COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka's president ordered the release Monday of a journalist imprisoned on terrorism charges after criticizing the government's war on Tamil rebels, in a case cited by President Barack Obama as harassment of the press.
Rajapaksa used his executive powers to release Jeyaprakash Tissainayagam, an ethnic Tamil journalist convicted last year of supporting terrorism and creating communal disharmony and sentenced to 20 years in prison, External Affairs Minister Gamini Peiris told reporters Monday.
The move was made to mark World Press Freedom Day, Peiris said.
Tissainayagam's conviction was based on two articles he wrote criticizing the government's military campaign against the now-defeated Tamil Tiger rebels.
The U.S. president singled out Tissainayagam during his World Press Freedom Day address last year as an example of journalists being jailed or harassed for doing their jobs.
"In every corner of the globe, there are journalists in jail or being actively harassed: from Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe, Burma to Uzbekistan, Cuba to Eritrea. Emblematic examples of this distressing reality are figures like J.S. Tissainayagam in Sri Lanka, or Shi Tao and Hu Jia in China," Obama said.
Amnesty International labeled Tissainayagam a prisoner of conscience.
Government troops beat the Tamil Tiger rebels last year, ending their 25-year campaign for an independent homeland. An estimated 80,000-100,000 people died in the conflict.
Peiris also said that the government plans to lift much of an emergency law used during the war. Parliament must approve the move, he said without giving details.
Sri Lanka has been under emergency rule for most of the past 30 years.
The emergency law gave the military and police wide freedom to search and arrest suspects and detain them for long periods.
Peiris said the steps were taken to accelerate economic development. The government believes that lifting the state of emergency will send out the message that Sri Lanka is returning to normalcy, thus encouraging foreign investment and tourism.