Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has decided to pardon journalist J.S. Tissainayagam, who is out on bail after being convicted in August last year under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). External Affairs Minister G.L Peiris made the announcement at a news conference here. The pardon coincided with the World Press Freedom Day.
The Minister said the government had decided to scale down the emergency regulations. The laws have been in operation since the assassination of the then Foreign Minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar.
Mr. Tissainayagam's case drew international attention as the senior journalist was the first to be tried and convicted under the PTA in vogue for three decades.
Mr. Tissainayagam was convicted on three counts including editing, printing and distributing the publication North Eastern Monthly magazine between June 1, 2006 and June 1, 2007. He was arrested in March 2008 and released on bail in January this year. He stands charged on the count of inciting communal disharmony punishable under PTA. He was also convicted of collecting money to run the magazine and thereby furtherance of terrorism, an offence punishable under the emergency regulations.
Mr. Tissainayagam denies supporting violence. International human rights groups had campaigned for his release. Last September, he was given an award for courageous and ethical journalism by the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders.
Mr. Tissainayagam was arrested in March 2008 when he visited the Terrorist Investigation Department in search of his colleague and publisher V. Jasikaran. He was held without charge for almost six months and on August 25 was charged with write-ups inciting ethnic disharmony. He was sentenced to 20 years hard labour on August 31.
On the decision to scale down the emergency regulations, the Minister said it would be based on the outcome of the two-day debate.
Sri Lanka's court of appeal on Monday suspended a court martial hearing against the former General, Sarath Fonseka, until May 21 so that a decision could be made on the validity of the legal proceedings.
The court martial is probing charges that General Fonseka conspired against the President and his family and engaged in politics while in uniform.
The ex-General, who unsuccessfully contested the January presidential elections against Mahinda Rajapaksa, was arrested soon after the polls on the charges.
Meanwhile, a second court martial hearing against him is expected to go ahead on Tuesday. It is probing charges of violation of military procurement procedures by him.