IOC.Article 19 Call For Release of Sri Lankan Tamil Journalist in detention- 250 days
As the trial of newspaper editor and human rights activist J.S. Tissainayagam gets under way, ARTICLE 19 and ‘Index on Censorship’ call for his immediate release, after being held in detention for 250 days.
Tissainayagam was detained by the Sri Lankan Terrorist Investigation Division on March 7, 2008, for what we believe are politically motivated reasons.
Prior to his detention, Tissainayagam had been working for the German government funded website OutreachSL, on a number of critical stories about the government’s military campaign and its track record on Constitutional and civilian protection, including articles on peace and justice.
He was held without charge for nearly six months but, following local and international calls for his release, Sri Lankan authorities finally brought charges against him on August 25, based on his having authored, published and distributed the North Eastern Monthly between June 2006 and June 2007. Tissainayagam is the first journalist accused under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), of bringing the government into “disrepute”, creating “ethnic disharmony” and aiding and abetting “unknown persons”.
Tissainayagam has not had regular access to legal representation or permitted to meet his lawyers without the presence of the security services. The case against him rests primarily on his own confession, despite evidence of torture. In 2007, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Manfred Nowak, described torture in Sri Lanka as “routine” and general. Sri Lankan law stipulates that confession is not admissible without clear safeguards, due to a history of forced admissions. However, under the PTA, confessions are allowed.
The lengthy detention without charge, along with the strategy of procedural delay of court proceedings, and the precedent of using anti-terrorism legislation against a journalist, are not only a gross abuse of Tissainayagam’s rights, but they also create a culture of self censorship and a “chilling effect” on the Sri Lankan media generally.
ARTICLE 19 and ‘Index on Censorship’ call on the Sri Lankan government to respect their commitment to international standards on free expression. The government should release Tissainayagam immediately and withdraw the politically motivated charges. At a minimum, it should release him on bail and ensure a fair trial without delay. Tissainayagam should also be allowed unrestricted access to his family, a lawyer of his choice, any specialist medical treatment he may require, and access to foreign diplomatic delegations that may request to visit him.
ARTICLE 19 and ‘Index on Censorship’ call upon all diplomatic missions in Sri Lanka to monitor the trial carefully and to request permission to visit Tissainayagam to confirm his wellbeing. In particular, we also call upon the governments of India, Japan, United Kingdom and the USA, all of whom have a very close relationship with the Sri Lankan government, as well as international representatives in Brussels, Geneva and New York to convey their concern of this precedent in their communications with the Government of Sri Lanka.