Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Sri Lankan journalist J.S Tissainayagam rewarded by the Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism

Global Media Forum and the US branch of Reporters Without Borders have formally awarded the respected Sri Lankan journalist and editor J. S. Tissainayagam as first winner of the Peter Mackler Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism at the National Press Club in Washington, DC on October 2, 2009. His wife, Ronnate Tissainayagam, was present at the ceremony to receive the Award.
“For the last 20 years my husband has endeavoured to pursue the goals that Mr.Mackler believed in as a journalist. Like Peter, my husband was never too busy to encourage those who wanted to learn to write and has helped many in journalism. 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. No matter what circumstance fellow human beings must be treated with dignity », said Ronnate Tissainayagam.
J. S Tissainayagam is a respected Tamil journalist and editor who wrote for the North Eastern Monthly Magazine and the Sunday Times in Sri Lanka. And is the founder of the website Outreachsl.com. He was arrested March 7, 2008 by the Terrorism Investigation Division (TID) of the Sri Lanka police and got a 20 year sentence on terrorism charges today on August 31st.
According to Reporters Without Borders, Tissainayagam’s case is the first known instance in the democratic world of a journalist being charged under the provisions of an anti-terror law. The organization said that in the past two years, the deaths of eleven journalists - eight of them were ethnic Tamils - have been unresolved by the Sri Lankan government. At least, eight foreign reporters or contributors to international media have been forced to leave the country because of threats from the authorities or their supporters since 1st January 2009 and 30 Sri Lankan journalists have fled Sri Lanka since the start of 2008.
During the ceremony, the key note speaker Marcus Brauchli, executive editor of The Washington Post held a speech on the challenges of reporting in developping countries and the achievements journalists success in thanks to making the information public.
“Doing such good journalism as the Peter Mackler Award encourages takes courage”, said Brauchli.
The Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism was founded in June, 2008 to honor the memory of Peter Mackler, a Brooklyn-born thirty-five year veteran journalist who championed ethical journalism, freedom of expression, and who helped transform the news agency Agence France Press (AFP) into the international competitor it is today. Mackler also founded Global Media Forum, which has helped train journalists and non-profit organizations to use the media as a tool for social change, and Project Plato, which teaches journalism as a life skill to teenagers. Links http://www.rsf.org/Sri-Lankan-journalist-J-S.html and video link http://pmaward.org/ceremony/

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

THE HINDU - Opinion - Editorials Blow to media freedom
The August 31 verdict of a Colombo High Court sentencing the veteran journalist and columnist J.S. Tissainayagam to 20 years of rigorous imprisonment under the country’s draconian anti-terror law has raised concerns across the world on the state of freedoms in the country. The punishment is extremely disproportionate to the alleged crime of writing articles criticising the military in his North Eastern Monthly magazine. Tissainayagam, an ethnic Tamil who wrote in English and was a regular newspaper 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 indicted under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). The court made a determination that his column, which was a mere expression of opinion on the government strategy in the war against terror, was intended to cause racial or communal disharmony. His raising money to run his magazine was construed as raising funds for the promotion of terrorism. The shock over the judgment is understandable as it is the first case in which a journalist had been charged and convicted under the PTA of 1979 and has come in the post-Prabakaran Sri Lanka that eagerly awaits reconciliation, after the military defeat of the LTTE in May this year.
Even before the court pronouncement, the case of Tissa made international headlines. On the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3, United States President Barack Obama referred to the lack of media freedom in many parts and to the case of Tissainayagam along with another as “emblematic examples of this distressing reality.†Reporters Without Borders, an organisation that has consultative status with the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), has called on the Council to intercede on behalf of the jailed Sri Lankan journalist. The incarceration and prosecution by the state and the court’s judgment have the effect of intimidating reporters and editors who may want to question the government’s anti-terror campaign and strategy. President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who has earned all-round praise for his successful military campaign against the LTTE, should heed democratic voices and intervene urgently in the matter to set Tissainayagam free. Even in difficult times, the Sri Lanka Parliament had in 2002, during the tenure of Ranil Wickramasinghe and Chandrika Kumaratunga, repealed law relating to criminal defamation. The core post-war theme espoused by the government is, “let’s forget the past and rebuild the battered nation.†The Tissa episode is an opportunity for the government to move towards reconciliation as well as to ensure that basic freedoms are protected.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Sunday, March 8, 2009

