Sri Lankan journalist remains in prison

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the detention of Sri Lankan journalist JS Tissainayagam. The first journalist to be charged under the country’s Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), Tissainaygam was arrested on 7 March 2008, accused of fostering ‘disharmony’ and having connections with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) following the publication of a series articles critical of the Rajapakse administration. The offending articles were published between June 2006 and June 2007 in North Eastern Monthly magazine.

Upon arrest in March 2008, Tissainayagam, who is editor of the website OutreachSL, was initially held without charge for six months. In November, he was relocated to the country’s Magazine prison, known for its extremely harsh and crowded conditions. He has since been moved to another prison.

Over the last year, the Rajapakse administration has continued its campaign of hostility towards the media in Sri Lanka, with reporting restrictions being imposed in December and journalists — such as Sandaruwan Senadheera from the website Lanka-e-News —  being persecuted for their reports on the conduct of government ministers.

Freedom of expression advocates within Sri Lanka and from the international community see an administration unable to tolerate embarrassment of any kind, employing what editor Sanjana Hattotuwa calls a ‘perverse social engineering’ that aims to make an example out of Tissainayagam. In the current issue of Index on Censorship magazine, Hattotuwa writes: ‘this case confirms fears that the administration effectively mirrors the intolerance towards freedom of expression for which the LTTE is known and reviled’.

Also arrested in March 2008 were Tamil publisher N Jesiharan and his wife V Velamathy. Both remain in custody.

Media organisations and journalism associations around the world are calling for the immediate release of Tissainayagam and for an end to all criminal proceedings. They also call for the Sri Lankan government to allow diplomatic missions to travel to Colombo to monitor all court proceedings.