Sunday, September 06, 2009

Tissainayagam's verdict: "A setback for South Asian press freedom' - South Asia Media Commission

LAHORE: The South Asia Media Commission (SAMC) on Friday condemned a Sri Lankan court’s verdict that sent veteran Sri Lankan journalist and columnist JS Tissainayagam to 20 years of rigorous imprisonment under the country’s anti-terror law.

“The incarceration and prosecution by the state and the court’s judgement have affected reporters and editors who question the government’s anti-terror campaign and practice independent journalism. The verdict is a setback to the freedom of press in South Asia,” SAMC Chairman N Ram and Secretary General Najam Sethi said in a statement. “The SAMC has consistently opposed all repressive anti-terror laws that target freedom of expression and the media. The Sri Lankan government should avoid misusing the anti-terror laws to silence peaceful critics. Such extreme punishment imposed on a journalist for writing an article and allegedly raising money for his magazine abroad is appalling. The whole episode is a clear and present danger to the freedom of expression in Sri Lanka,” the statement said.

The statement, issued by SAMC Regional Coordinator Hussain Naqi, called on Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa to intervene in the matter as soon as possible to set Tissainayagam free. Tissainayagam had angered the Sri Lankan army and government by commenting in the North Eastern Monthly that “the inability to protect its citizens has caused Sri Lanka worldwide embarrassment”. In another piece, he spoke about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Vakarai, a coastal town in Sri Lanka’s east, whose civilian population had been trapped in the midst of the war.

Tissainayagam, an ethnic Tamil who wrote in English and was a regular columnist, was arrested by an anti-terrorism division of police in March 2008. He was not formally charged or produced in court until August 2008, when he was booked under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).

© Daily Times

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