Sri Lanka: Tamil journalist sentenced to twenty years imprisonment

*** UPDATE (4 May 2010): English PEN warmly welcomes the announcement that on 3 May 2010 – World Press Freedom Day – Tamil journalist Jayaprakash Sittampalam (J. S.) Tissainayagam received a presidential pardon. J.S. Tissainayagam was detained in March 2008 and sentenced to twenty years in prison for his critical writings. He was released on bail on 11 January 2010 pending appeal. For more information, please click here. ***

English PEN is appalled by the twenty-year prison sentence handed down to Tamil journalist Jayaprakash Sittampalam (J. S.) Tissainayagam under anti-terror legislation for his critical writings and publishing activities.  He has been ill-treated in prison and there are serious concerns for his health.

According to our information, on 31 August 2009 a High Court in Sri Lanka sentenced J. S. Tissainayagam to twenty years imprisonment with hard labour under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), for “causing communal disharmony” in his articles published in 2006 by the magazine North-Eastern Monthly. In addition, he was found guilty of raising funds to publish the magazine. A confession made by Tissainayagam while in police custody and allegedly forced under torture was used as evidence to convict him.

J. S. Tissainayagam, Tamil journalist for the Sunday Times newspaper and editor of Outreach Sri Lanka, was arrested on 7 March 2008, by the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) in Colombo. The day before, 6 March, his colleague V. Jasikaran (Jasiharan), owner of the E-Kwality printing works and reporter for the news website Outreach Sri Lanka (, was arrested with his wife V. Valamathy, also by the TID. All were detained without charge for five months under the PAT and Emergency Regulations (ER), before being charged in August 2008. Jasikaran and his wife face charges for aiding and abetting J. S. Tissainayagam in his activities, and remain detained pending trial.

J. S. Tissainayagam is said to be the first Sri Lankan journalist to be charged under the PTA, which according to Amnesty International had been suspended since February 2002 following the ceasefire agreement between the government and the Tamil Tigers in February 2002. In prosecuting Tissainayagam for articles and activities conducted in 2006, the prosecution therefore applied the PTA retroactively. After the breakdown of the peace process in 2006, the Sri Lankan military launched a major offensive against the Tigers, and victory over the Tigers was declared by Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa on 16 May 2009.

Since his arrest in March 2008 there have been serious concerns about J. S. Tissainayagam’s treatment in prison, including allegations of torture, denial of medical treatment and restrictions of family visits. His health is said to have deteriorated and he has reportedly contracted tuberculosis and acute infected scabies while in detention.The journalist’s defence and family have announced they will appeal the sentence. 


Further information

Previous English PEN alert

Amnesty International report

Reporters Without Borders


Recommended Action
Please send appeals:

• Expressing shock at the twenty-year sentence against J. S. Tissainayagam; 
• Seeking assurances of his well-being as a matter of urgency, and urging that he is allowed full access to any necessary medical treatment and access to family visits.
• Calling for his immediate and unconditional release, in accordance with Article 19 of the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Sri Lanka is a state party.

Appeals to:

His Excellency the President Mahinda Rajapaksa
Presidential Secretariat
Colombo 1
Sri Lanka
Fax: 94 11 2446657
Salutation: Your Excellency

Hon. Amarasiri Dodangoda
Minister of Justice and Law Reforms
Ministry of Justice and Law Reforms
Superior Courts Complex,
Colombo 12
Sri Lanka
Fax: 94 11 2445447
Salutation: Dear Minister

H. M. G.  S.  Palihakkara
Permanent Mission of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka to the United Nations
#630, 3rd Avenue (20th Floor)
New York  10017 
United States America
Fax 1 (212) 986-1838 

Please copy appeals to the diplomatic representative for Sri Lanka in your country if possible:

His Excellency Justice Nihal Jayasinghe
High Commission of Sri Lanka
13 Hyde Park Gardens
W2 2LU

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