Jailed Sri Lankan journalist released on bail

Amnesty International has welcomed the release on bail of Sri Lankan journalist JS Tissainayagam, who was sentenced to 20 years in jail on terrorism charges last year after criticizing the government.

Amnesty International has also urged the Sri Lankan authorities to follow up Tissainayagam’s release by quashing his conviction for “inciting communal disharmony” after he published magazine articles critical of the Sri Lankan military.

“We are thrilled that Tissa is finally free to rejoin his family, but he should have never been jailed in the first place.  His sentence was a gross miscarriage of justice and a violation of his human rights,” said Yolanda Foster, Amnesty International’s Sri Lanka researcher.

Tissainayagam was convicted on 31 August 2009 under Sri Lanka’s draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act.

He was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment after the magazine he was editing published articles criticizing the Sri Lankan military’s treatment of civilians.

He was also accused of promoting terrorism by collecting money to run the magazine. Tissainayagam has appealed the sentence.

Tissainayagam’s sudden release comes in the run up to Sri Lanka’s Presidential elections in which President Mahinda Rajapaksa is pitted against his former army chief, General Sarath Fonseka. Tamil votes may play a deciding factor in the elections.

Tissainayagam was arrested on 7 March 2008 when he went to the Terrorist Investigation Division, seeking two colleagues who had been arrested the previous day.

He was detained without charge for six months before being indicted under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, and spent a further year in detention prior to his conviction.    

“Tissainayagam was arrested and sentenced solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression and for his legitimate activities as a journalist. His conviction should be struck down and he should be released unconditionally,” said Yolanda Foster.