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Sri Lanka 24 April 2009

Reporters Without Borders welcomes release of N. Vithyatharan

Reporters Without Borders welcomed the release of editor of the Tamil daily Sudar Oli, N. Vithyatharan, who had been held by police since 26 February 2009, accused of having links with Tamil Tiger rebels.

A court in Colombo today ordered the journalist’s release. The Colombo Criminal Division (CCD) in charge of the investigation, as well as other departments of the police and the military, cleared the journalist for lack of evidence.

Investigators spent two months going through hundreds of phone calls made and received by the journalist. Police also checked his bank accounts without finding any link with the Tamil Tigers. He left the court a free man, accompanied by his lawyer and his wife.

“Why did they need to detain me for two months over completely false accusations?” the editor asked. “All police services and even military secret services cleared me after checking my phone calls and my bank accounts”, he told Reporters Without Borders.

“The decision of the justice system to release N. Vithyatharan is good news which should, we hope, open the way to the release of another Tamil journalist J. S. Tissanayagam, held for more than a year without proof”, the worldwide press freedom organisation said.

“The fact he has been completely cleared by the security services is very positive. It seems important today that officials, including Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, should accept the consequences, and apologise for the accusations made against the journalist,” the organisation added.

Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa had said in an interview with Australian SBS television that Vithyatharan was a “terrorist”. “He was implicated in a recent air raid. If you try to shield this person, you will have blood on your hands. And if someone says that he was arrested for his journalistic activities, then he will also have blood on his hands", the minister, who is the president’s brother, said.

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