Friday, December 11, 2009

Tamil doctor on the mat for expressing private opinion

By Namini Wijedasa - A Tamil doctor has been interdicted by the ministry of health allegedly for expressing a private opinion to a Sinhala doctor that was interpreted as “causing disrepute to the Government of Sri Lanka”.

The incident has caused ripples among Tamil academia and begs the question where freedom of speech is the prerogative of the majority community - and whether only certain types of views are tolerated under the brand of “free speech” now practised in Sri Lanka.

One Tamil activist questioned how it was possible for a Sinhala doctor to complain about a Tamil doctor on a matter of ethnic interest or disputed facts, leading to ex-parte action by the ministry of health without any reference to law.

On 17 November 2009, Dr Murali Vallipuranathan received a Sinhala language interdiction order dated 10 November 2009 stating that he was removed from service for causing disrepute to the Government of Sri Lanka. His salary was also stopped.

Contentious comment

LAKBIMAnEWS is in receipt of the correspondence between Vallipuranathan and Dr Chrishantha Abeysena. We are also in receipt of a separate e-mail circulated by Vallipuranathan regarding the contentious comment he made that led to his interdiction.

Abeysena initially forwarded an e-mail to Vallipuranathan titled “urgent” which said that the CNN website and television were conducting a poll on whether the international community should intervene in Sri Lanka. He requested those on his mailing list to click on a link to answer “no”. He also asked the recipients to forward the e-mail to all their friends, asking them to do the same.

In response, Vallipuranathan wrote to Abeysena: “What do you want us to do?

Observe silently the inhuman treatment taking place at the Forced Detention Camps (FDC) under the name of provision of health services and security? I think this is time for us (the medical professionals) to discuss this more openly without any racial feelings. I hope you are aware of what is really happening at the FDC. If not please watch Channel 4 and enlighten yourself.”

Vallipuranathan included in his e-mail the link to the contentious Channel 4 report that showed Sri Lankan soldiers allegedly shooting unarmed Tamils. He added: “Anyway IC (international community) will not interfere just because somebody votes at CNN. Await you kind response (except the white van reaction)...”

In July, Vallipuranathan received a letter from S L A Nawarathna, the director of the ministry of health’s investigation and flying squad, notifying him that a preliminary inquiry was being conducted “on the e-mail dated 12.05.2009 sent to Dr Abeysena by you”. He was instructed to call over at the investigation unit and to meet the officer assigned to this matter on 21 July 2009.

No Charge Sheet

LAKIBMAnEWS learns that no charge sheet was ever filed. However, Vallipuranathan received a letter last month signed by Health Secretary H A P Kahandaliyanage stating that a preliminary inquiry conducted by the health ministry’s investigation and flying squad unit had found him to have acted in a manner that brought disrepute on the Government of Sri Lanka. It informed him that he was interdicted pending further investigation.

According to an email subsequently circulated by Vallipuranathan: “Though I have clearly stated that I had expressed my private opinion because Dr.C.Abeysena sought my opinion and it is my fundamental right to express private opinion which has no relevance to my position in the government service, I am now interdicted without a charge sheet issued to me so far.”

He adds bitterly: “Perhaps this is the best way the reconciliation with minorities can take place in Sri Lanka at the end of the war.”

© Lakbima News

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