The International Federation Journalists (IFJ) welcomes the decision by the Sri Lankan appeals courts to grant bail to senior journalist J.S. Tissainayagam, over four months after he was convicted and sentenced to 20 years’ jail on terrorism charges.
Tissainayagam was granted conditional bail yesterday pending his appeal against his conviction. At an earlier hearing of his application on December 23, Sri Lanka’s Attorney-General had informed the court that the State had no objection to the grant of bail.
Tissainayagam, one of the first journalists in the democratic world to be convicted on terrorism charges, is expected to be released soon, following the finalisation of the bail process.
Detained on March 8, 2008 by the Terrorism Investigation Division (TID) of the Sri Lankan police, Tissainayagam spent six months in custody without formal charge.
At the time of his arrest, he was the director of the online news site www.outreachsl.com. He was detained when he contacted police to check on the status of two colleagues, V. Jasikaran and his partner V. Valarmarthy, who had been detained a day earlier.
It was not until August 25, 2008 that Tissainayagam was formally indicted under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and Emergency Regulations for articles he wrote for the North-Eastern Monthly magazine in 2006 and 2007.
Jasikaran was subsequently charged under the same sections of the law as Tissainayagam and Valarmathy with the offence of “aiding and abetting” an act of terrorism. Both Jasikaran and Valarmathy were released unconditionally in October 2009, for lack of evidence.
“Tissainayagam’s release on bail is a welcome reprieve from almost two years of incarceration during which he endured poor living conditions, deteriorating health and limited access to medical support,” IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said.
“But this decision does not allay concerns about the manner in which Sri Lanka’s Government and authorities have undermined press freedom and independent media by using archaic terrorism legislation to restrict and silence the work of independent and critical journalists.”
With all respect for the judicial process, the IFJ urges Sri Lanka’s power-holders to honour the country’s constitutional guarantee to uphold the democratic rights of all citizens, including journalists in their pursuit of press freedom, by granting the immediate and unconditional repeal of Tissainayagam’s conviction.
For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +612 9333 0919
The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 125 countries worldwide