Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Sri Lanka : free speech indicted

16 September 2008 statement
Sri Lanka : free speech indicted
ARTICLE 19 calls for Sri Lankan journalist J.S. Tissainyagam to be tried without delay, and for due process of law to be followed. J.S. Tissainyagam has been detained since 7 March 2008.
The conflict in Sri Lanka has reached new depths with the lengthy detention without trial of J.S. Tissainyagam, the first journalist indicted under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. J.S. Tissainyagam has been held by the Terrorist Investigation Department since 7 March 2008.
On 25 August, five months after his detention, the Colombo High Court finally indicted Tissainyagam. The charges include the authoring, publication and distribution of North Eastern Monthly between June 2006 and June 2007. According to the indictment, the North Eastern Monthly “intends to cause the commission[ing] of acts of violence or racial or communal disharmony and brings the government into disrepute.” The indictment also charges Tissainyagam with collecting funds for and
promoting a terrorist organisation
. These actions are considered as offences under the
Prevention of Terrorist Act and the Emergency Regulations.

ARTICLE 19 is particularly concerned that the PTA and ER may be violating
international standards on freedom of expression. According to international law any
restriction on expression that a government seeks to justify on grounds of national
security requires higher legal scrutiny. To uphold the serious accusation against
Tissainyagam under anti-terrorism legislation, the government must prove that their
actions have the genuine purpose and demonstrable effect of protecting national
security. Moreover, they must establish that Tissainyagam’s articles and editorials
posed a serious threat, and that the restriction imposed is the least restrictive means
possible of protecting national security.
This is the first time since its enactment in 1979 that the Prevention of Terrorism Act
has been used against the media. Using the Act in this way highlights the State’s
increasing efforts to curtail media diversity and independence, and the free flow of
information. By so doing, the Sri Lankan authorities are preventing the Sri Lankan
public from accessing information on the conflict from a range of sources, including
those critical of the government’s actions.

The imprisonment and then prosecution of J.S. Tissainyagam, along with repeated use
of violence against journalists, have had a “chilling effect” on the Sri Lankan press,
and resulted in increased self-censorship.
ARTICLE 19 calls on the authorities to ensure that the case moves to a fair trial
without delay
. J.S. Tissainyagam must also be allowed unrestricted access to his
family, a lawyer of his choice, any specialist medical treatment he may require,
and foreign diplomatic delegations that may request to visit him.

ARTICLE 19, 6-8 Amwell Street, London EC1R 1UQTel: (+44) 20 7278 9292 / Fax: (+44) 20 7278 7660Web: www.article19.org / Email: info@article19.org

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