Wednesday, September 2, 2009



Popular Tamil journalist J.S. Tissainayagam has been sentenced to 20 years hard labour on charges of supporting terrorism and inciting racial hatred,becoming the first journalist to be convicted under Sri Lanka's draconian anti-terrorism law, report Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ),Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and other IFEX members.

An English-language columnist for the Sri Lankan "Sunday Times" and editor of the news website OutreachSL, Tissainayagam was arrested on 7 March 2008.

He spent five months in prison without charge before his indictment in
August 2008 for promoting terrorism through the magazine "Northeastern
Monthly", which he briefly published in 2006. The magazine criticised the government's role in the war against the Tamil Tiger rebels and accused authorities of withholding food and other essential items from
Tamil-majority areas.

On 31 August, a High Court judge ruled that Tissainayagam's articles
violated the law because they were aimed at creating "communal disharmony."

The court also found that he had received money from the LTTE to fund his website, but RSF has established that the site was funded by a German aid project.

"The imposition of this extremely severe sentence on Tissainayagam suggests that some Sri Lanka judges confuse justice with revenge," RSF said. "With the help of confessions extracted by force and information that was false or distorted, the court has used an anti-terrorism law that was intended for terrorists, not for journalists and human rights activists."

According to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), which has been campaigning tirelessly for his release, Tissainayagam was repeatedly tortured and denied medical treatment while in prison.

Despite the end of the war, the Sri Lankan state continues to attack
journalists who do not support its policies.

According to the International Press Institute (IPI), 12 journalists have been killed in Sri Lanka since 2006, and many others have been harassed, threatened and arrested. RSF has reported that Sri Lanka is one of the worst-hit countries in the world when it comes to the kidnap, arrest and disappearance of journalists.

CPJ announced that it will honour Tissainayagam with a 2009 International Press Freedom Award. Meanwhile, the Globe Media Forum and RSF report that Tissainayagam will be the first winner of the Peter Mackler Prize, "a newly created award for journalists who display great courage and professional integrity in countries where press freedom is not respected."

Related stories on
- Journalist sentenced to 20-year jail term under terror law:


Please write polite letters to the Sri Lankan authorities calling for:

  • The immediate and unconditional release of prisoner of conscience, J.S. Tissainayagam who has been targeted for his work as a journalist;

  • Protection of the rights to life, liberty and security of media workers in compliance with Sri Lanka’s obligations under international law;

  • An end to Sri Lanka's climate of impunity for attacks on the media which has made it impossible to get an accurate impartial picture of what is happening in the country.


His Excellency the President Mahinda Rajapaksa
Presidential Secretariat
Colombo 1
Sri Lanka
Fax: + 94 11 2446657
Email: or

Salutation: Your Excellency

His Excellency Dayananda Rupasoma Perera
High Commissioner
High Commission for the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka
333 Laurier Avenue West, Suite 1204
Ottawa, ON, K1P 1C1
Fax: + 613 238-8448

Salutation: Your Excellency


The conflict in Sri Lanka is between government forces, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and armed Tamil groups alleged to be aligned with the government. The conflict in the north and east of Sri Lanka has continued to escalate since the end of a ceasefire agreement on 16 January 2008. There is no independent reporting of the conflict and media coverage of war has effectively been silenced – through threats, restrictions and violence. The restrictions placed on freedom of expression in Sri Lanka far exceed those which may legitimately be imposed for reasons such as national security. Violations of journalists’ right to life and freedom from torture and ill-treatment can never be justified in the name of national security and constitute violations of Sri Lanka’s obligations under international law.

At least 14 media workers have been unlawfully killed since 2006 and others have been arbitrarily detained, tortured and allegedly disappeared. There is a strong need for media freedom in Sri Lanka, where deaths on all sides are very high and large numbers of civilians are caught in the crossfire. All parties to the conflict are responsible for grave violations of human rights and breaches of international humanitarian law.

Source :

--------------- The Newyork Times ---------------------

Sri Lankan Editor Lauded by Obama Is Sentenced to 20 Years

Published: August 31, 2009
On World Press Freedom Day in May, President Obama held up J. S. Tissainayagam, the editor of a crusading magazine in Sri Lanka who has been jailed since March 2008, as a symbol of the oppression of the media.

On Monday, a judge in Sri Lanka sentenced Mr. Tissainayagam to 20 years of hard labor for violating the country’s tough antiterrorism laws by writing articles highly critical of a government military offensive against Tamil Tiger rebels who had controlled a large chunk of Sri Lanka’s north.

Mr. Tissainayagam, who is Tamil, was the editor of the now-defunct North Eastern Monthly magazine, and was accused of accepting money and other support from the Tigers. He was convicted under laws that give harsh sentences for offenses like using racially divisive language or promoting disharmony. These laws were enacted in response to the Tamil Tiger insurgency. The insurgents, members of the Hindu Tamil minority, sought a separate state from Sri Lanka’s Buddhist, Sinhalese majority. The government decisively defeated the Tigers in a bloody final battle on a strip of beach in northern Sri Lanka in May, ending one of Asia’s longest civil wars.

As is often the case with local journalists in conflict zones, Mr. Tissainayagam’s reporting reflected the prevailing point of view of the minority to which he belonged, but the government argued that his work went further.

“The Constitution itself gives freedom of press, but that doesn’t allow anybody to spread false information to spur ethnic violence,” Sudarshana DeSilva, the prosecutor, told the court, Reuters reported.

But rights advocates say that Mr. Tissainayagam’s sentence reflects the plight of Sri Lanka’s embattled press corps. At least seven journalists have been killed since 2007, including some singled out by the Tamil Tigers. Many more have fled the country.

“It is very serious blow,” said Sanjana Hattotuwa, editor of Groundviews, a citizen journalism Web site. “It sends a chilling message that the independent expression of opinion is no longer tolerated in Sri Lanka.”

Lucien Rajakarunanayake, spokesman for Sri Lanka’s president and a columnist, said that Mr. Tissainayagam had the right to appeal.

“The court has believed the evidence placed before it,” Mr. Rajakarunanayake said. “That he did accept money from a terrorist organization and did work that furthered the cause of terrorism in this country.”

The sentence is sure to increase pressure from the West on Sri Lanka’s government, which has been criticized for its handling of the last battle against the Tamil Tigers and the treatment of Tamils displaced by the war.

Mr. Tissainayagam’s lawyer told reporters that he planned to appeal. Though he confessed, he later said that the confession was given under duress. Legal experts said that the antiterrorism laws under which he was convicted violated the Constitution.

Asanga Welikala, a lawyer who has written on press freedom in Sri Lanka, said that the law was so vague that practically any speech could be prosecuted.

“Totally unacceptable that we should have such a law, and even more unacceptable that a court of law should feel that this journalist should get the maximum possible sentence under that law for simply doing his job,” he said.

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