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Tortured into submission?

July 9, 2009

AP – Sri Lankan doctors say they exaggerated war deaths

A group of Sri Lankan doctors who have been in police custody for nearly two months were brought before the media Wednesday to recant their reports of mass civilian casualties during the final days of the civil war.

The men, who looked well-fed but nervous, denied they were withdrawing their statements under pressure from the government, even as they expressed hopes they might now be released. A rights group said there were “significant grounds to question whether these statements were voluntary.”

Their new testimony – with drastically reduced death tolls and casualty figures during shelling of civilian areas – contradicted reports from independent aid workers with the United Nations and the Red Cross who witnessed some of the violence.

Guardian – Sri Lankan doctors paraded to recant over ‘false’ casualty figures

Five Sri Lankan government doctors who were arrested in May for giving casualty figures to journalists in the last months of the civil war recanted today, claiming they had been under Tamil Tiger pressure to exaggerate the civilian death toll.

The doctors were presented to the press at the defence ministry’s media centre while still in custody. Human rights activists said last night they believed the doctors were being coerced by the Sri Lankan authorities, who had been embarrassed about the interviews they had given about civilian casualties from the war zone.

The doctors denied they were under pressure to recant and insisted that fewer than 1,000 civilians had been killed between January and 18 May, when a last stand by the Tigers in the north-east of the island was vanquished by the army.

Sam Zarifi, Asia-Pacific director of Amnesty International, said the doctors’ appearance had been expected and predicted. “Given the track record of the Sri Lankan government, 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.”

Tamilnet – Vanni doctors forced to give false statement

5 Tamil doctors being held by the Sri Lankan authorities say they expect to be released, after being paraded to local and international media on Wednesday when they were made to claim that they had exaggerated civilian casualty figures in the final phases of the war at the request of the LTTE. Meanwhile, health workers who have escaped Vanni have slammed the international community for allowing the detainment of the doctors and questioned the validity of their statements in light of the ‘precarious position’ they face. 

The doctors, whose arrest in May by the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) caused uproar throughout the Tamil Diaspora, said they had provided information to the media on the ‘instructions of the LTTE’, including ‘exaggerated figures about civilian casualties’. 

Facing the public for the first time since being held by the Criminal Investigations Department (CID), the group claimed civilian casualties between January to May was around only 650, contradicting leaked U.N reports and global media coverage. 

Health workers in Colombo and abroad have criticised the International Community for not condemning the immoral detainment of the doctors, and say the statement may have been the only option available to avoid further detention. 

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