International Press Freedom Awards

J.S. Tissainayagam, Sri Lanka, Sunday Times


On March 7, 2008, J.S. Tissainayagam, editor of the news Web site OutreachSL and a columnist for the English-language Sri Lankan Sunday Times, went to the offices of the government’s Terrorism Investigation Division to ask about a colleague who had been arrested the day before. He never made it back home.

AFPTissainayagam, also known as Tissa, was among dozens of ethnic Tamil journalists who were swept up during the 26-year-long conflict between the Sinhalese-dominated government and Tamil separatists. Terrorism Investigation Division officials arrested Tissainayagam and held him without charge for six months. In August 2008, he was charged with inciting “communal disharmony,” an offense under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, in connection with two articles written nearly three years earlier in a now-defunct magazine, North Eastern Monthly. In September 2009, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Local journalists say Tissainayagam wrote political columns about Tamil issues that were frequently critical of the government but not partisan to the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. U.S. President Barack Obama highlighted Tissainayagam's case during his World Press Freedom Day address in May.

International Press Freedom Awards