Tamil reporter jailed for 20 years on terror charges

Sri Lanka's High Court has sentenced a Tamil reporter described by US President Barack Obama as an "emblematic example" of a persecuted journalist to 20 years in prison for supporting terrorism.


AFP - Sri Lanka's High Court sentenced a Tamil reporter described by US President Barack Obama as an "emblematic example" of a persecuted journalist to 20 years in prison on Monday for supporting terrorism.

J.S. Tissainayagam, 45, who contributed to the local Sunday Times and ran a website,, that focused on the island's minority Tamils, was found guilty on three counts under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).

A court official said the charges included receiving money from the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to fund his website and causing racial hatred through his writings about Tamils affected by the conflict.

Obama mentioned Tissainayagam in a statement to mark World Press Freedom on May 1, describing him as an "emblematic example" of a journalist who was being persecuted for doing his work.

A large number of journalists and media rights activists were in court when the judgement was delivered after a trial that lasted nearly a year.

"He becomes the first journalist to be convicted and sentenced under the PTA," rights activist Chulawansa Srilal said, adding that they were stunned by the court ruling as well as the lengthy jail term.

Tissainayagam has been in custody since his arrest in March last year, despite appeals by both local and international media rights groups for his release.

He is the first Sri Lankan journalist to be convicted under the Prevention of Terrorism Act introduced in the early 1980s. His lawyers said they will appeal the conviction.

Sri Lankan defence authorities have argued that Tissainayagam received funding both directly and indirectly from the Tamil Tigers who were eventually defeated by government forces in May this year.

The court accepted a confession from the journalist about his alleged involvement with the Tigers despite protests from his lawyers and supporters who contended its authenticity.

The arrest and detention of Tissainayagam came amid a climate of fear among Sri Lankan journalists, several of whom have been killed by unidentified groups.

A leading anti-establishment editor, Lasantha Wickrematunga, was shot dead near his office in January. Several others have escaped assassination.

The government's figures show that nine journalists were killed and another 27 assaulted in the past three years, while activists say more than a dozen journalists have been killed.

Independent defence analysts stopped writing or quit the country during the height of fighting between troops and Tamil rebels even though there was no formal censorship.

The United Nations has estimated that between 80,000 and 100,000 people have been killed in Sri Lanka's drawn-out Tamil separatist conflict which the security forces declared ended in May.

The decades-long ethnic conflict ended after the military took control of all rebel-held territory and killed the group's leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran.

The government still restricts media access to the regions, but some 300,000 war-displaced civilians are held in government-run camps.

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