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IFJ welcomes expert report on jailing of journalist

(IFJ/IFEX) - 11 September 2009 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today said that the report of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) on the trial of Sri Lankan journalist J. S. Tissainayagam vindicates the criticism of the 20 year jail term imposed on him by the High Court of Colombo on 31 August.

Tissainayagam was found guilty of "causing communal disharmony" and "receiving money from Tamil Tiger rebels to pay for his website" in a case that sparked global condemnation from journalists and human rights' groups.

"The report is a clinical analysis of a flawed judicial process," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. "It shows, in particular, lack of reliable evidence against Tissainayagam and an apparent conflict of interest. These conclusions indicate that the sentence is unfair and should not stand."

The ICJ report issued today raised a "number of concerns regarding fair trial standards, including the judge's interlocutory decision to allow into evidence what counsel for Mr Tissainayagam described as a forced confession, and subsequent denial of his right to appeal". The report noted that presiding Judge Wijesundara is the sister of the officer who signed the indictment against Tissainayagam.

The ICJ says the case of Tissainayagam, a prominent Tamil journalist, was the first prosecution of a journalist under terrorism charges for "exercising freedom of expression, despite these laws being on the books for decades". The group criticised the government for its decision to maintain the charges after its military victory over the Tamil Tiger rebels.

The group says the trial of the journalist fits the pattern of the government's "attacks and threats of attacks against journalists and critics of Government policy, including public accusations by persons associated with the Government that equate such critics with terrorists and traitors, for example, in commentaries posted on an official website of the Ministry of Defence, Public Security, Law and Order".

"This report adds to the outrage felt across media community and human rights organisations after this miscarriage of justice against Tissainayagam," added White. "He must be released immediately."

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