SRI LANKA: Tamil editor arrested in Colombo

Police say editor was detained for questioning, but don't reveal in connection to what

The Times of India
Friday, February 27, 2009

By K .Venkataramanan

Chennai --- Several journalists and social activists in Chennai got an alarming SMS from Colombo on Thursday morning: well-known Tamil newspaper editor Nadesapillai Vithyatharan had been whisked away by armed men in a white van in the midst of his relative's funeral.

By now used to Colombo's infamous 'white van' abductions, journalists began making anxious enquiries, even as it emerged that the management of 'Sudar Oli' and 'Uthayan', the two dailies edited by Vithyatharan, had formally complained to the police that uniformed policemen had 'abducted' the journalist.

Hours later, the Sri Lankan police announced that the 51-year-old editor had been detained for questioning. There was speculation that he was being interrogated in connection with LTTE's air raids on Colombo last week. The country's media minister said the Colombo police crimes division was questioning him.

Last month, Lasantha Wickramatunga, a leading Sunday newspaper editor known for his dissenting views, was brutally killed in the capital, shocking even the diplomatic community in Colombo. The government has promised an inquiry but distanced itself from the incidents.

The media have been under relentless attack from shadowy operatives who seem to evade the innumerable military and police checkpoints in Colombo in recent times. The government itself says nine journalists have been killed and 27 others attacked since 2006.

Reporters Sans Frontiers, a global media watchdog, reacted sharply to Vithyatharan's arrest and demanded that Colombo guarantee his safety. "What is this respected Tamil editor accused of? Outspoken coverage of the situation in Sri Lanka, including the fate of its Tamil population," the RSF said.

Strongly condemning his arrest, CPI state secretary D Pandian said in a statement here that it was only because of immediate protests from journalists around the world, the government disclosed his arrest.

A respected figure in media circles both in the island nation and in Tamil Nadu, Vithyatharan was dragged out of a funeral parlour in Mount Lavinia, near the Sri Lankan capital, even as relatives and friends tried to stop the group of policemen from taking him away.

Given the repeated attacks on the media and mediapersons in recent years in Sri Lanka, the incident set off alarm bells among the journalistic fraternity in the country as well as abroad. Another Tamil journalist, K Sivaram, had been abducted in 2005 and the next morning his body was found with bullet marks and telltale signs of torture. Vithyatharan had been questioned by the anti-terrorism police wing last Sunday.