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J.S. Tissainayagam, journalist lauded by Obama, is jailed in Sri Lanka

[Times Online UK, Tuesday, 1 September 2009 08:10 2 Comments]

SRI LANKA-UNREST-MEDIA A Sri Lankan journalist described by President Obama as an “emblematic example” of an unjustly persecuted news reporter was sentenced to 20 years in prison yesterday under antiterror laws.

J. S. Tissainayagam, 45, was convicted under Sri Lanka’s Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) for writing two articles in the North Eastern Monthly magazine in 2006. The pieces were fiercely critical of the Sri Lankan Army’s conduct against the Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) — the terrorist group also known as the Tamil Tigers.

The Sri Lankan Government accused Mr Tissainayagam of taking money to spread Tiger propaganda in a case that the US Department of State said last year “appeared to be politically motivated”.

Mr Tissainayagam had accused the army of withholding food and other supplies from areas populated by Sri Lanka’s minority Tamil population as a tool of war. The Government said that the allegations were false and aimed at sparking communal unrest.

“The Constitution gives freedom of press but that doesn’t allow anybody to spread false information to spur ethnic violence,” the prosecutor in the case, Sudarshana DeSilva, told the High Court in Colombo.

Anil Silva, Mr Tissainayagam’s defence lawyer, said that his client “was never a racist and he at no time tried to arouse hatred. Now he has been punished for what he wrote as a journalist. This will be a lesson to other journalists, too.”

Mr Tissainayagam is thought to be the first journalist convicted under the PTA in Sri Lanka since it was passed 30 years ago. He will appeal against his conviction, his lawyer said.

In May the Sri Lanka Government achieved victory in a brutal 26-year civil war against the Tigers that had claimed up to 100,000 lives. In the same month Mr Obama named Mr Tissainayagam to mark World Press Freedom Day. The US President said: “In every corner of the globe there are journalists in jail or being harassed. Emblematic examples of this distressing reality are figures like J. S. Tissainayagam in Sri Lanka, or Shi Tao and Hu Jia in China.”

Mr Tissainayagam’s cause has also been backed by Amnesty International, which has said that he is a “prisoner of conscience”.

During the war the Tigers restricted the media tightly in the areas it controlled, which at the organisation’s height covered about one third of the country. Reporters Without Borders named the LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, who was killed in May, a “predator of press freedom”.

Similar allegations have been levelled at the man who defeated Prabhakaran — President Rajapaksa, who faces allegations that abductions and killings of journalists have been carried out under his watch.

The words that cost him his freedom

Providing security to Tamils now will define northeastern politics of the future It is fairly obvious that the Government is not going to offer them any protection. In fact it is the state security forces that are the main perpetrator of the killings

July 2006, North Eastern Monthly

With no military options Government buys time by offering watered-down devolution Such offensives against the civilians are accompanied by attempts to starve the population by refusing them food as well as medicines and fuel

November 2006, North Eastern Monthly

Source: Committee to Protect Journalists

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  • Leticia said:

    I believe that there is a time for everyone. The ones who have jailed Tissanayagam on false charges will face judgement soon. It will shock the entire world and they will know that judgement has come. it is just a matter of time.

    Release Tissa immeditely or face divine judgement. it is not a laughing matter. it may be too late for some of you.

  • Paul said:

    The whole world is watching the injustices in Sri Lanka. Tissa’s aggressors will have to face dire consequences soon. They are living in a fools paradise if they think that they are above the law. Watch and see what is about to happen. Oh my God!