[lg policy] sri Lankan Tamil journalist jailed'; sentenced to 20 years

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Wed Sep 2 14:08:58 UTC 2009

Amnesty International Nepal collected more than 1,500 signatures from
members of the public on white cloth for Sri Lankan journalist JS
© Amnesty International

1 September 2009
A High Court in Sri Lanka sentenced journalist Jayaprakash Sittampalam
(JS) Tissainayagam to 20 years rigorous imprisonment on Monday, for
writing and publishing articles that criticized the government's
treatment of Sri Lankan Tamil civilians affected by the war. The court
said the articles caused "racial hatred" and promoted terrorism.

Amnesty International said that it considers JS Tissainayagam to be a
prisoner of conscience, jailed solely for exercising his right to
freedom of expression in carrying out his profession.

JS Tissainayagam was the first Sri Lankan journalist to be formally
charged (and now convicted) under the country's draconian Prevention
of Terrorism Act (PTA) for his writing.

The verdict comes in the context of increasing pressure on Sri Lanka's
journalists. More than 30 media workers have been killed in Sri Lanka
since 2004. Many others have been assaulted, abducted, threatened or
forced into exile. Sri Lankan journalists say that the government is
responsible for many of these incidents and has failed to protect
against others.

JS Tissainayagam was arrested in March 2008 and detained in police
custody for five months before he was charged with an offence. He and
two colleagues were eventually accused of bringing the government into
disrepute (a charge that was later dropped) and inciting racial and
ethnic animosities through material published in a short-lived monthly
magazine called the North East Herald. He was also accused of raising
funds for the magazine to further terrorist objectives.

The right to freedom of opinion and expression is protected under
international law and is also recognized in the Sri Lankan
Constitution. Sri Lanka has misused the PTA and the Emergency
Regulations (ER) to silence a critical voice and violate Mr
Tissainayagam's rights to freedom of opinion and expression.

Tissainayagam's indictment was based on passages from two articles
which expressed critical opinions about the government's treatment of
Tamil civilians affected by armed conflict. A July 2006 editorial
headlined, "Providing security to Tamils now will define northeastern
politics of the future" concluded: "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

A second article published in November 2006 addressed the humanitarian
situation in the eastern town of Vaharai, where warfare included
attacks on civilian areas. It accused the government of starving and
endangering civilians to further political and strategic military

The prosecution also put forth as evidence an alleged confession made
by Tissainayagam while in police custody. Tissainayagam maintains that
he was tortured by the police and that the confession was forced. The
Court ruled that the evidence was admissible. Sri Lanka has a long
history of torture and ill treatment of prisoners. Under the PTA, the
burden of proof rests with the accused to prove that the confession
was made under duress or torture.

Tissainayagam was arrested on 7 March 2008 by the Terrorist
Investigation Division (TID) of the Sri Lankan Police in Colombo when
he went to the police seeking information about the arrests the day
before of two colleagues, B Jasiharan and his wife V Vallarmathy, a
printer and owner of the building that housed the offices of Outreach
Sri Lanka, a website Tissainayagam edited. Arrested along with
Tissainayagam was reporter K Wijayasinghe, who accompanied him to the
TID offices. The website's visual editor Udayan, and G Gayan Lasantha
Ranga a video cameraman, were also arrested separately on 7 March.

After repeated inquiries by Tissainayagam's family, the police
eventually confirmed that they had detained him and the others because
they suspected them of being members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil
Eelam (LTTE). Early on the morning of 8 March, TID officers raided
Tissainayagam's home, searched it without a warrant and seized a copy
of the Northeastern Monthly Magazine.

Wijayasinghe, Ranga and Udayan were released without charge on 19
March 2008, the day that Tissainayagam filed a Fundamental Rights Case
in the Supreme Court alleging violation of his constitutional rights
to freedom from torture, equality and equal protection of the law, as
well as freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention.

Tissainayagam and his co-defendants were indicted in August 2008 for
alleged violations of the PTA and the ER. The PTA had in fact been
suspended following the ceasefire agreement between the government and
the Tamil Tigers in February 2002. In prosecuting Tissainayagam for
articles and activities conducted in 2006, the prosecution applied the
PTA retroactively.

The Sri Lankan government dropped the charge of "bringing disrepute to
the government" on 9 September 2008 but retained other charges related
to editing, printing and fundraising for the magazine. Jasiharan was
charged with aiding and abetting Tissainayagam to further terrorism.
Vallarmathy was charged with the offence of aiding and abetting her
husband Jasiharan in these acts.

On Monday, High Court Judge Deepali Wijesundara announced her verdict,
finding Tissainayagam guilty of writing articles intended to create
communal disharmony and of raising money for a magazine whose articles
violated the PTA. Tissainayagam's lawyer has vowed to appeal the

Amnesty International denounced the verdict as a direct violation of
Tissainayagam's right to freedom of expression and more broadly as an
assault on press freedom in Sri Lanka. The organization called for the
immediate release of Tissainayagam and his colleagues, and an end to
the use of the PTA to silence peaceful dissent.

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