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Page last updated at 17:38 GMT, Monday, 31 August 2009 18:38 UK

Jail term for Sri Lankan editor

JS Tissainayagam (Pic: Free Media Movement)
Mr Tissainayagam was arrested in March last year

The high court in Sri Lanka has sentenced a prominent Tamil journalist to 20 years in prison after convicting him under anti-terrorism laws.

JS Tissainayagam was found guilty of "causing communal disharmony".

Mr Tissainayagam was arrested in 2008 and charged with inciting violence in articles in his magazine, the North Eastern Monthly, which is now closed.

He was also accused of receiving funds from the Tamil Tigers rebels. He denied supporting violence.

Mr Tissainayagam's lawyer says he will appeal and that his client never sought to arouse hatred.

The world's largest organisation of journalists, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), has condemned the judgement - which also sentences Mr Tissainayagam to hard labour while in prison - and described it as "disproportionate, brutal and inhumane".

'Widespread attention'

Mr Tissainayagam was found guilty of causing "racial hatred" and "supporting terrorism", a court official said.

This man has been victimised for no more than holding the government to account
Aidan White
IFJ

The court found that he had received money from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to fund his website, the official said.

One of the articles accused the government of shelling a coastal town and trying to drive out its population in the war which was going on at the time, says the BBC's Charles Haviland, in Colombo.

The Tamil journalist has already been in detention for a year-and-a-half and was one of a handful of journalists mentioned in May by US President Barack Obama, who called them "emblematic examples" of reporters jailed for their work.

The Sri Lankan government said Mr Obama had been misinformed.

'Victimised'

The case of JS Tissainayagam has received widespread attention in Sri Lanka, and international rights group have been campaigning for his release - they say Sri Lanka is using anti-terror laws to silence peaceful critics.

The general secretary of the IFJ, Aidan White, said the sentence was a "chilling reminder of how dangerous Sri Lanka has become for independent journalists".

"This man has been victimised for no more than holding the government to account and giving voice to legitimate, if critical opinion," he said, calling for the journalist's immediate release.

Since the government's military victory over the Tamil Tigers in May, it has regularly denounced its critics.

Last week it described an exiled group, Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka, as a "front" for the Tigers after it circulated a video which it said showed army soldiers killing unarmed Tamils.

The authorities said the video was fabricated.



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