J.S. Tissainayagam

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In this video companion to CPJ's 2010 census of imprisoned journalists, Sri Lankan columnist J.S. Tissainayagam describes his own time in prison and how international advocacy can make a difference in winning the freedom of jailed reporters, editors, photojournalists, and bloggers. (4:09)

Read the special report "Iran, China drive prison tally to 14-year high" and view our database of journalists in prison.

News from the Committee to Protect Journalists, July 2010

Newly freed political prisoners at a press conference in Madrid. (AP/Emilio Morenatti)

Cuba begins releasing journalists

For weeks, CPJ staff had been getting hints that Cuba, under a deal brokered by the Catholic Church and Spanish government, would release imprisoned journalists and political dissidents. Some families had been told to buy suits for their jailed loved ones, a sure sign that something was up. After years of painstaking reporting, contact-building and campaigning on Cuba, we were in a great position to move quickly when at last on July 13 the Cuban authorities put six journalists on a plane for Madrid. CPJ Europe Consultant Borja Bergareche was there to welcome the new exiles, the first in what is expected to be a series of releases by the Castro regime. Three more journalists have since been freed. Prior to the releases, CPJ research had identified 21 journalists in Cuban prisons for their independent reporting and commentary. All but one of the journalists had been detained in March 2003, in the massive government crackdown on political dissent and independent journalism that came to be known as the Black Spring.

New York, June 19, 2010The Committee to Protect Journalist welcomes the arrival in the United States of Sri Lankan journalist J.S. Tissainayagam, who arrived at Washington’s Dulles International Airport on Saturday morning. He was met there by friends. According to CPJ representative Kamel Labidi, who was on hand to meet Tissa, “He was all smiles, and said to thank everyone who helped him gain his freedom.”
The end of Sri Lanka’s war with Tamil rebels has not eased repression of independent media. Journalists still face violence, harassment, and detention. Will President Rajapaksa use his victories on the battlefield and in the polling booth to reunite the nation and restore free expression? A CPJ Special Report by Bob Dietz and Robert Mahoney

President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the swearing-in ceremony for his cabinet. (AP/Eranga Jayawardena)
Reuters

New York, May 3, 2010—The Committee to Protect Journalists is heartened by news reports today that President Mahinda Rajapaksa has issued a pardon to Sri Lankan journalist J.S. Tissainayagam, left. CPJ is waiting for official clarification, however, concerning several important details. 

In response to news reports today that Sri Lanka will offer a full pardon to journalist J.S. Tissainayagam, we issued this statement.

Top Developments
• Editor murdered, broadcaster bombed, reporters assaulted.
• Columnist convicted of terrorism for his writing.

Key Statistic
0: Number of convictions in 10 journalist murders since 1992.

On May 19, the government formally declared a victory in its 26-year civil war with the secessionist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which had claimed territory for an ethnic Tamil homeland. Victory came at a high price for the press. Escalating attacks on independent journalists coincided with the government’s 2006 decision to pursue an all-out military victory, CPJ found in a February special report, “Failure to Investigate.” Ethnic Tamil journalists seen by the government as supporting independence had long been under murderous assault, but physical and verbal attacks on Sinhalese and Muslim journalists critical of the government’s military operations began accelerating in 2006 as well. These attacks—which in 2009 included a murder, a bombing, and several assaults—occurred with complete impunity.

January 2010

News from the Committee to Protect Journalists

A drawing of Wickramatunga in the lobby of The Sunday Leader. (CPJ)On Tuesday, I revisited three cases CPJ had investigated last year, dating from January 2009: the attack on Sirasa TV; the murder of newspaper editor Lasanatha Wickramatunga, and the violent attack on another editor, Upali Tennakoon and his wife, Dhammika. Last year's report was called Failure to Investigate. Today, I'll take a look at the implications of the government's failure to bring any of them to prosecution as the country moves toward presidential elections on January 26.

Court documents recently revealed that a coroner's report found that Wickramatunga's death was "caused not due to gunshot injuries, but injuries caused to his head with a sharp weapon." Iron bars, wooden poles, pistols, silenced or not, what's the difference? There is one.

With Monday’s release  of J. S. Tissainayagam on bail, maybe things are looking up for the media in Sri Lanka. CPJ welcomed Tissainayagam’s release from a sentence of 20 years' “rigorous imprisonment,” but called on President Mahinda Rajapaksa to extend him a full pardon, as it is within his presidential powers to do. For now, at least, Tissa, as he is known, is out of his prison cell though not free to leave the country—the appeal court that set him free demanded that he hand over his passport as part of the bail agreement. But there are many other cases still hanging in the air in Sri Lanka that will not go away, even though they are making their way through the courts.

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