Sri Lanka:Tamil doctors subjected to media circus

July 18, 2009

Five Tamil doctors who had revealed death counts of Tamil civilians during the Sri Lankan Army's brutal offensive on Tamil-held territory this year have faced a staged media conference after two months behind bars, Associated Press said on July 9.

In a media conference conducted by the Sri Lankan Media Centre for National Security, the doctors claimed that their original death counts were given after pressure from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The LTTE waged a 25-year armed campaign for a Tamil homeland in the north of the country, but were militarily defeated by the Sri Lankan Army in May.

After the conference, the men were taken back to prison where they are held for "spreading Tiger propaganda".

The doctors told the conference that no more than 700 civilians had been killed in the fighting between January and May. But a London Times investigation on May 29 revealed that more than 20,000 civilians were killed in that period.

The Red Cross placed the figure lower, at 7000 killed.

Sam Zarifi, the Asia-pacific director for Amnesty International, told the Times on July 9: "There are very significant grounds to question whether these statements were voluntary, and they raise serious concerns whether the doctors were subjected to ill-treatment during weeks of detention.

"From the time the doctors were detained, the fear was that they would be used exactly this way."

Amnesty said in a July 10 statement that the parading of the doctors showed the need for an independent inquiry into war crimes committed during the conflict.

Amnesty highlighted "the doctors' ongoing detention without access to lawyers and their vulnerability to torture and ill-treatment and pressure from the Sri Lankan government, which has a record of mistreatment of detainees and witnesses; the contradiction between the doctors' statements and independently verified facts; the two-month long period between the doctors' departure from LTTE-held areas and their recent 'recanting' of their earlier statements".

The July 10 Times editorial said: "There is something despicable about forcing doctors to lie about war crimes. By their calling, doctors are committed to relieving human suffering, to helping the sick and preventing disease.

"Their recantation, clearly made under duress, was as ludicrous as it was humiliating."

The Sri Lankan government told the Red Cross to leave the country on July 9. Red Cross information officer Sarasi Wijeratne told Radio Australia the next day: "This is a scaling-down operation not a complete withdrawal.

"We are actually in the process of discussing with the authorities what programs can be carried out for the benefit of those people in the east, so their humanitarian needs can be met."

The Times said in a July 10 editorial: "Historically, it [the Red Cross] has rarely spoken out — even about Nazi concentration camps — so as not to jeopardise access to those in greatest danger. It was the only aid agency allowed inside the war zone in the final stages of the conflict.

"But its few statements angered the Government. Sri Lanka wants no witnesses to what is now being done in these modern concentration camps."

Despite the crimes against humanity committed against civilians, the Sri Lankan government is set to receive a US$1.9 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund to help "rebuild" the country.

This will directly benefit the regime, which was imposed a 0.9% tax on all foreign aid entering the country.

A July 10 Times editorial backed a boycott of Sri Lanka by the Commonwealth, the United Nations and world cricketing bodies "until reconciliation begins".

It said: "A nation cannot run concentration camps and expect the world to look away."

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