Sri Lanka Court Upholds Alleged Confession by Tissainayagam- IFJ

 

A Sri Lankan court has ruled that an alleged confession made by senior Tamil journalist J.S. Tissainayagam while detained by the Terrorism Investigation Division (TID) was voluntary and admissible as evidence in his trial on terrorism charges. The International Federation of Journalists
(IFJ) is informed however that Tissainayagam was forced to make a statement to TID under extreme duress.

Giving evidence in Colombo’s High Court on November 5, Tissainayagam denied making a voluntary confession.

After being detained by the TID of the Sri Lankan police on March 7 this year, Tissainayagam was held without charge or explanation for more than 150 days. It is alleged that Tissainayagam, the editor of an online newspaper, OutreachSL.com, made a voluntary confession during this time.

However, Tissainayagam was reportedly subjected to duress and denied private access to lawyers. Court hearings during this period were postponed arbitrarily. The Supreme Court denied Tissainayagam’s lawyers a fundamental rights petition for interim relief, submitted on the grounds of arbitrary arrest, torture, discrimination on the basis of ethnicity and a denial of equality of protection under law.

Indictments against Tissainayagam and his two colleagues, N. Jesiharan and his partner Valarmathi, were filed before the High Court of Colombo on August 25. The three were charged under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), a draconian law introduced in 1979 as an ostensibly temporary measure.

The IFJ and other international press freedom organisations are extremely concerned for the safety and welfare of the three. Tissainayagam and Jesiharan, the owner of E-Kwality Printers, were moved from a remand prison to the notoriously dangerous Magazine Prison in Colombo on November 17, according to the Free Media Movement (FMM), an IFJ affiliate.

The continuation of the trial against Tissainayagam has reportedly been postponed until December 18.

The IFJ joins the FMM in calling for fair judicial process to be applied to all aspects of the continuation of Tissainayagam’s trial, including the procurement of his safety and protection in Magazine Prison.

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Sri Lanka jailed journalist nominated for award, faces lengthy prison term

Dec 03, 2008 (LBO) – An imprisoned Sri Lankan journalist, who faces a lengthy jail term for expressing his views, if convicted, has been nominated for a media freedom award by media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
RSF said in a statement that J S Tissainayagam is one of six journalists from different countries to be nominated for the award for “journalists who through their work, their principled stand or their attitude have displayed support for freedom of information.”
Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi will present the prize to the winners on Thursday, December 04 in Paris.
Tissainayagam has been detained since March 2008 and is the first journalist to be charged for his writing under Sri Lanka’s Prevention of Terrorism Act, a law described as draconian by human rights groups.
The charges against him include promoting violence and bringing the government into disrepute in his writing between June 2006 and June 2007 in the North Eastern Monthly magazine.

Authorities assure the physical safety of Tissainayagam in Magazine Prison

 

The Free Media Movement (FMM) would like note that Minister for Disaster Management and Human Rights, the Hon. Mahinda Samarasinghe, M.P. has assured that the physical safety of journalist J.S. Tissainayagam will be looked after, and that some steps have already been taken in this regard. Two representatives of the Ministry had visited him in the prison 20th (yesterday) morning. 

21st Nov 2008

FMM and the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA) also visited Mr. Tissainayagam at the Magazine Prison this afternoon along with two diplomats. Prison authorities assured that Tamil prisoners, including journalists Tissainayagam and Jaseeharan, are already separated from other prisoners. A number of international organisations, including the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF), have sent urgent letters of concern to the Minister  for Human Rights, and diplomatic community have conveyed their concerns as well.

FMM hopes that the assurances given and promises made by all relevant authorities including the Hon. Minister will be kept, and that basic humanitarian standards will be ensured during the detention of Tissainayagam and Jeseeharan.

Tissainayagam Moved to magazine Prison in Sri Lanka

 

In a letter sent to Minister for Human Rights and Disaster Management Mahinda Samarasinghe today, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) demanded an immediate explanation for the sudden relocation of journalist J.S. Tissainayagam to a notoriously violent army prison in Sri Lanka.

According to the Free Media Movement (FMM), an IFJ affiliate, Tissainayagam, who is currently facing trial under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and Emergency Regulations, was moved from a remand prison to Magazine Prison in Colombo following a visit from the Minister, Mahinda Samarasinghe, on November 17.

The Minister reportedly agreed at the meeting to improve the conditions of Tissainayagam’s detention, the FMM reports. 

