Journalist J.S Tissainayagam, who was granted bail by the Court of Appeal on Monday, left prison today after the order was communicated to the prison authorities and he signed the bail application in Court. Tissainayagam was arrested on March 7, 2008 by the Terrorism Investigation Division (TID).
Meanwhile Reporters Without Borders welcomed journalist J. S. Tissainayagam’s release on bail today pending the outcome of his appeal against a 20-year jail sentence on a trumped-up charge of supporting terrorism. His release was ordered by a Colombo appeal court two days ago.
“This is very good news,” his lawyer, M.A. Sumanthiran, told today to Reporters Without Borders. “He left prison with his moral strengthened. And as we have good grounds for the appeal, I am fairly optimistic.” Arrested in March 2008 and convicted in August 2009, Tissainayagam spent more than 21 months in detention, the first few weeks of which were particularly tough.
“Tissainayagam’s release is a source of great joy for the many people who worked to prove his innocence,” Reporters Without Borders said. “But this is just the first step. This renowned Tamil journalist must be fully cleared and allowed to resume a normal life.”
The press freedom organisation added: “This is very political decision, coming just a few weeks ahead of presidential elections. It should have been taken within a few weeks of his arrest. Either way, his release on bail confirms that he was convicted on terrorism charge for which there was absolutely no evidence.”
Tissainayagam’s detention was condemned by many foreign governments and leaders including US President Barack Obama, who referred to him as persecuted journalist on 3 May. A Reporters Without Borders representative discussed the Tissainayagam case at a meeting with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa in October 2008.
Tissainayagam’s lawyer confirmed that his client had to pay 500 US dollars in bail and surrender his passport after the Colombo appeal court ruled on 11 January that he should be released provisionally.
No serious evidence was ever produced to support the terrorism charge against Tissainayagam, who was arrested for criticising the army’s strategy in its war against the Tamil Tiger rebels and for launching a website called Outreachsl.com.
A member of his family described his release to Reporters Without Borders as “a ray of sunlight” but added that there was “still a lot of work to do” and that it was not yet time for celebrating.
Two other people who were arrested in the same case, S. Jaseeharan, a printer, and his partner, Vallarmathy, were released recently and sought refuge abroad.
In October, Tissainayagam became the first person to be awarded the Peter Mackler Prize for journalistic courage and integrity. The prize commemorates veteran Agence France-Presse reporter and editor Peter Mackler, who died last year.