Reporters Without Borders is stunned by government claims that N. Vithyatharan, the editor of the Tamil daily Sudar Oli, helped the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam rebels carry out a suicide air strike on Colombo on 20 February that killed several people. Vithyatharan was arrested yesterday in Colombo.
To help refute the allegations, Reporters Without Borders offers the following statement by the head of its Asia Desk, Vincent Brossel, who met Vithyatharan in Colombo last October.
“I was with N. Vithyatharan in the centre of Colombo on the night of 28 October 2008 to discuss the situation of his newspaper when the LTTE launched an air raid on the capital,” Brossel said. “I can state that Vithyatharan was as surprised and scared as I was by this air strike and by the shots fired by the Sri Lankan air defence. He had not made or received any phone calls or shown any sign of nervousness prior to the attack.”
A government minister and several state-owned news media have said the police suspect Vithyatharan of helping the LTTE carry out its 20 February air strike.
“If these allegations are based on the fact that Vithyatharan received in the past phone calls from Vanni or from LTTE leaders, they are grotesque,” Reporters Without Borders said. “A good journalist is supposed to be in contact with all the different parties to a conflict. And if he receives phone calls, he is in no way responsible for the identity of the people wanting to give him information.”
The press freedom organisation added: “Despite the assurances we obtained from the media minister, we continue to be very concerned for Vithyatharan’s safety and we call for his immediate release.” His wife has been able to visit him twice in police custody since his arrest. He had visibly been injured during arrest.
Uniformed and plain-clothes police officers arrested Vithyatharan at 9:40 a.m. yesterday as he was attending the funeral of a relative of the chairman of the Uthayan press group, which owns Sudar Oli. The police hit people who tried to intervene to prevent the arrest.
Tamil newspaper editor arrested in Colombo (26/02/09)