The IFJ expressed its extreme concerned for the safety and well-being of the senior Tamil journalist. Tissainayagam nor his lawyers, who appeared in the courts on November 18, were made aware of the relocation to Sri Lanka’s largest prison.

Reports have been received that his food has been confiscated by some of the 140 prisoners sharing his cell. No other food has been provided.

 “The IFJ demands an immediate explanation for Tissainayagam’s transfer and a government guarantee of his safety,” IFJ Asia-Pacific said.

“The manner in which Tissainayagam has been arrested, detained without charge, indicted under draconian laws and imprisoned in appalling conditions is a gross abuse of his fundamental human right to justice.

“Tissainayagam’s safety is now at even more serious risk than it was before his transferral to Magazine. It is the responsibility of the Sri Lankan Government to abide by internationally endorsed norms of justice to protect him from violence and torture while he is held in custody.”

Tissainayagam has been held since he was arrested on March 7 by the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) of the Sri Lankan Police. He was detained without charge for more than 150 days.

On August 25, Tissainayagam was charged under Emergency Regulations and the PTA, accused of printing and distributing the North Eastern Monthly magazine and aiding and abetting terrorist organisations by raising money for the magazine. His trial is presently before the High Court in Colombo.

FMM fears for physical safety of journalist Tissainayagam in Magazine prison

J.S. Tissainayagam, senior journalist who is on trial before the High Court has been moved from the remand prison to the magazine prison in Colombo on November 18. No reasons have been given for this sudden move. Tissainayagam who appeared in courts on the 18th nor his lawyers were aware of this move.

He now remains in a room with 140 convicted criminals. Free Media Movement learns that Tissainayagam has been threatened by the some  prisoners. Since being moved to the magazine prison on November 18, Tissainayagam has not eaten. His dinner on the 18th was taken by the other prisoners. He was not provided with lunch on the 18th or breakfast on the 19th.

Mahinda Samarasinghe, Minster for Human Rights and Disaster Management had visited Tissainayagam on November 17th with the Prison Commissioner. At the meeting, the Minister and Prison Commissioner had agreed to improve the living conditions of the prison. The move to the magazine prison took place a day after the visit.

On March 7, the Terrorist Investigative Department (TID) arrested journalist J.S.  Tissainayagam and detained him without charges for more than 150 days. He was later charged both under Emergency Regulations and the Prevention of Terrorism Act for printing and distributing the North Eastern Monthly magazine and aiding and abetting terrorist organisations through raising money for the magazine. His trial is presently before the High Court in Colombo.

Free Media Movement is concerned with the sudden development of events and this movement without any reasons being given to Tissainayagam or his lawyers. FMM appeals to the authorities to ensure the safety of Tissainayagam and provide him with food and other essential facilities while in prison.

Recommended action., Send letters of concern to:

 Hon. Minster Mahinda Samarasinghe, minster for  disaster mangement and Human Rights 

Fax: + 94112693284; info@dmhr.gov.lk

 Attorney Genarla Deptment, Sri Lanka

Fax   +94112436421administration@attorneygeneral.gov.lk

Sri Lanka detained journalist says threatened daily; quizzed in court over writing

Writer’s Trial: 
  
Nov 16, 2008 (LBO) – A Sri Lankan journalist who had been detained for over eight months had been questioned about what he wrote, and had also revealed to court that he had been repeatedly threatened, a media report said.
 
Senior journalist J S Tissainayagam’s case had been taken up Friday in Colombo High Court but the judicial medical officer summoned to give evidence was not present, The Sunday Times newspaper reported.

Earlier in the week Tissainayagam had testified that he had a serious eye condition, where an accident when he was 18 had caused a detached retina in both eyes and he had 50 percent vision.

Doctors had advised him that a blow to the head could make the condition recur.

He said officers of Sri Lanka’s terrorist investigation division who was holding him had threatened him saying he would be “beaten up like other detainees” and that he would go blind if the officers beat him, the report said.

He said he was threatened on a daily basis.

In cross-examination, a government lawyer had produced several documents and statements that. Tissainayagam was said to have signed on March 7, the day he was detained.

Tissainayagam had denied that it was his signature on the documents, saying he signed in the English language and therefore the signature on the documents could not be his.
 
Tissainayagam had told court on May 9 after he had seen another arrested colleague being tortured, and had been told the same would happen to him. The prosecution’s position was that he was lying, the report said.

The defence had asked for a medical officer who had reported on it to be called to court.

A government lawyer had questioned whether he had visited a Tamil Tiger controlled area with the permission of the Government and questioned him on an article he had written in November 2007 and asked him to read out portions of it.