For immediate release – 6 March 2009

Sri Lanka: Free Journalist Detained on Terrorism Charges

365 days after Sri Lankan journalist J.S. Tissainayagam was detained under
Anti-Terrorism legislation, ARTICLE 19 joins many people and organisations
around the world calling for his immediate release.
Tissainayagam, now an Amnesty International
Prisoner of Conscience, was detained without charge
on 7 March 2008. Following international calls for
his release the Sri Lankan authorities finally brought
charges against him under the Prevention of
Terrorism Act on 25 August 2008 for a series of
newspaper articles.
According to journalist and former Convener of the
Sri Lankan Free Media Movement, Uvindu
Kurukulasuriya, “Tissainayagam was considered a
kind of bridge between the north and south, or the
Sinhalese and the Tamils. He has written many
articles concerning the ethnic situation in Sri Lanka.”
Dr Agnes Callamard, Executive Director ARTICLE 19 adds “over the past 3 years
more than 14 journalists have been killed in Sri Lanka and many have escaped to
India and the West, fearing for their lives. Tissainayagam’s case well demonstrates
the threats that counter terrorism legislation and measures pose to freedom of the
press, as they are so easily abused. His continued imprisonment for the peaceful
expression of his opinion sadly constitutes one of the many violations that are
common place in today’s Sri Lanka, including wide censorship, self-censorship, death
threats, violence and arbitrary arrests.”
Today ARTICLE 19 joins seven media rights organisations in demanding that the Sri
Lankan government urgently review his case. To read the full statement, visit:

To read past ARTICLE 19 statements on Tissainayagam’s case, visit:
• Sri Lanka: Journalist Still in Detention After 250 Days -
• Sri Lanka: Free Speech Indicted - http://www.article19.org/pdfs/press/srilanka-

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Dangers of doing your job well

November 4, 2006
Sutirtho Patranobis, Hindustan Times

Dangers of doing your job well
The irony here is like a joke gone sour; senior Tamil journalist JS Tissainayagam, the editor of a monthly magazine who is in jail for nine months now, is held in a prison in the heart of the capital called, well, Colombo Magazine Prison.
The funny part ends there. For Tissainayagam and two of his former colleagues it has been more a tragedy, unfolding rather painstakingly. The only journalist in Sri Lanka to be charged under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), Tissa — as his friends call him — was detained on March 7 when he went to meet his two former colleagues in a police jail. Jasiharan and his wife Valarmathy were the printers of the North Eastern monthly and had already been picked up by the Terrorist Investigation Department (TID) of the Lankan police.
"He was first detained at the TID office for questioning and then inexplicably arrested. Lawyers were only given access to him after two weeks,'' Sudarshana Gunawardana, a lawyer who is campaigning for the journalist's release told HT. At the time of his arrest, Tissainayagam was editing an online magazine.
The Free Media Movement (FMM) said: "After being held for five months without charge, Tissainayagam was formally indicted by the High Court of Sri Lanka under emergency and anti-terrorism laws.''
Gunawardana said he was arrested for "writing to bring discredit to the government and inciting ethnic and racial disharmony'' and ``collecting money for the North Eastern Monthly from NGOs.'' A Lankan journalist commented that "half of journalists in Sri Lanka could be arrested under the first count.''
On December 5, the Supreme Court, on another day of hearing of the Fundamental Rights Petition that Tissainayagam had filed, ruled that a purported confession made by him was voluntary and therefore admissible in court.
"Under the PTA and Rules of Emergency, a confession made by an accused is admissible in court. The prosecution does not need a witness. The burden of proving it otherwise lies on the accused. Notwithstanding that Tissainayagam said that he had been tortured in prison. He was upbeat after a 'voir dire' (which determines the admissibility of evidence) enquiry was ordered into the so-called confession. But the situation has changed now,'' Gunawardana said.
But a campaign to free him continues in Colombo. Interestingly, eminent Sinhalese intellectuals and lawyers are at its forefront. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its local affiliates in Sri Lanka also launched an online campaign video condemning the arrest and indictment of Tissainayagam.
"The indictment against Tissainayagam in a country where journalism and journalists already face extreme threats marks a dangerous turning point for freedom of expression and the right to information in Sri Lanka," IFJ Asia-Pacific said.

Sri Lanka Court Upholds Alleged Confession by Tissainayagam

SOURCE: International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Brussels

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is an IFJ media release:

Sri Lanka Court Upholds Alleged Confession by Tissainayagam

A Sri Lankan court has ruled that an alleged confession made by senior Tamil journalist J.S. Tissainayagam while detained by the Terrorism Investigation Division (TID) was voluntary and admissible as evidence in his trial on terrorism charges. The International Federation of Journalists
(IFJ) is informed however that Tissainayagam was forced to make a statement to TID under extreme duress.

Giving evidence in Colombo's High Court on November 5, Tissainayagam denied making a voluntary confession.

After being detained by the TID of the Sri Lankan police on March 7 this year, Tissainayagam was held without charge or explanation for more than 150 days. It is alleged that Tissainayagam, the editor of an online newspaper, OutreachSL.com, made a voluntary confession during this time.

