Free Journalists Unfairly Held
(New York, December 3, 2008) - The Sri Lankan government should immediately drop charges and free J.S. Tissainayagam, a prominent Tamil journalist on trial for his writings, Human Rights Watch said today. A Tamil publisher, N. Jasiharan, and his wife, V. Valamathy, who were also arbitrarily arrested, should be freed immediately.
"The Sri Lankan government is shamefully using antiterrorism laws to silence peaceful critics in the media," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "This is no way for a government that claims to be a rights-respecting democracy to act."
Tissainayagam, a columnist with the Sunday Times newspaper and editor of the Outreach website, was arrested by the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) of the police on March 7, 2008. The previous day, the terrorist investigation unit had arrested Jasiharan, the owner of E-Kwality press, and Valamathy. Tissainayagam and Jasiharan are co-directors of the company Outreach Multimedia. Valamathy has no official role with the company.
On August 25, more than five months after Tissainayagam's arrest, prosecutors charged him under the country's Emergency Regulations and the Prevention of Terrorism Act for printing and distributing the North Eastern Monthly magazine, of which he was previously an editor, and for aiding and abetting terrorist organizations through raising money for the magazine. He is currently on trial before the High Court in Colombo.
Tissainayagam's indictment cites two of his writings from the North Eastern Monthly. In a July 2006 editorial, under the headline, "Providing security to Tamils now will define northeastern politics of the future," Tissainayagam wrote: "It is fairly obvious that the government is not going to offer them any protection. In fact it is the state security forces that are the main perpetrator of the killings."
The charges against Tissainayagam also include part of a November 2006 article on the military offensive in Vaharai, in the east, which said:
"Such offensives against the civilians are accompanied by attempts to starve the population by refusing them food as well as medicines and fuel, with the hope of driving out the people of Vaharai and depopulating it. As this story is being written, Vaharai is being subject to intense shelling and aerial bombardment."