Tissainayagam had read out the article and said he stood by it and added that as a journalist he had expressed his views, The Sunday Times said.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) had launched a campaign to free Tissainayagam saying it was a trial on the freedom of expression.

Tissa faces daily threats, fears loss of eyesight

 (Sunday Times 16th Nov)
When the case of senior journalist J. S. Tissainayagam who has been detained for more than eight months was taken up last Friday in the Colombo High Court, the Judicial Medical Officer summoned to give evidence in the case was not present.

Summons was re-issued on the JMO to be present when the case is next taken up on Tuesday.
Earlier in the week the testimony of Mr. Tissainayagam was concluded. Mr. Tissainayagam testified that he had a serious eye condition. He said that he had degenerative myopia from the age of seven and a serious accident when he was 18 led him to have detached retina in both eyes.

 
He said after the operation he had only about 50% vision in both eyes and that doctors had advised him to be very careful that any sudden movement or fall or blow to the head could make the condition recur and he could lose his eyesight. Mr. Tissainayagam said had informed the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) officers about his eye condition very early on in his detention.

He said, however, TID officers had threatened him saying he would be beaten up like the other detainees and therefore he was very afraid that he would go blind if the TID officers did beat him. He said he was threatened on a daily basis.

In cross-examination, State Counsel produced several documents and statements that Mr. Tissainayagam was said to have signed on March 7, the day he was detained by the TID. Mr. Tissainayagam denied that it was his signature on the documents clearly stating that he signed in the English language and therefore the signature on the documents could not be his.

State Counsel also questioned him as to whether he had visited the Wanni with the permission of the Government. Mr. Tissainayagam answered in the affirmative that he had visited the Wanni as a journalist. The State also questioned him on articles he had written in November 2007 after LTTE political head S. P. Thamilselvan’s death and asked him to read out portions of the article. Mr. Tissainayagam did read out his article and he said he stood by it and added as a journalist he had expressed his views.

Mr. Tissainayagam also said that on May 9 after he had seen his colleague Jasikaran being tortured, he had been told the same would happen to him. That was why he wrote down what was dictated to him by a TID officer, he said.

The prosecution’s position was that Mr. Tissainayagam was lying on this point. However when the defence attempted to mark the JMO’s report detailing Jasikaran’s torture on May 9 the prosecution objected and the objection was sustained. Therefore the defence asked for the JMO who had given the report to be called as a witness. The prosecution then said that it too would be calling other JMOs who had seen Jasikaran.

The trial will resume on Tuesday. Counsel Anil Silva with M.A. Sumanthiran, Nalin Ladduwahetty and Ms. Charmaine Gunaratne appeared for journalist Tissainayagam. State Counsel Sudarshana de Silva with Miss Samalka Samarasinghe appeared for the TID.

Meanwhile, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) had launched a campaign in September to end Mr. Tissainayagam’s detention as it said the case was a trial of the freedom of expression. As a part of that campaign they had produced a video depicting Mr. Tissainayagam going to the Magistrate’s Court and the show of solidarity witnessed outside the Magistrate’s Courts. However two weeks ago the video clip on UTube had been blocked by unknown persons.

AHRC on Tissanayagam trial

Friday, 12 September 2008 17:35
 
Abandoning the absolute prohibition against the admissibility of confessions in criminal trials is similar to permitting stabbing in a boxing ring.
This remark by the Asian Human Rights Commission comes in the wake of the indictment served against journalist J.S. Tissanayagam.
AHRC said in a statement the Tissanayagam case raises a fundamental question about the different kinds of criminal trials offered to the accused under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, and Emergency Regulations as against the accused in regular criminal trials.
Under Sri Lankan law, according to the Evidence Ordinance, any statement amounting to a confession made to a public officer is not admissible at any time in the trial.
This means that there is an absolute prohibition of the admission of confessions made to public officers other than judicial officers.
The rule contained in Article 26 of the Evidence Ordinance reads as follows: ‘No confession made by any person whilst he is in custody of a police officer, unless in the presence of a Magistrate shall be proved as against such person.’
However, in cases under the PTA confessions are admissible, provided they have been made ‘voluntarily’.
This means that there are two different laws regarding criminal trials in Sri Lanka.
This is a violation of the fundamental principle of equality before law regarding the issue of fair trial itself, AHRC said.
There is absolutely no basis to argue that the type of trial offered to one class of person coming under a particular law, should be different to the basic rules of fair trial applicable to all other cases. 
The absolute prohibition against the admissibility of confessions in a criminal trial was based on the perception of the nature of the police and other investigating officers.
Judges, over a long period have reaffirmed the relevance and validity of this principle in the specific context of Sri Lanka.

