Reporters Without Borders is extremely shocked by today’s arrest of N. Vithyatharan, the editor of Sudar Oli, a Colombo-based Tamil daily that is part of the Uthayan press group. He was forcibly arrested while attending the funeral in Colombo of a relative of the group’s chairman. The media minister told the organisation that he was being “treated well” by the police.
“Carried out without a warrant, this arrest was a violation of the rule of law,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The police must release Vithyatharan without delay. What is this respected Tamil editor accused of? Outspoken coverage of the situation in Sri Lanka, including the fate of its Tamil population.”
Three uniformed police officers and three men in plain clothes arrested Vithyatharan at the funeral of a relative of Uthayan press group chairman M. Saravanapavan. The police hit people who tried to intervene to prevent the arrest.
“Until we have seen Vithyatharan safe and sound, we will continue to regard this as an abduction,” Saravanapavan told Reporters Without Borders.
Media minister Laxman Yapa told Reporters Without Borders by telephone that Vithyatharan was being held by the Colombo Crimes Division (CCD) for the purposes of questioning. “He is currently being interrogated and his relatives will be able to see him this evening,” Yapa said. “I can assure you that he is all right. And the press will be informed tomorrow.”
Reporters Without Borders asked the minister to guarantee Vithyatharan’s safety.
The CCD is conducting an investigation under the emergency regulations into two reports published in Sudar Oli on 6 and 11 February. Vithyatharan was already summoned for questioning by CCD police officer Aura Senanayake on 13 February.
Senior members of the Uthayan press group have meanwhile received phone calls threatening them with the same fate if they do not leave the country.
Uthayan and Sudar Oli have repeatedly been the targets of violence. Six of the group’s employees have been killed since 2005 and its offices in both Jaffna and Colombo have been attacked several times.