COLOMBO — Sri Lanka on Wednesday rejected international criticism of the sentencing of a journalist to 20 years of hard labour over his alleged links to Tamil Tiger separatist rebels.
The foreign ministry in Colombo said the widespread condemnation, led by the United States and media rights groups, was an attempt at "undermining the independence of the judiciary of Sri Lanka."
J.S. Tissainayagam, 45, who contributed to the local Sunday Times and ran a news website, was found guilty on Monday under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.
He was convicted of receiving money from the Tamil Tigers to fund his work and causing racial hatred through his writings about Tamils affected by the ethnic conflict.
"Questioning or criticising this judicial action is misplaced, especially since Mr. Tissainayagam has yet the right to appeal," the government said.
US State Department deputy spokesman Robert Wood earlier said that Washington was "disappointed to learn of the verdict and the severity of the sentence."
In May, US President Barack Obama had cited Tissainayagam as one of several "emblematic examples" of persecuted journalists across the world.
Sri Lanka's army defeated the Tiger rebels in May after nearly four decades of bloodshed during which the United Nations estimates between 80,000 and 100,000 people were killed.
Tissainayagam was honoured abroad hours after the verdict as the first winner of the Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism, named after a 30-year veteran of Agence France-Presse who died last year.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also announced Monday that it would award Tissainayagam the 2009 International Press Freedom Award.
Local journalists and media freedom groups have often raised concerns about an alleged campaign of government intimidation in Sri Lanka.
Several reporters have been killed in recent years by unidentified groups, including leading anti-establishment editor Lasantha Wickrematunga, who was shot dead near his office in January.
The government severely restricted media access to the war zone for decades and still bans reporters from the northeast region, where 300,000 displaced civilians are held in government-run camps.
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