Construction and Engineering Services Minister Dr. Rajitha Seneratne said he was taken aback when he first heard about the sentencing to 20 years in prison of J. S. Tissanayagam for his involvement in the LTTE.
But, after he went through the judgment and consulted independent lawyers, he had come to realise that there was no basis for international criticism of the Sri Lankan judiciary. Referring to the collapse of Tissainayagam’s defence, the minister blamed the US for its double standards in relation to judicial action against Tissainayagam and journalists now in detention in the US for their alleged involvement with the Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.
He said that Tissainayagam had received an open trial whereas journalists detained by the US had been even denied their basic rights.
He emphasised that the government should not be held responsible for shortcomings in Tissainayagam’s defence.
Detailing action taken by the US military in Iraq against journalists allegedly linked with terrorists, he said that those on the payroll of AFP, AP and Reuters were among the detained.
Referring to the International Press Freedom Award 2009 to Tissainayagam given by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, Dr. Senaratne queried why Iraqi journalists at the receiving end of US military had not been given such awards. He said that as a politician, who firmly believed in press freedom and the right to dissent, he would like to know why journalists in custody in the US had been ignored.
He said that Iraqi photo-journalist Ibrahim Jassam had been one of the persons in US custody since 02 September 2008 without trial though the US had not provided evidence against Jassam or his confession.
Tissainayagam was found guilty on charges of receiving money from the LTTE and causing racial hatred through his writings about Tamils affected by the conflict.
Tissanayagam, the editor and publisher of the North Eastern Monthly magazine, was arrested under emergency regulations on March 7, 2008. He was the first journalist to be charged under Prevention of Terrorism Act.
The Committee to Protect Journalists has urged President Barack Obama to end the US military’s practice of detaining journalists without charges and asked for a full investigation into killings of journalists by US military forces. The committee took the US to task, saying the detention of journalists without trial by US authorities in such countries as Iraq has reduced America’s standing in the world and emboldened other countries to do the same.