued, but despite being a resident of Batticaloa, he was ordered to find sureties resident in Colombo. Also, his passport was impounded and he was ordered to come from Batticaloa and report to Katunayake police on the first Sunday of every month.
Is this Yahapalanaya?
Had he done anything illegal, that was only to leave the country secretly by certain means. That too, is due to the reasons that had prevailed at the time. Had he gone to a foreign country to lead a luxurious life, he would not return home after informing everyone. He is returning after an open invitation extended by the country’s president and the prime minister. But, he is treated like a terrorist.
As we mentioned before, there are many more journalists who had to flee the country during the Rajapaksa regime. Although invited to return, there is no mechanism in place to accept them back to the country. This incident demonstrates that shortcoming. Since this being an exceptional instance, citizens who have had their documents misplaced or had left through illegal means, should have a certain mechanism to return home freely. Also, responsible authorities should immediately act to prevent the branding of Tamil journalists as terrorists. They should prove their deeds through action.
Until then, we too, have to ask the same question being asked by the opposition. Is this Yahapaalane?