Sri Lankan journalist’s year of detention for reporting on the war

Saturday marks the first anniversary of the detention of Sri Lankan journalist and human rights activist, Jayaprakash Sittampalam Tissainayagam. He was arrested for writing about the impact on civilians of the war in Sri Lanka. At least 14 media workers have been unlawfully killed in Sri Lanka since the beginning of 2006. Others have been arbitrarily detained, tortured and allegedly disappeared while in the custody of security forces. More than 8 journalists have left the country in the last 6 months in response to death threats. In his writing, Tissainayagam has been an active defender of the human rights of all civilians affected by the fighting in Sri Lanka, regardless of ethnicity.   A year ago Tissainayagam, known for his work for the Sri Lankan Sunday Times and the North Eastern magazine, was taken into custody by the Terrorist Investigation Department (TID) – part of the Sri Lankan police force. He was initially arrested by the Police on suspicion of links to the armed opposition group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) (he is an ethnic Tamil). At the time of his arrest, he was visiting the TID detention centre in the capital of Colombo, to inquire about North Eastern printer Vadivel Jasikaren, who had been arrested with his wife the previous day. Tissainayagam was not issued with a detention order and his family was not informed of his arrest, even though both are required under Sri Lankan law. He was charged with “aiding and abetting a terrorist organisation”. The only material evidence against Tissainayagam relates to two articles covering the Sri Lankan conflict and a confession, which is believed to have been taken under duress. Tissainayagam or “Tissa”, as he is known to friends and family, was originally detained without charge for almost six months. He was held in a tiny cell with sixty other prisoners. The cell was too dark to read or write. He was not permitted to send or receive letters. Sanitation was poor with an open latrine and irregular washing facilities. He was prevented from seeing his family or lawyers in private. His wife was allowed to visit him but they could not see each other through the thick metal grill that separated them. Amnesty International considers Tissainayagam to be a prisoner of conscience detained solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression and his legitimate activities as a journalist. The organization is calling for his immediate and unconditional release.

Amnesty International held a vigil in at the Sri Lankan High Commission in London on Friday 6 March, to mark Tissainayagam’s year in custody.