[TamilNet, Friday, 11 December 2009, 13:15 GMT]
Thursday marked the 100th day of Sri Lanka journalist, Jeyaprakash Tissainayagam’s 20-year prison term. “Tissainayagam, known as Tissa, was convicted of “terrorism” charges for articles documenting human rights abuses by the Sri Lankan military, as well as the difficult conditions faced by Sri Lankans displaced in the nation’s long war. His sentence was a dire warning to other journalists who would dare be critical of the government. They are right to be concerned,” Committe to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said in a report Thursday. Tissanayagam has been languishing in jail from 7th March 2008 when he was first arrested without charge.
Arrested without a warrant on 7th March 2008 when Tissanayagam went to the offices of the government’s Terrorism Investigation Division to ask about a colleague who had been arrested the day before, Tissanayagam was incarcerated without detention order, and was refused to see a lawyer for more than two weeks after arrest.
Tissainayagam was denied privacy of conversation with his attorney and his wife while under detention, and held without charge for more than 5 months, and after being in prison for more than 18 months, Tissanyagam was sentenced by Sri Lanka’s high court for 20 years in prison on 31st August 2009.
Jayaprakash Sittampalam Tissainayagam, a Sri Lanka’s Tamil journalist, “became a symbol of [Sri Lanka] government repression and a martyr for freedom of the press. To many observers, Tissainayagam’s treatment cemented Sri Lanka’s reputation as a totalitarian state in the making,” Sunday Leader said at his sentencing in August.
“In the years since Mahinda Rajapaksa has held high office in Sri Lanka—as prime minister in 2004 and then as president since 2005—nine journalists have been murdered with impunity. According to CPJ data, Sri Lanka has the fourth worst impunity record in the world, behind only Iraq, Sierra Leone, and Somalia. And over the years CPJ and other journalist support groups have been handling a steady flow of requests for assistance while threatened reporters seek either temporary refuge or permanent exile,” CPJ’s Asia Program Coordinator, Bob Dietz said.
Not many international journalists are singled out by a U.S. president. But this year, on World Press Freedom Day in May, President Barack Obama cited the prosecution of J.S. Tissainayagam as “emblamatic” of press freedom abuses worldwide, CPJ said in its release.
“Sri Lanka’s war against Tamil separatists has ended, but it is too soon for United States and the international community to assume that the government’s war against the media has ended. Victory will only come when Tissa is released and journalists in Sri Lanka know that they are free to write and the country resumes its march toward democracy and out of the tortured ranks of countries like Iraq, Sierra Leone, or Somalia,” CPJ cautioned.