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Critical journalist and two colleagues remain in detention without charges, despite conclusion of investigation and absence of evidence

(FMM/IFEX) - The following is a joint press release by FMM and a number of other civil society organizations:

More than 150 days of detention without charges: release J.S Tissainayagam, N. Jasiharan and Valarmathy immediately

Senior journalist J. S. Tissainayagam, a "Sunday Times" columnist and the editor of the website http://www.outreachsl.com , has been in custody without specific charges being brought against him for more than 150 days, even though the Attorney General's Department informed the Supreme Court on 11 July 2008 that the investigation in to his case was completed. The Attorney General's Department now has until 20 August to report back to the courts on the status of the investigation and on the next course of action. To this date, no evidence has been produced in court justifying either the arrest or the detention.

Tissainayagam was arrested and detained on 7 March by the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) of the Sri Lanka Police. N. Jasiharan, owner of E-Kwality press, who was renting office space to Tissainayagam, and his wife, Valarmathy, were detained on 6 March. Since then, all three have been in detention under Emergency Regulations.

This is a flagrant violation of a fundamental tenet of Sri Lankan law that protects citizens from arbitrary arrest and detention, and guarantees equality before the law for all citizens, regardless of an individual's ethnicity or race.

The arrest and detention of Tissainayagam, Jasiharan and Valarmathy have been conducted without adherence to basic safeguards, such as the production of valid detention orders at the appropriate time and in court, as stipulated by the Emergency Regulations. The detainees have been denied the right of regular access to lawyers and family members. On the two occasions that lawyers have been able to meet with Tissainayagam, it has been in the presence of a police officer. The journalist was therefore denied the privacy and confidentiality in seeking legal counsel to which he is entitled by law. As recently as 2005, the United Nations Committee against Torture, in its Concluding Observations on Sri Lanka, reaffirmed that confidential access to legal counsel was basic to the provision of safeguards against abuse.

In addition, all three detainees have been denied timely access to medical attention, resulting in a deterioration in their health. Furthermore, there are allegations of torture of at least one of the three detainees. On 23 June, Jasiharan revealed in open court that he had been assaulted by the officers of the TID for having told the Judicial Medical Officer the extent of his injuries, inflicted on him by the police.

The arrest and detention of these persons reinforces a concern that we have consistently voiced regarding the process of arrests and detentions under the Emergency Regulations: that in many cases, the process as followed infringes on a basic principle consistently articulated by the Supreme Court in the past; namely, that the Secretary to the Ministry of Defense is authorised to arrest and detain a person upon material submitted to him or upon such further additional material as may be called for by him, only where he is satisfied that such a step is necessary in order to prevent such person from acting in any manner prejudicial to national security or to the maintenance of public order.

As the Court has stated, the notion of reasonableness cannot be negated to the point where the essence of the safeguard secured by Article 13 (1) of the Constitution is abrogated. It is our view that the circumstances and context of Tissainayagam's arrest and detention, as well as the detention of his colleagues, lacks all the requisite aspects of reasonable arrest and detention.

The onus is on the Attorney General of Sri Lanka to demonstrate respect for and adherence to the Constitution and national laws in this case, by presenting credible and substantial evidence to further detain the three. It is also an opportune moment for the Attorney General to demonstrate that the arrests and detentions are not motivated by other interests, be they ethnic or political. The onus is upon the Attorney General to demonstrate that the arrests and detentions are in accordance with the law and that due process has been followed. As the head of the Attorney General's Department, the Attorney General has the power to decide whether to pursue a case if there is sufficient credible evidence or whether to suspend investigations. He should only be influenced by the evidence and not by other factors or persons.

We are also concerned about the arrest and detention of Tissainayagam because of the impact that this has on broader issues of freedom of expression and media freedom in the country. As civil society organisations committed to the democratic principles of human rights and freedoms, including freedom of expression, we feel that Tissainayagam's arrest has reaffirmed the fear prevailing within the media community in Sri Lanka today, that publication of any opinion that provides critical analysis of the situation in the country could lead to persecution, arbitrary arrest, disappearance and even assassination. The sad fact that nine media persons have been killed in Sri Lanka over the past two years and that many more have been subjected to physical and mental harassment and assault, bears out our concerns regarding Tissainayagam. Investigations into these crimes against journalists have gone nowhere. The perpetrators of these violations go unpunished, and the cycle of terror and impunity which grips contemporary Sri Lanka is strengthened.

It is in this context that we call upon the State to remedy this grave injustice to a journalist who was engaged in expressing his opinions on the state of human rights in the country within the boundaries of the law. The continued detention of Tissainayagam, Jasiharan and Valarmathy, without charges is an affront to justice and we call for due process and the release of all the detainees without further delay.

(Signed)
Asian Human Rights Commission
Association of Family Members of the Disappeared
Centre for People's Dialogue
Centre for Policy Alternatives
Christian Alliance for Social Action
Civil and Political Rights Program, Law & Society Trust
EQUAL GROUND, Sri Lanka
Free Media Movement
Federation of Media Employees Trade Union
Home for Human Rights
Human Rights Centre, Kandy
Human Rights in Conflict Program, Law & Society Trust
IMADR Asia Committee
INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre
Mothers and Daughters of Lanka
Muslim Women's Research and Action Forum
National Peace Council
Right to Life Human Rights Centre
Rights Now Collective for Democracy
Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum
Sri Lanka Tamil Journalists Alliance
Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association
Women and Media Collective
Women's Support Group, Sri Lanka
And various individuals . . .

Updates the Tissainayagam case: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/95131

Updates the Jasiharan and Valarmathy cases: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/93888

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