Sri Lanka: Newspaper editor arrested and ill-treated

English PEN is seriously concerned by the arrest of newspaper editor Nadesapillai Vithyatharan on 26 February 2009 under emergency legislation, apparently for his reporting. We are also disturbed by reports that he was ill-treated in custody after his arrest, and seeks assurances of his well-being as a matter of urgency.

 

According to our information, Nadesapillai Vithyatharan, editor-in-chief of the Tamil-language dailies Sudar Oli and Uthayan, based in Colombo and Jaffna respectively, was arrested while attending a funeral in Sri Lanka’s capital city Colombo. The authorities state that the editor’s detention is in connection with his reporting on an attack on Colombo by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on 20 February 2009, and for having links to the LTTE, but no formal charges have been made known.

 

The following 1 March 2009 press release by Human Rights Watch gives further details:

 

The Sri Lankan government should either free a longtime newspaper editor arrested on February 27, 2009, or charge him with a credible offense, Human Rights Watch said today. N. Vithyatharan, editor of the Tamil daily newspapers Sudar Oli in Colombo and Uthayan in Jaffna, was arrested without a warrant and, family members said, severely beaten in custody.

 

A Sri Lankan defense ministry spokesman told the media that Vithyatharan was being held in connection with the February 20 attack on Colombo by two Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) airplanes, which killed three people and wounded 43. The spokesman said that Vithyatharan was being investigated for two reports published in Sudar Oli, on February 6 and 11, but provided no further information…

 

Three uniformed police officers and three men in plain clothes arrested Vithyatharan at a family funeral in Colombo and bundled him away in a white van, family members said. No warrant was presented. A Colombo police spokesman, Ranjith Gunasekera, initially told the media that Vithyatharan had been abducted by an unidentified group in a white van. He later confirmed that the Colombo Crimes Division had arrested Vithyatharan under Sri Lanka’s emergency regulations, which are increasingly being used against government critics.

Vithyatharan is currently in detention at the Colombo Crimes Division headquarters. His brother-in-law, E. Sarwanapavan, told Human Rights Watch: “After he was taken away, Vithyatharan was blindfolded and beaten severely on the legs and head. (He was beaten) so much that the police had to take him to a hospital to get his head X-rayed. His wife and children have met him twice but have been very disturbed by his condition”.

 

Staff members of the popular Tamil dailies Uthayan and Sudar Oli, which have been critical of the government’s military offensive against the LTTE, have been repeatedly targeted. Six of the media group’s employees have been killed since 2005, and its offices in both Jaffna and Colombo have been attacked several times.

Vithyatharan’s arbitrary arrest and alleged mistreatment was just the latest in a series of attacks against journalists critical of the government, Human Rights Watch said.

(For the full press release, see
http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2008/03/01/sri-lanka-editor-arrested-and-beaten)

 

English PEN fears that Vithyatharan may be held solely for his legitimate reporting and therefore in denial of his right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). If this is the case, we call for his immediate and unconditional release. Furthermore, we continue to be alarmed at the rising number of journalists in Sri Lanka who are attacked with apparent impunity, and call upon the government of Sri Lanka to take immediate steps to ensure that all journalists are able to report on the current conflict freely and without fear of attack.


RECOMMENDED ACTION

 

Please send appeals:

• Expressing serious concern at reports that editor Nadesapillai Vithyatharan has suffered ill-treatment in custody, and seeking assurances of his well-being;
• Expressing concern that editor Nadesapillai Vithyatharan may be held in violation of his right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by Article 19 of the ICCPR, and if so calling for his immediate and unconditional release.
• Expressing alarm about the rising number of journalists in Sri Lanka who continue to be        attacked with apparent impunity, and calling upon the government of Sri Lanka to take immediate steps to ensure that all journalists are able to report on the current conflict freely and without fear of attack.

 

Appeals to:


His Excellency the President Mahinda Rajapaksa
Presidential Secretariat
Colombo 1
Sri Lanka
Fax: 94 11 2446657
Salutation: Your Excellency

 

Hon. Amarasiri Dodangoda
Minister of Justice and Law Reforms
Ministry of Justice and Law Reforms
Superior Courts Complex,
Colombo 12
Sri Lanka
Fax: 94 11 2445447
Salutation: Dear Minister

 

H. M. G.  S.  Palihakkara
Ambassador
Permanent Mission of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka to the United Nations
#630, 3rd Avenue (20th Floor)
New York 10017 
United States of America 
mail@slmission.com 
Fax 1 (212) 986-1838 

 

Please copy appeals to the diplomatic representative for Sri Lanka in your country if possible:

 

His Excellency Justice Nihal Jayasinghe
High Commission of Sri Lanka
No.13, Hyde Park Gardens
London W2 2LU,
United Kingdom.

Tel:  020 7262 1841-6
Fax: 020 7262 7970
Email: mail@slhc-london.co.uk

Originally posted with the url: www.englishpen.org/writersinprison/bulletins/srilankanewspapereditorarrestedandill-treated/

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