[N. Vithyatharan meeting Minister Rajitha Senarathana]
A former Tamil newspaper editor N. Vithyatharan, who was abducted in February 2009 by armed men in notorious ‘white-van’ has given his consent to cooperate with the new government’s probe into the scores of white van abductions and extra-judicial killings, blamed on former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.
White vans had become a hate symbol because they were used by “unidentified gunmen” in the abduction of political opponents, dissidents and journalists during and after the war that ended in May 2009.
“A top minister of the new government asked me whether I, being probably the only survivor of the white van abductions, could co-operate with the probe into the white van abductions. I have given my consent to share my bitter experience and all what I know in that regard,” Vithyatharan told Colombo Mirror via phone late Friday evening.
“I have nothing to hide and have no reason to hide too,” he said.
The new government of President Maithripala Sirisena has vowed to expose all misdeeds of the previous government of deposed president Mahinda Rajapaksa, who has also been accused to have tried an unsuccessful military coup on the next day of the election in a desperate bid to stay in power.
Last week a former cabinet minister, Mervyn Silva filed a fresh case with the Criminal Investigation Department claiming that deposed President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s brother and former defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa was the author of numerous white van abductions and the extra-judicial killings, including that of ex Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunga.
Demanding the CID to conduct thorough investigations into all these cases, he said he has provided adequate details to back his claim against Gotabhaya Rajapaksa in this regard.
Although Vithyatharan was abducted, with police initially denying knowledge about his whereabouts, the Colombo Crimes Division (CCD), which was functioning under Senior DIG Anura Senanayake, few hours later, claimed that he was arrested and held for questioning for allegedly “assisting the LTTE to carry out the air attack on February 20″.
It was later revealed that the then Indian Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon, who was in Colombo on an official visit on the day of the incident, had mounted an immediate pressure on President Rajapaksa to ensure the safety of the veteran Tamil journalist.
The 56-year old former Editor of Uthayan and Sudar Oli Tamil newspapers, was abducted on February 26 around 9.30 am while attending a funeral of a family relative at Mahinda Florists, Mt. Lavinia. He was accompanied by his family as well as the Managing Director of Uthayan and Sudar oli newspapers E. Saravanabavan, who is now an elected parliamentarian of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) from Jaffna.
According to eye-witnesses, at least six armed men (three in police uniform and others in civvies) alighted from a white van and dragged Vithyatharan from the funeral parlour, bundled him into the van and sped away. The crowd attending the funeral had tried their best to hold Vithyatharan back, but was overpowered by the armed men. Although the men in police uniform had told the crowd that he was being taken for questioning to the Dehiwela police station, the van had fled on the opposite direction.
It was incidentally a day before that Vithyatharan was interviewed by an Australian television journalist, in which he has said that the media freedom in the country was at its rock bottom and he being a journalist was not too sure whether he would “return home alive”.
“My management and I have decided to stay here and fight for the rights of the people. This is the crucial time and the journalists have to act prudently on behalf of their people,” he said.
Coincidentally, the same television journalist had a pre-booked interview with Gotabhaya Rajapaksa barely a couple of hours after Vithyatharan was abducted.
Mentioning Vithyatharan’s name, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa provoked “surprising response”.
“He is involved in the recent air attacks. I am telling you. If you try to give a cover up for that person, you have blood in your hand. We have definite information on that. If somebody tells, he was arrested for media, that person has also blood (in his hand) for innocent civilians died in Colombo. Good thing that you asked for that. I am telling you with responsibility that he is a terrorist. He is in-charge…he is responsible for things co-ordinating the air attacks in Colombo. I will arrest…We have arrested him and it is the right thing to do. We will take legal action against him,” he said.
However, Vithyatharan was released two months later by a Colombo Court on April 24, 2009 without any charges against him
– Colombo Mirror