International PEN is appalled by the 20-year prison sentence handed down to Tamil journalist Jayaprakash Sittampalam (J. S.) Tissainayagam, under anti-terror legislation for his writing and publishing activities. He has been ill-treated in prison and there are serious concerns for his health. PEN condemns this sentence and demands Tissainayagam’s immediate and unconditional release, in accordance with Article 19 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Sri Lanka is a state party.

Background Information

According to International PEN’s information, on August 31, 2009, a High Court in Sri Lanka sentenced J. S. Tissainayagam to 20 years' imprisonment with hard labor 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 March 7, 2008 by the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) in Colombo. The day before, March 6, the TID arrested his colleague V. Jasikaran, owner of the E-Kwality printing works and reporter for the news web site Outreach Sri Lanka, along with his wife V. Valamathy. 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 May 16, 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 defense and family have announced they will appeal the sentence.

Write A Letter

  • Expressing shock at the 20-year sentence handed to J. S. Tissainayagam;
  • Seeking urgent assurance of his well-being 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 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Sri Lanka is a state party.

Send Your Letter To

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

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

H. M. G.  S.  Palihakkara
Ambassador
Permanent Mission of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka to the United Nations
630 Third Avenue, 20th Floor
New York, NY 10017  
Email: mail@slmission.com
Fax: (212) 986-1838

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

Please check with PEN if sending appeals after September 30, 2009: ftw[at]pen.org