In some judgments the Supreme Court went on to hold that a confession made to police officers or other such officers be held inadmissible due to the awe and fear with which state officers are regarded in Sri Lanka.
Thousands of cases of blatant cruelty exercised by police officers throughout the country in recent years demonstrate that the circumstances under which the absolute prohibition against confession was introduced to Sri Lanka has not changed.
The justification for this rule is as valid as ever.
There is no reason to believe that the circumstances under which suspects in offenses under the PTA and Emergency Regulations are held are any less frightening, more comfortable and cozy than the circumstances under which suspects of other crimes are held.
In fact, the overwhelming evidence, beginning with the treatment of suspects of the 1971 insurrection up to now under the PTA and Emergency Regulations demonstrate the very opposite.
Anyone who wishes to know of the gruesome details of such detentions need only look into the evidence given by thousands of persons before the commissions for forced disappearances during the period of the late 80s.
Besides the reports of the commissions there are volumes of recorded statements by the commissions which run into thousands of pages that indicate what the conditions of detention under these circumstances can be.
The recent rules of prolonged detention at police stations and other detention centres should be a greater reason to reinforce the absolute prohibition on the admissibility of confessions in trials.
Whether any confession was made in the Tissanayagam case or whether it was made voluntarily or not is not the issue that needs attention.
It is the abandonment of the absolute principle against the admission of confessions that needs substantive consideration.
The changes in the rules of fair trial in favour of the prosecution is like changing the rules of the boxing ring to allow stabbing to one of the combatants against his opponent.
It is like the last fight of Hamlet where, by the king’s conspiracy, a poisoned sword was given to Laertes while a normal sword was given to Hamlet, the AHRC statement said.
A fair prosecution should never be fought with a poisoned sword.
The change in rules of fair trial is one of the most fundamental issues of any nation. It is not just the question of the right of one person.

In fact, it exposes the nature of justice in the country as a whole.
Therefore we urge that all the concerned persons within the government, the legal community, civil society and the international community intervene in order to negate these provisions under the PTA which allows the abandonment on the absolute principle against the admissibility of confessions, it added.
 
AHRC, founded in 1984 and based in Hong Kong, is a regional non-governmental organization monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia.

Imprisoned journalists reportedly subjected to torture and ill treatment

Imprisoned journalists reportedly subjected to torture and ill treatment

SOURCE: Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC), International PEN, London

(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.

RECOMMENDED ACTION

Send appeals to authorities:
– expressing serious concern about the detention of J. S. Tissainayagam and V. Jasikaran, who appear to be held solely for their legitimate journalistic activities
– calling for their immediate and unconditional release in accordance with Article 19 of the United Nations International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights
– urging them to ensure that J. S. Tissainayagam and V. Jasikaran are not tortured or ill-treated, and that they are allowed unrestricted access to their families, defence and the specialist medical care they require while in detention
– expressing concern about an apparent pattern of repression against journalists and human rights activist in Sri Lanka

APPEALS TO:

His Excellency the President Mahinda Rajapaksa Presidential Secretariat Colombo 1, Sri Lanka
Fax: +94 11 2446657

Hon. Amarasiri Dodangoda
Minister of Justice and Law Reforms
Ministry of Justice and Law Reforms
Superior Courts Complex,
Colombo 12, Sri Lanka
Fax: +94 11 2445447

H. M. G. S. Palihakkara
Ambassador
Permanent Mission of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka to the United Nations #630, 3rd Avenue (20th Floor) New York 10017 United States America Fax +1 (212) 986-1838
E-mail: mail@slmission.com

Please copy appeals to the diplomatic representative for Sri Lanka in your country and to the source, if possible.

CPJ alarmed by gun attack on Sri Lankan journalist Radhika Devakumar

New York, September 10, 2008 — The Committee to Protect Journalists issued this statement today after learning that Radhika Devakumar, a provincial correspondent of the Thinakaran newspaper, a Tamil daily, survived an attack in her home during which she received three gunshot wounds.

“This attack has the earmarks of an assassination attempt. The government must immediately act to bring the perpetrators to justice. Sri Lanka’s record of impunity for those who attack journalists is a disgrace, and that record must be reversed now,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. 

CPJ is a New York–based, independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide. For more information, visit www.cpj.org.