Sri Lanka: Amnesty condemns 'war without witnesses' as journalists prevented from reporting the conflict

Vigil at Sri Lankan Embassy (London) calls for renowned journalist to be released, as he approaches one year in prison

Amnesty International today called on the Sri Lankan government and Tamil Tiger rebels to stop the continuing harassment of journalists and media workers – a policy that has left the country’s people open to abuse in a conflict that journalists cannot report on freely.

The call came at a vigil outside the Sri Lankan Embassy in London to mark the continuing detention of the renowned journalist and human rights defender Jayaprakash Sittampalam Tissainayagam, first arrested on 7 March 2008.

Amnesty International’s Sri Lanka researcher, Yolanda Foster, said:

"Without a free media able to express alternative views and offer the opportunity for public scrutiny, abuses can flourish under a veil of secrecy and denial.

“Sri Lanka's climate of impunity for attacks on the media has made it impossible to get an accurate impartial picture of what is happening in the country. By threatening journalists with the risk of arrest, and failing to protect them from attack, the government is failing its citizens.”

A year ago Tissainayagam, a journalist for the Sri Lankan Sunday Times and the North Eastern magazine, was taken into custody by the Terrorist Investigation Department – part of the Sri Lankan police force. His “crime” was composing a number of articles critical of the government. His trial has been repeatedly postponed and serious questions have been raised as to whether he will get a fair trial.

Amnesty International believes Tissainayagam is a prisoner of conscience and is calling for his unconditional release.

Since 2006 at least 14 media workers have been killed and hundreds of others harassed and attacked by both sides of the conflict. More than 20 have fled the country in response to death threats. The cases are emblematic of the problems journalists and media workers face in the war-torn country.

Tissainayagam was detained after he went to inquire about the whereabouts of writer and publisher N. Jasikaran and his wife Valarmathi. He was subsequently charged “causing or commissioning the act of violence, racial disharmony” through articles in the North Eastern Monthly magazine. Although it is not in the official charge, statements by senior governments have indicated that the main reason for his arrest is because of his writing in the Sunday Times newspaper.

The writing and publication of the magazine occurred during the period of the Ceasefire Agreement, where the Government made a commitment not to detain or arrest anyone under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. On this basis alone, the indictments should not have been served.

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