A prominent Tamil reporter, whose detention in Sri Lanka was described by US President Barack Obama as an "emblematic example" of threats to media freedom, was today sentenced to 20 years in prison for having links with the LTTE and for writing against the government.
Jayaprakash Sittampalam Tissainayagam, 45, who contributed to the local Sunday Times and also ran a website that focused on the country's Tamil population, was found guilty of spreading 'racial hatred' and 'supporting terrorism,' an official at Colombo's High Court said.
The scribe, detained for over 400 days now, was charged under the Prevention of Terrorism Act for an article he had written in the pro-LTTE magazine North Eastern Herald, that has since been closed.
Tissainayagam was arrested on March 7, 2008 and later charged under the anti-terrorism legislation. His family has decided to appeal against the ruling. The state-owned Daily News had claimed in May this year that Tissanayagam in an admissible confession had admitted his links with the LTTE.
"The confession was admitted in evidence at the court trial. There was material that showed his close links to Sivaram alias Tharaki one time editor of the pro-LTTE website Tamilnet," the newspaper said.
"Tissanayagam was associated with several opinion making publications of the LTTE organisation and was part of their propaganda outfit and was instrumental in securing funding for LTTE publication. He has also links with prominent personalities of the LTTE," the paper claimed.
Tissanayagam was indicted by the Attorney General on August 11, 2008 and the High Court trial commenced on September 9, 2008.
The court said it found that he had received money from the LTTE to fund his website outreach.com.
A political science graduate with a post-graduate degree in International Relations, Tissainayagam had worked as a columnist for The Sunday Times since 2007.
In May 2007, he developed his website. Obama had said in May this year that he was concerned over threats to media the world over and mentioned Tissainayagam, who has been detained for over a year.
"Emblematic examples of this distressing reality are figures like J S Tissainayagam in Sri Lanka, or Shi Tao and Hu Jia in China," Obama said in a statement marking World Press Freedom Day on May 3.
The arrest and detention of Tissainayagam came amid fears of persecution among journalists in this country. A prominent anti-establishment editor, Lasantha Wickrematunga, was shot dead near his office in January.
Nine journalists were killed in Sri Lanka and 27 assaulted in the last three years, according to government's figures. However, independent activists believe more scribes have been targeted.