Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

CPJ Urges SL Ambassador to Investigate Media Attacks

by Commitee to Protect Journalists, March 6, 2009

Tamil journalist J.S. Tissainayagam will have spent a year behind bars as of March 7, and is facing implausible terrorism charges.

Committee to Protect Journalists

330 Seventh Avenue, New York, NY 10001 USA     Phone: (212) 465-1004     Fax: (212) 465-9568     Web: www.cpj.org     E-Mail: media@cpj.org

Contact:  Bob Dietz

               bdietz@cpj.org

               +1 609 647 3075

 

CPJ urges Sri Lankan ambassador to investigate media attacks 

New York, March 6, 2009—A delegation from the Committee to Protect Journalists met yesterday with the Sri Lankan Ambassador to the United States and called for a comprehensive and transparent investigation into a series of recent attacks against the press that may have involved government forces.

Citing the independence of the Sri Lankan judiciary, Ambassador Jaliya Wickramasuriya said he was unable to offer any assurances about the scope of the investigation. “The government of Sri Lanka is perturbed by threats against media workers and especially repulsed by the alleged attacks on media workers,” the ambassador told the delegation. “The government in no way condones or endorses any such attacks.” He said that the attacks on journalists may have been perpetrated by “terrorists” seeking to embarrass the government.

“While we appreciate the opportunity to convey our concerns directly to the ambassador and his staff, we hoped to emerge from the meeting with assurances of a robust and vigorous investigation into these appalling crimes,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We were disappointed not to receive any such assurance.”

The worst attack came on January 8, when the editor-in-chief of The Sunday Leader, Lasantha Wickramatunga, was killed in his car on his way to work. CPJ produced a special report, “Failure to investigate,” detailing this assault and others after a trip to Colombo at the end of January.

“There has been impunity for those who attack journalists in Sri Lanka, and there have been attempts to intimidate and silence critics of the government,” Bob Dietz, CPJ Asia program coordinator, told Wickramasuriya. “Journalists who are critical should not be targeted as part of the government’s military objective.”

CPJ highlighted three specific cases that need urgent attention:

  • Tamil journalist J.S. Tissainayagam will have spent a year behind bars as of March 7, and is facing implausible terrorism charges.
  • Nadesapillai Vithyatharan, the editor of two Tamil-language papers, was detained February 27 for alleged contact with the suicide bombers who attacked Colombo by plane on February 20.
  • Iqbal Athas, the Sri Lankan Sunday Times’ defense columnist and a former CPJ award winner, has been under constant harassment, and has been in and out of the country for months, fearing for his life.

CPJ also raised concerns about a consistently high level of violence toward journalists that rose in January with three incidents, and the ongoing restrictions on reporting:

  • A bomb attack on Sirasa TV’s main control room on January 6.
  • The murder of prominent opposition editor Lasantha Wickramatunga by an eight-man hit squad on January 8.
  • The beating of a pro-government editor, Upali Tennakoon, by four men on January 23, which resulted in severe injuries and his fleeing the country.
  • Restrictions on access to the north and east, where a humanitarian disaster is unfolding. The government routinely denies journalists access because of security concerns.

The CPJ delegation included board members Andrew Alexander, David Marash, Clarence Page, and Mark Whitaker in addition to Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director, and Washington Representative Frank Smyth. Marash posted a blog entry about the meeting on CPJ’s Web site.

According to CPJ’s records, since Rajapaksa took high office in Sri Lanka, eight journalists have died of what CPJ considers to be premeditated murder. No one has been brought to trial in any of these cases, according to CPJ research.

Dietz testified about the threats to the Sri Lankan media in front of a Senate subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia on February 24.

CPJ is a New York–based, independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide. For more information, visit www.cpj.org.

Bob Dietz  bdietz@cpj.org
Asia Program Coordinator

Madeline Earp mearp@cpj.org
Asia Program Researcher

Committee to Protect Journalists
330 Seventh Ave, 11th floor
New York, NY 10001
+1 212 465 1004
www.cpj.org

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Tissainayagam and colleagues in Sri Lankan jail for one year

 

New York, March 6, 2009—The Sri Lankan government should release a journalist and his two colleagues who have spent a year behind bars on terrorism charges for publishing magazine articles, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Terrorist Investigation Division forces arrested Vettivel Jasikaran, manager of the news Web site OutreachSL, and his companion, Vadivel Valamathy, both ethnic Tamils, on March 6, 2008, according to local and international news reports and press freedom groups. Their colleague, Tamil columnist and OutreachSL editor J.S. Tissainayagam, was detained when he visited them the next day.

“J.S.Tissainayagam is being targeted for his journalism, and his colleagues have been swept up alongside him in the government’s transparent effort to label their critics as terrorists,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ Asia Program Coordinator.

Tissainayagam, a well-known journalist who frequently addressed displacement of civilians and other humanitarian issues stemming from Sri Lanka’s war in weekly columns for the Sunday Times, was charged more than five months after he was detained. The Colombo High Court indicted him on August 25 under the Prevention of Terrorism Act for writing articles in 2006 and 2007 that the court said incited communal disharmony. He faced a second charge for publishing the articles in North Eastern Monthly, a Tamil-viewpoint magazine that he had once edited, and a third for raising money for the magazine. Jasikaran and Valamathy were charged with aiding and abetting Tissainayagam; the Monthly, which folded in 2007, was published by Jasikaran’s printing business. All three face up to 20 years each if convicted on all counts, according to Tissainayagam’s lawyer, M.A. Sumanthiran.

“The prosecution’s case against Tissainayagam has been deeply flawed from the outset and has made a mockery of the rule of law in Sri Lanka,” Dietz said. “He, Vettivel Jasikaran, and Vadivel Valamathy should be immediately and unconditionally released.”

Sumanthiran told CPJ in an interview in November 2008 that his client’s detention raised several procedural questions. Tissainayagam was arrested under emergency regulations and should have been charged within 90 days of his arrest. Tissainayagam’s defense team also challenged both the content and the legality of an alleged confession which the journalist says he made under threat of torture. In December, the High Court ruled to allow that confession, according to news reports. Bail requests have been denied and his trial is ongoing.

Local news reports said Valamathy held an administrative post with the independent Sri Lankan TV network MTV. Her only connection to the case appeared to be her relationship with Jasikaran. The couple is awaiting trial.

Tissainayagam’s supporters have frequently raised concerns about his health and the mistreatment of all three of the accused in prison. CPJ joined with international media rights groups today to call for Tissainayagam’s release.

CPJ highlighted Sri Lankan government complicity in the country’s deteriorating media environment in recent special report,Failure to investigate.”

CPJ is a New York–based, independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide. For more information, visit www.cpj.org.