US, press groups condemn Sri Lanka over jailed journalist

September 1, 2009 (AFP) – Sri Lanka faced a barrage of criticism on Tuesday for sentencing a journalist to 20 years of hard labour, led by US condemnation and warnings about censorship from press freedom groups. Human Rights Watch urged Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse to overturn the Colombo High Court order that on Monday convicted Tamil reporter J. S. Tissainayagam under sweeping anti-terrorism laws drawn up 30 years ago.

“The Rajapakse administration should drop the case against this well-respected journalist whose only ‘crime’ was to express his political views,” HRW director Brad Adams said in a statement.

He said the case “furthered the impression in Sri Lanka and abroad that Tissainayagam’s prosecution is part of a government campaign of repression against independent media.”

In May, US President Barack Obama had cited Tissainayagam as one of several “emblematic examples” of persecuted journalists across the world.

After the verdict, US State Department deputy spokesman Robert Wood said that Washington was “disappointed to learn of the verdict and the severity of the sentence.”

“We continue to be concerned about the state of media freedom in Sri Lanka. Journalists remain un