Media circles wonder whether US senators confirm offence by welcoming pardon

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 23 June 2010, 12:30 GMT]
The US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in a statement for immediate release, Tuesday, said “Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, Ranking Member Dick Lugar and Subcommittee Chairman on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs Senator Robert P. Casey,Jr., today welcomed Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s decision to pardon journalist J.S. Tissainayagam, who had been convicted last year and sentenced to 20 years of hard labor.” By welcoming Mahinda Rajapaksa ‘pardoning’ him, do the US senators imply Tissainayagam committed an offence, ask media circles in Colombo.

“I welcome President Rajapaksa’s pardon and I hope it will be part of a process to restore an independent press to Sri Lanka that can write and report without fear of intimidation or persecution,” said Chairman Kerry in the statement.

According to Ranking Member Lugar, Rajapaksa’s pardon “will be a tangible step to bring about national reconciliation in the aftermath of the country’s long and bitter civil war,”

Full text of the statement:

Statement on J.S. Tissainayagam’s pardon by Senators Kerry, Lugar and Casey

Washington, D.C.--Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, Ranking Member Dick Lugar and Subcommittee Chairman on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr., today welcomed Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s decision to pardon journalist J.S. Tissainayagam, who had been convicted last year and sentenced to 20 years of hard labor.

Mr. Tissainayagam, a respected Sri Lankan Tamil journalist, was convicted under the country’s anti-terrorism laws for articles he wrote in 2006 and 2007 that were critical of the army’s conduct during the country’s long civil war. The Committee to Protect Journalists and other observers have said that the arrest and conviction were unjustified and an attack against press freedom. On World Press Freedom Day in 2009, Senators Kerry, Lugar and Casey expressed their concern about Mr. Tissainayagam’s detention.

“I welcome President Rajapaksa’s pardon and I hope it will be part of a process to restore an independent press to Sri Lanka that can write and report without fear of intimidation or persecution,” stated Chairman Kerry.

“I hope this action by President Rajapaksa signals an improvement in conditions for all journalists in Sri Lanka and will be a tangible step to bring about national reconciliation in the aftermath of the country’s long and bitter civil war,” said Ranking Member Lugar.

“Sri Lanka has been one of the most dangerous environments in the world for a journalist. Scores of journalists censor themselves out of fear for their safety. Others were forced into exile and some remain in jail. I welcome Mr. Tissainayagam’s release and hope that it signals that fundamental press freedoms will be respected in Sri Lanka,” said Senator Casey.

The Sri Lankan government announced in May 2010, that Mr. Tissainayagam, who spent 21 months in detention, would be granted a full pardon. Last week, the pardon was issued and he was allowed to leave the country. Last year Mr. Tissainayagam received the first Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism, and the International Press Freedom Award from the Committee to Protect Journalists.

 

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