By Waruni Karunarathne
The issue about Tamil political prisoners has remained a question for sometime now. Many Tamil political parties including the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) have been calling upon the previous government and even the present government to address this issue meaningfully.
Speaking in parliament last week TNA Batticaloa District Parliamentarian P. Ariyanenthiran called upon the government to free Tamil political prisoners before holding a festival for the Sri Lankan Diaspora which is proposed to be held in December in Sri Lanka. According to him, the government has kept saying that they would take necessary measures to release the Tamil political prisoners yet they have failed to free those prisoners as yet. He insisted that the Tamils cannot accept holding a festival for the Tamil Diaspora before proper measures are taken to release the Tamils political prisoners held in jail and in police custody. While Ariyanenthiran welcomed the move to hold a festival or a conference for the Diaspora, he said that priority should be given to the release of Tamil political prisoners.
However, the government had been putting the matter aside saying that they are interim or a temporary government – so addressing issues related to Tamil national issues do not fall within the mandate given to them.
Speaking to The Sunday Leader, TNA MP Suresh Premachandran said that if the Minster of Foreign Affairs, Mangala Samaraweera could initiate discussions with the Tamil Diaspora and taking steps towards building a dialogue with the Tamils, and has festivals for that matter, the government should definitely look into addressing the issue about the Tamil political prisoners. The TNA has been demanding the release of Tamil political prisoners with a general pardon which they believe would pave the way for reconciliation. They also claimed that Tamil people show their goodwill by voting for the present government into power by casting their votes and placing trust in the government and therefore the government should seriously consider addressing this issue.
Premachandran noted that some Tamil political prisoners have been held in the remand almost 10 to15 years without any proper cases filed against them or investigations conducted. “In many cases if a proper case was heard, some would have got maximum 3 to 4 years jail time – whereas now they have been held in prisons for over 8 to10 years without a case being filed against them,” he pointed out. He blamed the government for not taking a concrete decision on this issue and letting those prisoner spend more time in jail unfairly. “Some representatives of our party had a meeting with the president last week and they also brought this concern about the Tamil political prisoners. We blame the current government for not taking a stance on the matter and taking a concrete decision to solve this problem” Premachandran said. He urged the government to take the necessary steps to release these prisoners by giving a general amnesty.
The Leader of the new Tamil Progressive Alliance Mano Ganesan said that the issue on Tamil political prisoners has been a burning issue. “Our position is that they should be either given a general amnesty, rehabilitated or sent out on bail. The government has said that they would address this problem but they have not given a time frame as to when they would do it,” he said. He added that it is the responsibility of the government to take measures to meaningfully solve this problem. Ganesan noted that in the South there were insurrections in 1971 and 1987 where some groups took arms against the state – whereas later they were given an amnesty and some were rehabilitated and those groups even joined the mainstream politics. “Some of those took arms against the state at that point are now in parliament. If the state could pardon them, then similar measures should be taken by the government when it comes to Tamil political prisoners,” he insisted.
However, he added at this point the Tamil politicians should not allow room for extremist groups to interpret these matters in crooked terms as they could use it to cause agitation in the mass for their advantage. “For example, Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa had interpreted the recent UN report for his advantage to create agitation among the communities referring to the communities saying that there is still TLLE in operation. Likewise, some can use these demands at a point like this for their political advantage,” he added. Therefore, he insisted that they should issues of this manner with sensitivity and great care without leaving room for extremist elements to use these concerns for their advantage to promote extremism in the country.
Meantime, some Tamil politicians believe that at a point like this initiating a dialogue with Diaspora and bringing up issues of this nature will only benefit former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. According to them, it is also not reasonable to demand the release of the political prisoners from an interim or a temporary government.
Speaking to The Sunday Leader, the leader of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) Anandasangaree said that the present government has already given assurance to the Tamils that they would address the Tamil national issue, look into the release of the political prisoners and take measures towards reconciliation. He pointed out that at a point like this demands will only create agitation among the majority community and will act in advantage of Rajapaksa’s political campaign. “This is not the time to make such demands. Many including the President have given assurances to address the Tamil issues. Making such demands at present will only help Rajapaksa and his political campaign,” he added. Besides, he added that they do not have any moral right to demand anything from this government. He explained that this government was formed by a specific mandate to counter corruption, do certain constitutional reforms and to defeat Mahinda regime that was abusing power. According to him, the government made no promises to engage in a dialogue with the Tami Diaspora groups or to address the Tamil issue.
He further said that Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera made a terrible mistake by engaging in discussions with the Tamil Diaspora groups which will only give a political advantage for Rajapaksa. He also accused TNA of dragging the present government in this lane by getting involved in a dialogue with the Diaspora. “The TNA has been funded by the Tamil Diaspora groups living in various countries. If they are saying that they will work with the Sri Lankan government in an undivided and unitary Sri Lanka – that is a lie. Some of those Diaspora groups have been acting as the voice of the LTTE and there is no possibility for them to work in an undivided and unitary Sri Lanka,” Anandasangaree said. Therefore, he reiterated that demands to release Tamil political prisoners at this point is not a wise move and said that it would only cause agitation among the majority and work in favour of Rajapaksa and his political campaign.