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Sri Lankan reporter Tissainayagam named winner of Peter Mackler Award

(September 01, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) J. S. Tissainayagam, a Sri Lankan reporter sentenced Monday to 20 years in prison, has been named the first winner of the Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism.

"We are happy to reward J.S. Tissainayagam in 2009, a terrible year for Sri Lanka," said Jean-Francois Julliard, secretary-general of the Paris-based press rights group Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

"This country needs journalists who are determined and concerned with finding the truth," Julliard said in a statement issued hours after Tissainayagam was jailed for 20 years on charges of supporting terrorism.

"J.S. Tissainayagam is one of those and should never have been imprisoned," he said. "Sri Lankans have the right to be informed about what is happening on their island.

"They have the right to read words written by men like J. S. Tissainayagam."

Tissainayagam was selected for the Peter Mackler Award, named for a 30-year veteran of Agence France-Presse who died last year, by the US branch of RSF and Global Media Forum (GMF), a company founded by Mackler to train journalists and non-profit organizations to use the media as a tool for social change.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also announced Monday that it will honor Tissainayagam with a 2009 International Press Freedom Award at a ceremony in November.

"We are announcing this award today to highlight the depth of outrage at this unjust sentence," said CPJ executive director Joel Simon.

Tissainayagam, who has been cited by US President Barack Obama as an "emblematic example" of a persecuted journalist, was sentenced to 20 years of hard labor.

He was found guilty on charges of receiving money from the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and causing racial hatred through his writings about Tamils affected by the LTTE war for a separate homeland.

Tissainayagam contributed to Sri Lanka's Sunday Times and ran a website, Outreachsl.com, that focused on the island's minority Tamils.

RSF condemned the "extremely severe" sentence imposed on Tissainayagam saying it "suggests that some Sri Lanka judges confuse justice with revenge.

"With the help of confessions extracted by force and information that was false or distorted, the court has used an anti-terrorism law that was intended for terrorists, not for journalists and human rights activists," it said.

RSF said Tissainayagam will be formally awarded the Peter Mackler prize at a ceremony at the National Press Club in Washington on October 2. Marcus Brauchli, executive editor of The Washington Post, will be the keynote speaker.

The Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism was founded in June 2008 to honor the memory of Mackler, who died of a heart attack that month at the age of 58.

Mackler covered wars, elections and other notable events around the world during his career at AFP and was key in transforming the agency's English language service into the international competitor it is today.

The Peter Mackler Award rewards journalists who fight courageously and ethically to report the news in countries where freedom of the press is either not guaranteed or not recognized.

-AFP
-Sri Lanka Guardian

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