4th September 2009
SLPI urges that Tissainayagam’s case be reviewed in current context
The J.S. Tissainayagam case which attracted media attention both within and outside Sri Lanka for the past several months during the journalist’s detention and trial returned to the forefront with Monday’s determination by the High Court of Colombo that he was guilty of writing and publishing articles causing racial hatred and promoting terrorism and sentenced to 20-years rigorous imprisonment.
The Sri Lanka Press Institute, noting that this is the first instance that a journalists had been charged and convicted under the Prevention of Terrorism Act of 1979 subsequently amended in 1982 and 1988 read together with the relevant provisions of the Penal Code, expresses distress and disappointment at the severity of the sentence imposed and looks forward to the speedy conclusion of the appeal process. Tissainayagam’s lawyers have already announced that they will be appealing the judgment. The matter will be initially canvassed before the Court of Appeal and could go up to the Supreme Court for a final determination.
The Prevention of Terrorism Act was an extraordinary law enacted to deal with an extraordinary situation. The fact that it was tightened and given more teeth three and nine years after it was first enacted is an indication of the escalating problem of LTTE terrorism which has now been militarily defeated. In the context of restoration of near normalcy, SLPI urges government to seriously consider the possibility of prosecuting media related cases, if they wish to do so, under the normal law instead of resorting to extraordinary laws such as the PTA which is arguably no longer necessary.
The judgment in this case has not been published as this is being written. It would no doubt be analyzed and debated in the days ahead and a higher court will examine the various arguments. The government, mindful of opinions and comments made by the international community as well as high profile media organizations looking at this matter as an issue of press freedom has stressed that the verdict has been reached after due process of Sri Lanka’s laws and is not a negation of media freedom. However, given the fact that Tissainayagam was prosecuted over what he wrote and published, this matter will continue to be viewed in many quarters at home and abroad as a press freedom issue.
SLPI therefore urges that a liberal approach to the subject at issue will help strengthen the country’s democratic credentials and appeal to the concerned authorities to restrict themselves to the use of the PTA only on issues of grave national security and also look at the Tissainayagam case in context of current conditions rather than those that prevailed at the time of his detention when the war was raging.