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Sri Lanka court frees Tamil editor on bail

world Updated: Jan 11, 2010 16:11 IST
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Sri Lanka's court of appeal on Monday freed on bail a Tamil editor whose 20-year prison sentence last year for supporting "terrorism" drew international criticism, a court official said.

JS Tissainayagam, who edited North Eastern Monthly magazine in Colombo, was told to surrender his passport and to post 50,000 rupees (437 dollars) in bail pending a full appeal hearing, the official said.

Tissainayagam has appealed his conviction in August on charges of raising money for terrorism and of causing racial hatred through his writings about Tamils affected by the country's 37-year separatist conflict.

The sentence of 20 years in jail with hard labour was condemned by the European Union, the United States and international press freedom groups.

In May, US President Barack Obama cited Tissainayagam, who also wrote for the Colombo-based Sunday Times newspaper, as one of the "emblematic examples" of a persecuted journalist.

In October, Sri Lankan courts acquitted North Eastern Monthly's publisher S. Jaseeharan and his wife on the charges of supporting terrorism. All three were detained in March 2008 for articles published in the magazine.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists selected Tissainayagam as a recipient of a 2009 International Press Freedom Award, and he also won an award for courageous and ethical journalism set up in memory of AFP journalist Peter Mackler.

The United Nations estimates that up to 100,000 people were killed in Sri Lanka's separatist conflict that erupted in 1972 when Tamil Tiger rebels took up arms in their quest for a Tamnil homeland.

Government forces wiped out the Tiger leadership in May after months of fierce fighting in the northeast of the country.

Official figures show nine journalists have been killed and another 27 assaulted in the past three years in Sri Lanka while activists say over a dozen journalists have been killed.