International Press Freedom Groups Call for Justice for Jailed Sri Lankan Journalist

                                                      
One year

after Tamil journalist J.S. Tissainayagam was detained without charge in Sri Lanka,

international media rights organisations remain deeply worried about his

continuing detention on charges of terrorism.

Marking

the anniversary of his detention on March 7, 2008, the International Press

Freedom Mission is calling for the unconditional release of Tissainayagam, who

has been subjected to arbitrary court adjournments and is suffering ill health.

"The

treatment of

Tissainayagam and the use of the

Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) against him have set an alarming precedent in

efforts to silence independent voices and criticism in Sri Lanka, especially in regard to reporting on the

conduct of the war in Sri

Lanka," the press freedom organisations said.

Tissainayagam,

the editor of OutreachSL,

and a respected columnist with the

Sunday Times, was detained on March 7, 2008 by the Terrorism Investigation Division

(TID) of the Sri Lankan police force. He was detained as he sought to check on

the welfare of his colleagues, Jasiharan and Vallamarthy, who had been taken into custody the previous day.

Tissainayagam

was held without charge for more than five months. Successive courts extended his

detention with no explanation. During

this time he was granted only sporadic access to family, legal advice and

medical attention for a degenerative illness.

Court

hearings were regularly postponed. Tissainayagam's lawyers lodged a fundamental

rights petition to seek interim relief, on the grounds of arbitrary arrest, torture,

ethnic discrimination and a denial of equality of protection under law. It was

denied.

On August 25, indictments were

issued against Tissainayagam, Jasiharan and Vallarmathy in the High Court of

Colombo.

The charges were laid under the PTA,

a draconian law that has remained on Sri Lanka's statute books despite

being introduced in 1979 as an ostensibly temporary measure. The Government has

repeatedly rejected calls for bail.

The

charges are:

  1. 1. The accused together with unknown persons conspired to commit an offence by intending to cause the commission of acts of violence through inciting communal disharmony by words either spoken or intended to be read or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise, through the printing or distribution of the publication North Eastern Monthly magazine.
  2. 2. An offence by the accused himself has been committed by intending to cause the commission of acts of violence through inciting racial or communal disharmony by words either spoken or intended to be read or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise, through the printing or distribution of the publication North Eastern Monthly Magazine.
  3. 3. The third charge under the Emergency Regulations of 2006 relates to acting in furtherance of specified terrorist activities, ("specified terrorist activities" being defined as offences under the PTA) by contributing or collecting or obtaining information relating to the purpose of terrorism through the collection of funds for the North Eastern Monthly magazine.

 
The charges against

Tissainayagam refer to two articles he wrote in 2006 for the North-Eastern

Monthly, in which he criticises the Government's military campaign and its

impact on civilians.

Tissainayagam is the first Sri Lankan

journalist formally charged under the PTA and one of less than a

handful of journalists facing counter-terrorism charges in any country with a

democratically elected government.

On

November 17, Tissainayagam was suddenly moved from a remand prison to the

notorious Magazine Prison in Colombo,

which is known for violence against Tamil prisoners. Reports at the time said

he showed signs of being physically tortured.

The

International Mission says that: "Tissainayagam's health and access to

necessary medical treatment remain a major concern having contracted both

tuberculosis and acute infected scabies over the last number of months".

The

international Mission remains committed to the

release of both Tissainayagam, as well as his

colleagues Jasiharan and Vallamarthy,

and appeals to authorities in Sri

Lanka to abide by internationally recognised

standards to ensure their unconditional release.

ENDS

Notes to the

editor:

Since 2006,

the International Press Freedom Mission to Sri

Lanka has conducted three missions to Sri Lanka.

The mission

includes and is supported by the following international organizations: 

·   

Amnesty International

·   

Article 19

·   

Committee to Protect Journalists

(CPJ)

·   

FreeVoice

·   

International Federation of

Journalists (IFJ)

·   

International Media Support (IMS)

·   

International Press Institute (IPI)

·   

Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

·   

World Association of Newspapers

(WAN)