Monday, October 05, 2009

Wife of jailed SLankan reporter accepts award

J.S. Tissainayagam, a Tamil reporter and editor serving a 20-year prison sentence in Sri Lanka, was awarded the first Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism on Friday.

His wife, Ronnate Tissainayagam, accepted the award, named for a 30-year veteran of Agence France-Presse who died last year, at a ceremony at the National Press Club.

Tissainayagam was honored by the US branch of Paris-based media rights group Reporters Without Borders and Global Media Forum, a company founded by Mackler to train journalists and non-profit organizations to use the media as a tool for social change.

"For the last 20 years my husband has endeavoured to pursue the goals that Mr. Mackler believed in as a journalist," Tissainayagam's wife said.

"Like Peter, my husband was never too busy to encourage those who wanted to learn to write and has helped many in journalism," she said. "Today my husband is continuing to teach me courage and grace in difficult times.

"For him, no matter what the circumstances are, there is no excuse for unkindness," Ronnate Tissainayagam said. "No matter what the circumstance, fellow human beings must be treated with dignity."

Marcus Brauchli, executive editor of The Washington Post, delivered the keynote speech at the award ceremony paying homage to journalists around the world working under repressive regimes.

"Doing such good journalism as the Peter Mackler Award encourages takes courage," Brauchli said.

Tissainayagam, who wrote for the North Eastern Monthly Magazine and Sunday Times and founded, a website that focused on the island's minority Tamils, was arrested in March 2008 on terrorism charges.

He was accused of receiving money from the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and causing racial hatred through his writings about Tamils affected by the LTTE war for a separate homeland, charges he rejected.

"I never advocated violence," he said in a statement in court. "My objective was to generate non violent means of resolving the conflict. My research, writings and work was towards achieving this."

Cited by President Barack Obama as an "emblematic example" of a persecuted journalist, Tissainayagam was sentenced in August to 20 years of hard labor.

The Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism was founded in June 2008 to honor the memory of Mackler, who died of a heart attack that month at the age of 58.

Mackler covered wars, elections and other notable events around the world during his career at AFP and was key in transforming the agency's English language service into the international competitor it is today.

The Peter Mackler Award rewards journalists who fight courageously and ethically to report the news in countries where freedom of the press is either not guaranteed or not recognized.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists has also selected Tissainayagam as a recipient of a 2009 International Press Freedom Award.


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