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Journalist, press owners still detained by TID without explanation

(FMM/IFEX) - The following is an FMM pres release:

On continued detention of Tamil journalist Tissainayagam

The Free Media Movement is concerned about the continued detention of Tamil journalist Tissainayagam and of Mr. and Mrs. Jesiharan, the owners of E-Kwality Press on whose premises Mr. Tissainayagam had the offices of his website OutreachSL ( ).

It is now over two weeks since Mr. Tissainayagam was detained by the Terrorist Investigations Department. He continues to be held at the Chaitya Road office of the TID, in conditions which have been described by UN Special Rapporteur on Manfred Novak as "inhuman" in his report on his visit to Sri Lanka in October 2007. Up to date Mr. Tissainayagam remains unaware of the reasons for his detention and about whether there is a Detention Order issued in his name or not. The fact that three others who were detained along with him were released after 13 days in detention with no charges being framed against them leads us to question the arbitrary nature of these arrests.

The extended detention of Mr. Tissainayagam and others also points once again to the perilous situation of Tamil media professionals in Sri Lanka. Since 2006, and the intensification of the conflict, there has been a steady silencing of journalists' voices in the north and east of the island. Today there are almost no Tamil journalists left in the towns of Batticaloa and Jaffna, which used to be vibrant regional centres of media activity. The media institutions that used to operate from the north and east have been virtually shut down, and most media persons have fled the area. We fear that the recent round of arrest and detention of Mr. Tissainayagam and others is an indicator that the same fate may now be extended to Tamil journalism in the capital city of our island.

The manner in which the arrests and detention of Mr. Jesiharan, Mr. Tissainayagam and their colleagues has been carried out as well as the manner in which FMM spokesperson Mr. Sivakumar was brought in for questioning with regard to these arrests has created an environment of insecurity not only for these individuals, their family members and associates but for the entire Tamil media community operating out of Colombo. The closure of the office of the website operated by Mr. Tissainayagam, OutreachSL, has driven the website out of cyberspace, silencing yet one more space for independent Sri Lankan voices to be heard.

The creation of such an environment and the wide sweep of the Emergency Regulations now in place in turn make it almost impossible for these persons to rent accommodation for both official and private purposes and to continue with their professional lives. All this happens while leading members of the government continue to pledge their commitment to media freedom.

The Free Media Movement calls on the government to ensure that Mr. Tissainayagam and the Jesiharans are brought before Courts and indicted according to the law or else released without further delay.

We also call on the government to guarantee the safety and security of journalists, media professionals and their families and desist from using "national security" as a pretext to crush media freedom and silence legitimate voices of dissent in Sri Lanka.

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