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J.S. Tissainayagam, journalist lauded by Obama, is jailed


Source: Times Online

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 anti terror 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”.


A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission

SRI LANKA: J.S. Tisssainayagam sentenced to 20 years and justice is dead in Sri Lanka

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