However, Tissainayagam was reportedly subjected to duress and denied private access to lawyers. Court hearings during this period were postponed arbitrarily. The Supreme Court denied Tissainayagam's lawyers a fundamental rights petition for interim relief, submitted on the grounds of arbitrary arrest, torture, discrimination on the basis of ethnicity and a denial of equality of protection under law.

Indictments against Tissainayagam and his two colleagues, N. Jesiharan and his partner Valarmathi, were filed before the High Court of Colombo on August 25. The three were charged under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), a draconian law introduced in 1979 as an ostensibly temporary measure.

The IFJ and other international press freedom organisations are extremely concerned for the safety and welfare of the three. Tissainayagam and Jesiharan, the owner of E-Kwality Printers, were moved from a remand prison to the notoriously dangerous Magazine Prison in Colombo on November 17, according to the Free Media Movement (FMM), an IFJ affiliate.

The continuation of the trial against Tissainayagam has reportedly been postponed until December 18.

The IFJ joins the FMM in calling for fair judicial process to be applied to all aspects of the continuation of Tissainayagam's trial, including the procurement of his safety and protection in Magazine Prison.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Columns - FOCUS On Rights

The best of times and the worst of times
By Kishali Pinto Jayawardene

Certainly it is now, (to borrow a dearly immortalized phrase), the best of times and the worst of times. It is the worst of times for never before have the assaults on basic freedoms of life, liberty and democratic space been so prolonged and so pervasive or accompanied by such comprehensive subversion of constitutional institutions. And in response to those who would argue that the excesses of the then government, (in fighting the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna), during the nineteen eighties and the early nineteen nineties, surpassed the current agonies that we are living through, I would beg to disagree. That period was irrevocably marked by the extraordinary twin threats that the State was faced with, though this is not to excuse at all, the extreme repression resulting in thousands of killings of Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims, the family members of whom are yet to obtain justice.
Abandoning the proverbial figleaf of democracy
And at that time, there was adherence to at least the figleaf of a democratic process while political corruption of the constitutional and economic process was nowhere near the current astronomic heights. The 17th Amendment to the Constitution is yet being bypassed on the ludicrous pretext of a pending Parliamentary Select Committee Report which is fated never to see the light of day. If, for example, this constitutional amendment was properly implemented, we would have a constitutionally appointed National Police Commission, an Elections Commission and a Human Rights Commission that would have been crucial in ensuring the minimum of a free and fair poll in the North-Central province, including enforcing policemen to act according to law. But this was not to be.
The degeneration of constitutional institutions
Again, at that time, though we had political goons, they were not elevated to ministerial rank. Nor did they engage openly in the flouting of the law under the highest political patronage. At that time too, even though the Constitution was challenged to its fullest extent, we had courageous judges of the appellate courts who, minus their own personal or political ambitions, (and that rider is crucially important to this discussion), and despite extreme political pressure, laid down the parameters of the exercise of political power. While this is not to say that all was ideal, certainly the degeneration of constitutional institutions was not of such a nature that it compelled us to wonder whether the system would ever right itself at any point of time.
Now, the extraordinary has become the ordinary. And the ease with which we accept this transformation - along with despicable justifications put forward by government apologists - is what should most concern us.
Action taken in the name of national security
Last week's column focused on Maheswari's story, just one of many such traumas. Later on in the week, indictment was issued by the Attorney General against journalist J.S. Tissainayagam citing purported offences committed in terms of Emergency Regulations and the Prevention of Terrorism Act (read together with the Penal Code). However, the contents of the indictment in the public domain appear to centre purely on journalistic contributions to the "North Eastern Monthly" magazine during 2006 and 2007. Tissainayagam's observations that the state security forces have been the main perpetrators of killings in the conflict areas and that, at one time, citizens in Vahari were subjected to intense shelling and aerial bombardment with 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,' form the core of the indicted offences on the basis that they amount to, inter alia, causing or intending to cause acts of violence and/or communal disharmony and/or bringing the State into disrepute.
An additional charge that the magazine was published with funds from a non governmental organization is inextricably linked with establishing that the magazine indeed, published matter that can legitimately be prohibited.
Yet, if these writings form the alleged offences in question, journalists who are equally guilty of the same would be legion across Sri Lanka. Indeed, the jurisprudence of Sri Lanka's Supreme Court is studded with instances where it has been held that even exaggerated criticism of government policy or actions are encompassed within the legitimate scope of freedoms of speech, expression and publication and arrests made solely on that basis under emergency regulations are unconstitutional. Discussion of these cases however must be engaged in elsewhere than this column given the space constraints.
These are also the best of times
However, despite these many individual ordeals, this is also the best of times for it is precisely now that ordinary decent people will be tested to the utmost in regard to their determination to speak out against injustice and to rally against the most profound wrongs being committed in the name of patriotism and national security. The extent to which such determination is manifested will undoubtedly direct Sri Lanka's future trajectory as a democratic nation and shape our futures as citizens of this country