J.S. Tissainayagam

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Terrorist Investigation Division forces arrested well-known Tamil columnist and editor J.S. Tissainayagam when he tried to visit detained colleagues Vettivel Jasikaran and Vadivel Valamathy. Jasikaran and Valamathy were released after 19 months in detention.

Tissainayagam was editor of the news Web site OutreachSL at the time of his arrest. He was also a columnist for the Sunday Times and had once edited a Tamil-viewpoint magazine known as North Eastern Monthly.

On August 25, 2008, the Colombo High Court indicted Tissainayagam on terrorism charges stemming from articles published in 2006 in North Eastern Monthly, according to defense lawyer M.A. Sumanthiran. The court said the articles, which detailed displacement of residents and other humanitarian issues in eastern Sri Lanka, incited communal disharmony in violation of the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Tissainayagam told his lawyer he had written a confession after being forced to watch several brutal interrogations, including one involving Jasikaran.

The magazine, which folded in early 2007, was published by Jasikaran’s printing business. In a statement posted on its official Web site, the Peace Secretariat said the journalist and “his business associates” had produced publications “designed to embarrass the Sri Lankan government through false accusations.”

On August 31, 2009, the court convicted Tissainayagam and sentenced him to 20 years of hard labor. The same day, CPJ announced that the editor would receive its International Press Freedom Award in November.

Prior to his arrest, Tissainayagam had written several opinion pieces for the Sunday Times, many of which were highly critical of the Sri Lankan government’s handling of security issues. One of the final columns before his arrest was titled, “Child Soldiers: What the Govt. Report Did Not Report.”

During his World Press Freedom Day address in May, U.S. President Barack Obama said Tissainayagam’s case was “emblematic” of the situation of journalists being wrongly jailed around the world