CPJ renews call for release of Sri Lankan journalist Tissa

New York, December 10, 2009—On the 100th day after the sentencing of journalist J. S. Tissainayagam, the Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa to use his constitutional powers to release him from the 20-year prison sentence that was given to him on August 31.

Tissainayagam, also known as Tissa, was one of dozens of ethnic Tamil journalists who were swept up during the 26-year-long conflict between the Sinhalese-dominated government and Tamil separatists, which ended this year. He had spent more than 600 days in prison leading up to his August sentencing, and was ultimately 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.

“Sri Lanka’s war against Tamil secessionists might be over, but the government has yet to back away from the war it has waged against journalists during that terrible conflict,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “Releasing J. S. Tissainayagam would be a key step in reversing the government’s anti-media polices.”

Tissainayagam was charged under Sri Lanka’s Prevention of Terrorism Act in connection with two articles written nearly three years earlier in a now-defunct magazine, North Eastern Monthly. His 20-year sentence of “rigorous imprisonment”hard labor— was a dire warning to other journalists who would dare be critical of the government.

On November 24, CPJ honored Tissainayagam with an International Press Freedom Award, in recognition of his role as a judicious voice in Sri Lanka’s increasingly strident media atmosphere.