Sri Lanka urged to free or charge students

New York, Dec 20 (IANS) The Sri Lankan authorities should immediately release or credibly charge four Tamil students from Jaffna University detained since this month, Human Rights Watch said Wednesday.

The Terrorist Investigation Department (TID) arrested the students amid unrest in the northern city of Jaffna following a crackdown in November against attempts to commemorate dead leaders of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The four students - Sanmugam Solaman, K. Jenamajenth, P. Tharshaanan and V. Bhavananadam - were initially detained at the TID offices in Vavuniya, about 250 km north of Colombo.

Around Dec 10, they were transferred to the Rehabilitation Centre in Welikanda, which holds an estimated 600 alleged former LTTE fighters.

Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa reportedly told Jaffna University teachers Dec 15 that the students would be released after they had been rehabilitated due to their involvement in terrorist activities.

"Arresting four students without charge and sending them off for 'rehabilitation' sends a dangerous message that any Tamil can be detained arbitrarily and indefinitely," said Brad Adams, Asia director at the Human Rights Watch.

"The Sri Lankan authorities should realize that such actions generate legitimate grievances, not reconciliation."

The students' parents were initially denied access to their children, but were allowed to visit them at Welikanda Dec 12.

The parents said publicly that the students were being interrogated intensely, with efforts to intimidate them into providing information about other students.

The government has neither accounted for the arrests by specifying what terrorist activities the students have allegedly been involved in nor brought charges against the students.

The students were told that they will be detained until they have completed a three-month lecture series on the theme of "reconciliation," the parents said.


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