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Imprisoned journalists reportedly subjected to torture and ill treatment

(WiPC/IFEX) - International PEN's Writers in Committee protests the detention of Tamil journalists V. Jasikaran and J. S. Tissainayagam, who have been held for six months under terrorist legislation, apparently for their critical writings. PEN is also seriously concerned about allegations that both men have been subjected to torture and ill treatment by the Sri Lankan authorities in Colombo. International PEN seeks assurances of their well being, guarantees that their basic rights are being respected and demands that they are given full access to all necessary medical care as a matter of urgency. International PEN calls for the immediate and unconditional release of both journalists, in accordance with Article 19 of the United Nations International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Sri Lanka is a state party.

According to International PEN's information, on 6 March 2008 V. Jasikaran, a Tamil journalist, owner of the E-Kwality printing works and reporter for the news website Outreach Sri Lanka ( http://outreachsl.com/en/ ), was arrested with his wife V. Valamathy, by the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) in Colombo. The following day, on 7 March, Tamil journalist for the "Sunday Times" newspaper and editor of "Outreach Sri Lanka", Jayaprakash Sittampalam Tissainayagam, was also arrested by the TID, following a visit he made to the offices of the TID requesting information about the detention of his colleague. There were no detention orders for their arrests. Initial reports suggested that V. Jasikaran and J. S. Tissanayagam were accused of receiving money from the Tamil Tiger rebel group; however it is widely believed that the two men are targeted for their reporting and analysis on the ongoing conflict between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) in the northern part of the country. Several other Tamil journalists have been arbitrarily detained since 7 March 2008, including three contributors to the website www.outreachsl.com. They were released after being questioned. According to Amnesty International, "The Emergency Regulations, issued by the President, introduce broad-based and vaguely-defined 'terrorism' offenses, which have been used to silence critical journalists and generally suppress freedom of expression in Sri Lanka."

J.S. Tissainayagam was held under renewable 90-day detention orders for five months before being charged on 25 August 2008 as follows: 1) offences under the Prevention of Terrorism Act: in respect to printing, publishing, and distribution of the magazine "North Eastern Monthly", between 1 June 2006 to 1 June 2007; 2) offences under the Prevention of Terrorism Act in respect of bringing the government into disrepute by the publication of articles in said magazine; and 3) the violation of Emergency Regulations by aiding and abetting terrorist organisations through the raising of money for said magazine. It is said that "North Eastern Magazine" was known to be a pro-Tamil English-language publication that closed down over a year ago. It was not considered to be pro-LTTE. His trial is due to start on 18 September 2008.

On 19 March, J. S. Tissainayagam filed a complaint before the Supreme Court, claiming that since his arrest he had been tortured, suffered discrimination because of his ethnicity and denied equal protection under the law. He is held with very limited access to his family, legal representation and to information on his case. J. S. Tissainayagam requires surgery for a detached retina and he has been denied full access to the medical care he needs. He is being held in very poor prison conditions, which together with high levels of stress and exposure to light could seriously damage his sight.

Fellow Tamil journalist V. Jasikaran has also reported being subject to torture since his arrest. On 23 June, V. Jasikaran stated in court that he had been assaulted by members of the TID and the police during his detention. Reports say that V. Jasikaran's wife, who is also detained in the case apparently solely for her association with V. Jasikaran, had undergone an operation shortly before her detention, and has been denied access to medical care.

It is not yet clear if V. Jasikaran and his wife have also been charged.

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