Sri Lanka arrests three doctors

May 19, 2009

I’m very worried.  In the final days of the war between the Sri Lankan government and the opposition Tamil Tigers, it had been hard to get reliable information as to what was happening in the war zone, since the government had barred access to the area to independent observers.  One of the few sources of information were the reports from three government-employed doctors (Drs. T. Sathiyamoorthy, Varatharajah and Shanmugarajah) who were working in the  war zone.  They provided eyewitness accounts to reporters detailing the suffering of the civilians trapped in the area, many of whom died from war-related injuries.  Their reports highlighted continuous shelling of areas in which civilians were concentrated.

The three doctors were reported to have left the war zone on May 15 with about 5,000 other civilians.  They were last seen at a holding area at the Omanthai checking point.  Amnesty International has gotten reports that Dr. Varatharajah was seriously injured and was airlifted by the Sri Lankan Air Force to an unknown destination.  We also understand that Drs. Sathiyamoorthy and Shanmugarajah were arrested and are now in the custody of the Terrorist Investigation Division, a police unit, in the capital, Colombo.  However, no detention order has been issued so their relatives don’t know where they are or what their status is.

I’m very concerned that the doctors may have been detained in reprisal for the reporting they had done from the war zone.  A Sri Lankan health official has been quoted as saying that they were detained on accusations that they gave false information about civilian casualties to the media.  A top UN official yesterday said that the doctors had “performed absolutely heroically” and expressed concern about their fate.

Please write to President Mahinda Rajapaksa (Presidential Secretariat, Colombo 1, Sri Lanka, email:  [email protected]) and to the Sri Lankan Ambassador to the U.S., Jaliya Wickramasuriya (email:  [email protected]).  Please ask that the doctors be released immediately from detention unless they’re promptly charged with a recognizable crime.  They should be given all the medical care they need, especially Dr. Varatharajah, as well as access to their relatives and lawyers of their choice.  Thanks for your help.