March 4, 2009

His Excellency the President Mahinda Rajapaksa
Presidential Secretariat
Colombo 1
Sri Lanka
Fax: +94 11 2446657

Hon. Amarasiri Dodangoda
Minister of Justice and Law Reforms
Superior Courts Complex
Colombo 12
Sri Lanka
Fax: +94 11 2445447

H. M. G. S. Palihakkara

Ambassador
Permanent Mission of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka to the UN
630 Third Avenue, 20th Floor
New York, NY 10017
Fax: (212) 986-1838
Email: mail@slmission.com

Your Excellencies,

On behalf of the 3,300 members of PEN American Center, an international organization of writers dedicated to protecting freedom of expression wherever it is threatened, we are writing to express our concern regarding the arrest of Nadesapillai Vithyatharan.

According to our information, Nadesapillai Vithyatharan, editor of the Tamil daily newspapers Uthayan and Sudar Oli, was arrested on February 27, 2009, while attending a family funeral in Colombo. A police spokesman initially told the media that Mr. Vithyatharan had been abducted by an unidentified group in a white van, but confirmed later that the Colombo Crimes Division had arrested Mr. Vithyatharan under Sri Lanka’s Emergency Regulations, which have been used increasingly to silence critics of the government. The Defense Ministry subsequently reported that Mr. Vithyatharan is being held in connection with the February 20 attack on Colombo by two Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) airplanes, but no formal charges have been made known. He is currently being held at the Colombo Crimes Division headquarters where he has reportedly been abused by police. Mr. Vithyatharan’s family reported that he was so severely beaten after his arrest that the police were forced to escort him to the hospital for x-rays.

Staff members of Uthayan and Sudar Oli have been repeatedly targeted, allegedly for their criticism of the Sri Lankan government. Six of the media group’s employees have been killed since 2005, and its offices in both Jaffna and Colombo were attacked on several occasions.

PEN American Center is alarmed by reports that Nadesapillai Vithyatharan has suffered mistreatment in custody, and is seriously concerned that he is being held in violation of his right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by Article 19 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, to which Sri Lanka is a signatory. We therefore call for his immediate and unconditional release, and urge the government to take immediate steps to ensure that all journalists are able to report on the current conflict freely and without fear of attack.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Sincerely,
                      
Hannah Pakula
Chair, Freedom to Write Committee

Larry Siems
Director, Freedom to Write and International Programs

CC: H. E. Jaliya Wickramasuriya
Ambassador of Sri Lanka to the U.S.
2148 Wyoming Avenue NW
Washington DC 20008
Fax: (202) 232-7181

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