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Tamil journalist gets “shameful” 20-year sentence on terrorism charges – RSF

[MISC, Wednesday, 2 September 2009 07:37 No Comment]

Reporters Without Borders is appalled by the “shameful” 20-year jail sentence which a Colombo high court passed today on journalist J.S. Tissainayagam on charges of supporting terrorism and inciting racial hatred in his articles.

“The imposition of this extremely severe sentence on Tissainayagam suggests that some Sri Lanka judges confuse justice with revenge,” Reporters Without Borders 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.”

The press freedom organisation added: “We strongly hope that the appeal process adheres to the facts of the case and the spirit of the law. Meanwhile, until the appeal is heard, we urge the authorities to guarantee this journalist’s physical safety and health, which has deteriorated greatly while in detention.”

Global Media Forum and Reporters Without Borders have chosen to announce today 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.

The prize will be awarded at a ceremony presided over by Washington Post executive editor Marcus Brauchli at the National Press Club in Washington on 2 October. The award honours the memory of veteran Agence France-Presse reporter and editor Peter Mackler, who died last year.

When a Reporters Without Borders representative met Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse last October in Colombo, the president pledged to examine the Tissainayagam case.

Aged 45, Tissainayagam, wrote for the Colombo-based Sunday Times newspaper and edited Outreachsl.com, a website targeted at Sri Lanka’s Tamil population. The charges on which he was convicted include taking money from the Tamil Tiger rebels to fund the website. In fact, Reporters Without Borders established that the site was funded by a German aid project.

Tissainayagam has been detained since 7 March 2008, when he was arrested by the Terrorism Investigation Division. He spent his first five months in detention without any charges being brought against him. Judge repeatedly extended detention orders and rejected requests for his release on bail.

After five months in detention, during which many national and international press freedom organisations appealed for his release, he was suddenly transferred to Colombo’s Magazine prison, which is notorious for the physical mistreatment of Tamil detainees. It was reported at the time that he had been beaten.

During his initial period in detention, Tissainayagam was allowed only sporadic visits by his family and his lawyer and was denied the medicine he needs for tuberculosis and infections linked to the scabies that he contracted in prison.

Tissainayagam is the first Sri Lankan journalist to be convicted under the anti-terrorism law. In fact, he is one of the few journalists anywhere in the world to be accused of terrorism because of their reporting.

The origin of the charges against him boils down to two articles published in 2006 in North-Eastern, a magazine he edited that no longer exists. The magazine’s printer, Jasiharan, and his wife are also charged in connection with the case.

Tissainayagam’s family and lawyers have said he will appeal against his conviction.

Reporters Sans Frontières

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