By Mirudhula Thambiah
Former Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK) Leader, Prof. S. T. Sittampalam said Tamil National Alliance (TNA) parliamentarians should boycott parliamentary sittings as the initial step to solve the issue of political prisoners. President should consider granting general pardon to all prisoners. “Also the Opposition Leader can consider resigning his post to support political prisoners,” he said.
?The TNA initially demanded that all political prisoners should be released by giving them a general pardon. However, now the government has decided to release 30 of such prisoners on bail in the first set and 32 in the second set. Thus altogether 62 prisoners will be released on bail. What will happen to the rest?
A: There was always a doubt among political analysts and politicians whether these prisoners are political prisoners. They are actually political prisoners, we should accept it. Also there were doubts whether they actually committed any crimes.
In a democratic country it is the normal procedure to file cases if there is evidence against those who have committed any crime. Judicial proceedings are prominent features of a democratic country. They did not follow any such democratic process. First they refuse to announce the total number of political prisoners. Later they said there were no political prisoners, but just suspects. Now they have accepted such people are prisoners.
As the Northern Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran said, it is unnecessary to obtain the advice from the Attorney General or any other official in the matter of political prisoners. A pardon by the President is adequate to release them. Even Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka said if the President wishes all political prisoners can be pardoned. He is a person who has experience at the battle field, even he pointed out the pardon by President. The government has a moral responsibility to unconditionally release all political prisoners. This is not the first time to grant a general pardon to such prisoners. Even JVP members were released on a Presidential pardon after the riots. They rebelled against the government. People in the North and South are equal in this country. Is it justifiable to give unfair treatment to a specific lot? Currently the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) is the biggest demon that troubles all the people. It was recommended at the United Nations to do away with the PTA. The government is still safeguarding such draconian regulations and functioning according to them. It is very unfortunate.
Minister Mano Ganesan was very much involved in the release of political prisoners on behalf of Tamil political parties. However, the approach and involvement of the TNA was unhealthy. The TNA should have put forward certain demands when they decided to support the good governance on 8 January. Such demands should have been made in a written document as an agreement between both parties. They should have mainly demanded for the release of political prisoners, resettlement, releasing of lands and evacuating security forces from private lands.
I have pointed out that such demands on several occasions. However, most of the important members of the TNA said the government will attend to such matters and it is unnecessary to pressurize on them. It is one of their main mistakes.
The most pathetic situation is that the political prisoners themselves have to begin their own struggle. Our parliamentarians have failed to prioritize the issue of political prisoners. They are making use of such issues according to their own agendas. Political prisoners are not fancy items, parliamentarians are playing with their lives.
Most families of political prisoners are very poor. They are lower income earners. The TNA parliamentarians have failed to put forward their demands effectively. Even the Prime Minister and his ministers take different stands, but the Chief Minister Wigneswaran is clear that President Sirisena has the responsibility to release all prisoners on a general pardon.
?: ITAK Leader Parliamentarian Mavai Senathirajah recently said it is a favourable opportunity offered by the government to release political prisoners at least on bail and that the affected must make use of it. How do you view this?
A: Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka has said that political prisoners must be given a presidential pardon. I don’t think releasing on bail is favourable. Senathirajah is just trying to escape from his responsibilities.
?All TNA members demanded the release of all political prisoners by giving them a general pardon. However, currently every prominent member of your party has different views. Some have even accepted the bailing option. Does this mean TNA parliamentarians insisted fake demands and promises to the families of political prisoners?
A: It is very simple, our parliamentarians don’t even have to go on a hunger strike, they can just boycott parliamentary sittings.
They already have a historic example. Our late leader A. Amirthalingam boycotted parliamentary sittings for three months protesting against a decision made by the late President J. R. Jeyewardene to merge some Sinhala villages to the Vanni District. Thus even the Opposition Leader can resign his post. They are many democratic ways to show our resistance. People expect them to react against the issue. Only such democratic stands will reach the international community.
?Political prisoners have threatened to strike again and they insist that they will not abandon the struggle at any point. Prisoners strongly insist that if they die during the protest, President Sirisena should be held responsible for their deaths. How do you view this statement?
A: This shows that our parliamentarians have failed to stand up on this issue. These are repercussions of our members failing to discharge their responsibilities.
It is not only the issue of political prisoners, but also other issues stemming from the UNHCR report. We demanded an international inquiry, but everything has changed at last. How did we request for votes? We demanded an international inquiry.
After going to Geneva they said the inquiry has concluded. The international inquiry did not conclude but our people have agreed for a local mechanism. Thus boycotting parliamentary proceedings will initially help to solve the issue. The TNA has failed to address the issue of political prisoners in an effective way.
?The Northern Provincial Council has continuously wanted to do way with the PTA. But why do you think the government has ignored it?
A: They say it is good governance. If such a government cannot abolish the PTA, what else can we expect? It is high time to abolish it and even the UN recommendations have insisted on it.
The government is ignoring it and our people are not pressurizing to abolish it.
?You are a prominent leader of ITAK. Why didn’t the TNA leadership include you in its National List when your name was first in the list? How do you feel?
A: I don’t expect any post. I joined ITAK in 1956 when I was 15. I still continue as a member. I was offered many higher posts due to my educational qualifications. I refused to accept them. However, I understand that our party members do not listen to their own conscience.
Sumanthiran joined the party only in 2010, and everything has changed after his entry.
I was the first in the candidate list. Many from the educated voted for the party considering my representation. However, the members made their decision earlier that if I enter Parliament, I will be open and honest and that will affect their agenda.
?Does that mean there is a rift in your party after the general elections?
A: I will not comment on it, but Sampanthan is taking his own decisions. This will not help for the betterment of the party.