State torture of journalists: A blatant violation of human rights

21st May 2008, Colombo, Sri Lanka: The Free Media Movement (FMM) notes with deep unease and outrage that it now almost six weeks since the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) of the Sri Lank Police arrested and detained journalist J. S. Tissainayagam, columnist of the Sunday Times and Editor of the www.outreach.com website, V. Jesiharan, owner of the E-Kwality printing press and Manager of www.outreach.com and his partner Walarmathi.  None of them have been charged in any court of law to date.

As noted by Amnesty International in early April, on 7th March 2008 journalist J. S. Tissainayagam was detained after making enquiries to the TID regarding the arrest of his colleague V. Jasikaren and Jasikaren’s partner the previous day. When arrested J. S. Tissainayagam was not issued with a detention order as required under any Emergency Regulations in Sri Lanka. In addition procedural safeguards set out in the Sri Lankan Presidential Directives, such as the provision of a document giving details of the arrest to the detainee’s relatives, were not fulfilled.

It has been reported to FMM that Tissainayagam is kept in a cell without proper ventilation in unhealthy conditions. Though he is suffering from a serious medical condition through which heightened stress severely affects his eyesight, he was only allowed to see an eye specialist on 9th May 2008 after two months of horrible detention. Further, FMM learns from reliable sources that Jesiharan was subjected to intense torture when he was arrested and was subject to sleep deprivation for days on end. According to our information many suspects kept in the TID have to sleep on old newspapers with no proper sanitary and living facilities provided to the detainees. It is outrageous that Jesiharan’s partner Walarmathi, who had nothing to do with www.outreach.com and had undergone a recent operation, is in need of medical care but is barred by the TID from seeing medical specialists. The FMM understands that that she is kept as a hostage to prevent Mr. Jesiharan from seeking any legal remedy to the inhuman treatment meted out to him.

It is particularly telling that the present regime chooses to conveniently ignore the torture of journalists and media personnel, particularly at a time when Sri Lanka is under intense scrutiny for its human rights record. In the FMM’s opinion, the treatment meted out to these three suspects goes far beyond any legally acceptable standard for the arrest and detention of suspect and is a gross violation of their fundamental rights.

The FMM unequivocally condemns these actions by the State and the TID to detain, torture and traumatise journalists who are not charged with any crime or misdemeanour. The prolonged detention facilitated by reprehensible Emergency Regulations makes this a State and regime that aids and abets the torture of innocent citizens with complete impunity.

We demand that the TID release all three detainees immediately if there are no charges that can be brought against them. We further demand that the detainees are not tortured or abused and that the vital medical attention they need is provided without any impediment or delay.

We like to remind the regime that Tamil female journalist Maunusamy Parameshwari was arrested and detained for more than three months by the TID in much the same manner as Tissainayagam in 2006.  She was released only after she filed a fundamental case in the Supreme Court and it became evident that there wasn’t a shred of evidence to convict her of any crime.

It is utterly shameful that Sri Lanka finds itself in a position today that human rights and media freedom activists have to issue frequent statements such as this against the egregious violations of media freedom, fundamental rights and the disturbing rise of torture in police custody. In light of the appalling hypocrisy of a regime that says one thing and does another, we appeal to all local and international democratic forces to support us in securing the freedom of the media, the freedom of expression and the restoration of the rule of law in Sri Lanka.

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