IFJ Welcomes Release of Tamil Editor in Sri Lanka

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) welcomes the release of Nadesapillai Vithyatharan, editor of the Tamil daily newspaper Sudar Oli, after almost two months in detention in Sri Lanka.


Although no charges were laid against Vithyatharan, officials of the Crime Branch of the Sri Lankan police had requested a magistrate’s court on March 18 for an extension of his detention, while his alleged involvement in an insurgent air raid on Colombo on February 20 was investigated.


In ordering the editor’s release on April 24, a court in Colombo took on board the admission by the Crime Branch and other security agencies that there was no evidence linking Vithyatharan with any unlawful activity.


“The IFJ calls on Sri Lanka’s authorities to acknowledge the injustice they have perpetrated against Vithyatharan and to account for their actions,” IFJ General Secretary Aidan White said.


Senior government officials, with direct responsibility for the war operations against Tamil insurgents that today are reportedly in their final stages, took a direct interest in the case against Vithyatharan.


Hours after his February 26 arrest, which was conducted in the manner of an abduction while Vithyatharan was attending a family ceremony, the principal spokesman for all Sri Lanka’s national security agencies, including the defence forces, justified it on the grounds that he was a “wanted person”.


In an interview with an Australian news channel just over a fortnight later, Sri Lanka’s Defence Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, accused Vithyatharan of “terrorism”. As broadcast over the news channel, Rajapaksa said, “He is involved in recent air attacks and I am telling you if you try to give (a) cover-up for that person you have blood in your hands [...] I am telling you he is a terrorist. He is responsible for coordinating air-attacks in Colombo.”


“The public utterances of senior Sri Lankan officials against Vithyatharan amount to an outrageous attack on his integrity,” White said.


“At the minimum, there must be a public apology from all the officials who have engaged in the campaign of character assassination, at a time when the public mood is fraught and the consequences of loose speech could be fatal.”


The IFJ notes with concern that all government-controlled media – the radio and television channels under the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation and the newspapers under the Lake House group – have failed to report on Vithyatharan’s unconditional discharge and release.


The IFJ extends its full support to Vithyatharan in his effort to obtain redress through writ petition in the Supreme Court, alleging a violation of his fundamental rights.


For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +612 9333 0919


The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 122 countries