Journalist J.S. Tissainayagam is escorted after appearing at a magistrate's court in Colombo.

© 2008 Reuters

(New York) - President Mahinda Rajapakse should order prosecutors to drop all charges against journalists held on politically motivated charges, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to the president today. J.S. Tissainayagam, a journalist, and N. Jashiharan, a publisher, and his wife, V. Valamathy, have been in detention since March 2008.

The letter identified serious violations of due process and the right to a fair trial by the authorities in Tissainayagam's case.

"Tissainayagam's arrest was politically motivated and his detention has involved a litany of due process violations," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "The prosecution of journalists only reinforces the impression that the government has embarked on a systematic campaign to smother free media."

In recent months, media freedom in Sri Lanka has come under serious assault, including the recent killing of the journalist Lasantha Wickremetunga and an attack on the offices of Maharaja Television in Colombo.