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What is meant by “freedom of expression” and “press freedom”?


These questions drilled into me in the recent days - What do you say? – Nadarajah Kuruparan-

What is meant by “freedom of expression” and “press freedom”?

It is written about freedom of expression and press freedom. It is also written about the fundamental human rights. In case of the violations of these, the voices are raised against it. We raise the voice against the violations of press freedom and human rights as these violations are perpetrated either by present despotic rulers or those against us.   

But, in case these violations are committed by those who are supported by us or those who are close to us, we cannot be able to criticize them. If we try to transcend it and criticize them, we tend to become traitors and odious to them.   

It is not understood whether it is a common human trait or the attributes of the Tamils particularly.  

When I was in such confusion, I met a senior journalist from Eritrea in the Conference meeting of the International journalists in exile. The gathering continues over the past six years in many countries, Eritrean and Syrian journalists joined in this as a very first time.

Biniam Simon & Kuruparan

Eritrean journalist attracted me at once this time. He shared his own experiences while everybody shares their own experiences.

A kind of strange attraction came to me when the name Eritrea was pronounced. I got to know from the media reports that Eritrean freedom struggle allied with our freedom struggle.

Eritrea started a militant struggle from 1961 and gained the victory in 1991. A freedom movement recaptured its lands and restored to power in front of our eyes. The regime established there under the leadership of Isaias Afewerki, the movement's military commander and general secretary. Therefore, the name Eritrea attracted me so much at once.

I am the one who had printed and published the book named “Experiences of Liberation Struggles of the Nations” written by V.T.Tamilmaran in the late 1990s. Though I read about Eritrea in that book, I forgot a lot of things about Eritrea. When I met the Eritrean journalist, the interest about Eritrea engrossed me at once. The hectic news appeared time to time in the Medias that Eritrea provided support to our freedom struggle and many of the LTTE's aircrafts parked there after 19th of May.

 “In such a context, my conversation with Eritrean journalist, my media friend continued. Do you live in exile? Are there troubles to journalists in your country? The liberation movement established the regime through the armed struggle in your country. Isaias Afewerki, who was an engineering graduate student in the early 1960s and became as the commander of the liberation movement due to his ability, is the leader of your country. Then, what is the problem to the journalists in such country? ”, I asked the Eritrean journalist.  

 “I am living in exile in Paris from where I run a Media like you”, he replied with a small smile on his face.

Then he began to mention about the former head of revolutionary liberation movement, who is presently in regime power, as following:

Eritrean War for Independence was an armed liberation struggle that lasted from 1961 to 1991. Afwerki who headed the liberation struggle was declared the first head of the state through the referendum supervised by the United Nations in 1993. The Eritrean people and all those who supported the democracy, liberation and freedom were eagerly anticipating his arrival.

But the situation became converse when the power completely went to his hands once he elected as the head of the state. He engaged in the activities of eradicating the freedom of expression saying the model of China and Cuba is being followed.   

Repressions unleashed over the alternative commentators, human rights activists and intellectuals. All the privately-owned Medias started being repressed and had been then closed down at the beginning of 2000. Foreign Medias are also unable to publish the news criticizing either the government or the leader from local. Those who opposed those repressions were arrested without any trial. He continues his actions similar to how a militarized structure handled all the affairs during the freedom struggle. The one-party regime prevails there.

When I was working in the Eritrean National Television, I went to China to collect the news regarding our leader’s visit to China. In that visit, I was surprised seeing our leader Isaias Afewerki’s photo hung in the country's leading firms where I visit.

When I looked at the photos surprisingly, our leader told me that he is the person in that photo. Then only I got to know that Isaias Afewerki went to China to receive Military training and spent two years studying political ideologies and guerrilla warfare. Upon Afwerki's return, he took the leadership of the liberation struggle. In addition to that he said that he had been aware that Eritrea took the supportive stand to the Sri Lankan Tamil militants and kept contacts with them.  

Consequently, in the recent years, Eritrea has become one of the world's most secretive countries. It has joined with the countries such as North Korea in the world ranking of Press freedom by closing down the Privately-owned local Medias. International human rights organizations, media organizations, international media institutions are issuing information on the prevailing situation in Eritrea, the Eritrean journalist further pointed out.

His response to my question about Eritrea made the high-profile kept in the minds about Eritrea and its freedom struggle questionable.

With the experiences shared about Eritrea, we will come to the Sri Lankan context. For example, we could observe that the activities of Due Gunasekara, Tissavitharane and Vasudeva Nanayakkara who are said to be the progressive members in the ruling government, made us feel disgusted. 

The printed media of the Communist Party of Sri Lanka in which Minister Due Gunasekara is a member has been stopped from distributing by the leaders of the party by means of the government due to its criticism on the important figures of that party. If we just go back to the history, JVP assassinated the journalists and artists just because they criticized the JVP during the time of its second revolution (1989 - 1990's). Richard de Zoyasa was assassinated during the ruling of Premadasa’s UNP government. “Satana” editor Satana Kumara and “Tamilnet” editor Sivaram were assassinated during the ruling of Chadrika’s government.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s ruling transcended the ruling of all others as many journalists kidnapped and killed, many went missing and more than 50 journalists were driven into exile in his current regime.

We got to know that the parliamentarian of TNA that is loved by the Tamils and the owner of a press media, threatens another journalist over the phone. Notably, those who, liked and commented that Press freedom is needed under this message shared in the Facebook, had chastised me regarding the articles and news published in my website.  

 “The journalists and the Media institutions in Sri Lanka was being subjected to the pressure exerted by the ruling government, Military and its intelligent structures as well as by the militant movements”, mentioned by me in a discussion held at “Frontline club” following the small article mentioned about the state of Medias in Sri Lankan context submitted by me in a Media conference attended by me from Sri Lanka held in 2006 at London.

For that, the British Tamil Medias that attended to that discussion and few of those who worked in the international Medias severely criticized me. According to them, I might have confined myself to speak about the journalists killed and kidnapped by the state oppression, and the question about who had killed Balanadaraja Iyar alias Sinna Bala and Relankey Selvarajah was not necessary there.

 (The demonstration condemning the assassination of Nimalrajan staged in front of the Colombo Pettah Railway station)

 “I was informed that you had spoken in London mentioning we were responsible for the assassination of Nimalarajan. Do you have the evidence for that?”, the leader of a Tamil party allied with the government asked from me over the phone when I returned to Sri Lanka after the meeting.

Above all, what is freedom of expression and press freedom is the question which drilled into me in the recent days.

Anybody would accept the “press freedom” unless they are criticized regardless of those in power, opposition party that seeks to take over the power, important political figures, intellectuals, liberation movements, those who established the revolutionary state through freedom struggle and the social activists.

When the questions come towards them, then their theory about “press freedom” becomes changed.

What do you say?


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