Iraqi journalist under U.S. custody without trail but, US critical of Tissanayagam jail sentence in Sri Lanka
Washington, D.C. 01 September (Asiantribune.com): The United States criticized Sri Lanka Monday, August 31 for sentencing to 20 years in prison an ethnic Tamil journalist by Sri Lanka’s judiciary after an open trial. “We were disappointed to learn of the verdict and the severity of the sentence," State Department deputy spokesman Robert Wood said at the daily media briefing after a Sri Lankan court handed down the sentence against J.S. Tissainayagam.
The United States’ criticism of Sri Lanka which gave due process of the law to Tissanayagam came at a time when an Iraqi photo-journalist Ibrahim Jassam lies in U.S. military custody in Iraq since 02 September 2008 without trial and denying him the due process of the law.
An Iraqi court document from November 2008 says that since the Americans provided no evidence or confession, Jassam should be released.
United States refused the request.
"We continue to be concerned about the state of media freedom in Sri Lanka. Journalists remain under threat and consequently continue to practice self-censorship," Robert Wood added.
"We will continue to follow Tissainayagam’s case closely as it proceeds through the appeals process," Wood said in an email exchange with AFP.
"We urge the Government of Sri Lanka to do everything it can to ensure Tissainayagam's health and safety in prison," he added.
Tissanayagam was found guilty on charges of receiving money from the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to fund his website and causing racial hatred through his writings about Tamils affected by the conflict.
Sri Lanka’s government accused Tissainayagam of supporting the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in its fight for a separate Tamil homeland in the north and east of the country. The army routed the LTTE’s last forces, killing its leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and his commanders, in a battle on the northeast coast in May.
Tissainayagam, the editor and publisher of North Eastern Monthly magazine, was arrested under emergency regulations on March 7, 2008. He was the first journalist to be charged under the country’s anti-terrorism law, the State Department said in its Human Rights Report last year.
The editor was found guilty of attempting to cause the commission of acts of violence or racial or communal disharmony and collecting or obtaining information for the purpose of terrorism, the government said in a statement on the Sri Lanka Defense Ministry Web site.
“The prosecution showed that Tissainayagam had strong links with the LTTE and supported it through his actions, for which he was indicted,” it said.
Media freedom and rule of law must co-exist for democracy to flourish, Sri Lanka’s Defense Ministry said on its Web Site.
“It is imperative that the media rights groups be able to separate journalism from terrorism and help identify terror advocates masquerading as journalists,” it said.
The High Court Judge Deepali Wijesundara said Tissainayagam's articles violated the law because they were aimed at creating communal disharmony. She also found him guilty of raising money for a publication whose articles violated the anti-terror law and sentenced him to 20 years.
"The constitution guarantees media freedom, but no one has a right to deliberately publish false reports that would lead to communal violence," prosecutor Sudarshana de Silva said in his court filing.
Meanwhile the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists announced Monday, 31 August that it will honor imprisoned Sri Lankan journalist J.S. Tissainayagam with a 2009 International Press Freedom Award.
US military holds Iraqi journalist without charge
While the United States Department of State was making its statement regarding the sentence given by Sri Lanka High Court affording journalist Tiisanayagam the due process of the law with an open trial an Iraqi photo-journalist is held by the US military in Baghdad since 02 September 2008 without charges or trail.
In December an Iraqi court in Baghdad cleared the Reuter-attached journalist Ibrahim Jassam of all charges and requested the United States authorities in Iraq to set him free to which the U.S. replied that he was a ‘security threat’ and cannot be released.
He was 29 years old in 2006 when he began working for Reuters news agency. At the time, the towns southwest of Baghdad had earned the nickname the "Triangle of Death" because of the violence between Shiite militias and Sunni insurgents. His brother, Walid, says Jassam took his work very seriously.
"When there was an explosion, Ibrahim was always the first one to be in the location filming. He felt that whatever was happening on the ground he wanted it to be seen on the television," Walid says.
But as with many cases in the past, the U.S. military apparently thought Jassam's photos looked a little too close to the action, suggesting a connection to insurgents.
One morning in September 2008, hours before dawn, a combined U.S. and Iraqi force cordoned off Jassam's neighborhood. They broke down the door of the house where he lived with his parents and siblings, handcuffed Jassam and dragged him away in his underwear.
The military brought dogs inside the house, says Jassam's sister, Eman. She says she tried to tell the soldiers her brother had done nothing wrong.
"One of the Iraqi soldiers said, 'Why you are still talking? If you only knew what we are going to do your brother, you would be crying.' These words [are] still echoing in my ears," she says.
Months passed before the family got word that Jassam was in a U.S. military prison. Eventually, they visited him. But they are still waiting for any sort of criminal charge to be made against him.
Capt. Brad Kimberly, a U.S. military spokesman, says Jassam is still in detention because he is classified as a "high-security threat."
An Iraqi court document from November 2008 says that since the Americans provided no evidence or confession, Jassam should be released. Michael Christie, Reuters bureau chief in Baghdad, says arrests like this have been a problem throughout the war, especially for video journalists.
"Images of war, of American military vehicles which are taken as enemy propaganda — this is perfectly innocent journalistic work, which if you're looking at from a U.S. military perspective might suddenly be malevolent," he says.
Reuters has raised Jassam's case in Baghdad and Washington. Christie says Jassam did a good job in a dangerous city.
A media watchdog group the Committee to Protect Journalists said it 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. . . . Officials with the New York-based group took the United States 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.
Wall St. Journal editor Paul Steiger noted in a letter to Obama that 14 journalists have been held without due process for long periods in Iraq, Afghanistan and at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. Sixteen journalists have been killed by US fire in Iraq, he said. “We don’t believe that these are deliberate attacks, but they have not been adequately investigated,” Simon said.
-Asian Tribune -