The sentencing of J.S. Tissainayagam is deeply distressing.
While I'm neither a attorney, nor conversant with the details of the evidence presented by the prosecution, nor the text of the judgment delivered -- and so can not comment on those areas, it seems clear that this judgment and sentence was only possible given the Prevention of Terrorism Act, of 1979. Two features stand out, given the PTA-- the narrow bounds allowed for freedom of expression, on certain themes, and the admissibility of a 'confession' as 'evidence,' which is not allowable under the penal code. Taken together they make for a curtailing of freedom which is telling. There is an appeal pending, I understand, and there may be a possibility of a pardon, if that process is exhausted to no avail.
The international media has highlighted his case, as they did that of Roxana Saberi who arrested, tried and later released in Iran, and of Lura Ling/Enua Lee whose tribulations were in North Korea; these parallels are worth considering.
But, predictably, almost, these media outlets, neglect to highlight, or even mention in passing the number of journalists that the US government has held with out charge in recent times, some times for years, with out even recourse to a trial. A rare American critic, Glenn Greenwald, puts it this way:
imprisoning journalists -- without charges or trials of any kind -- was and continues to be a staple of America's "war on terror," and that has provoked virtually no objections from America's journalists who, notably, instead seized on Saberi's plight in Iran to demonstrate their claimed commitment to defending persecuted journalists.
Tissainayagam's case must been seen in parallel to these US detentions as well. Several cases stand out; those of Pulitzer Prize winning AP photographer Bilal Hussein in Iraq, Rueters photographer Ibrahim Jassam (An Iraqi court has ordered the release of Jassam, but the US militaray, refuses to do so), and Al-Jazeera cameraman Sami Al-Haj in Guantanamo among them. By not doing so, we take at face value American's claim that it is spreading freedom through the world, one country at time. Or put another way, while Obama's is right that the Tissainayagam matter is an ""emblematic example" of the "distressing reality" of journalists held for their professional work, but he could also look closer home, for other telling examples.
Our criticisms of the excesses of 'wars on terror' should be broad and deep, not blinkered by narrow nationalisms and neo-imperialism.
this piece was also published on the indian political blog, kafila, on 5/9/2009