Sri Lankan activists demand release of hundreds of Tamil detainees long held without charges

Relatives and civil rights activists demanded Wednesday that the Sri Lankan government release hundreds of ethnic Tamils detained without charges for years on suspicion of links to the now-defeated Tamil Tiger rebels.

They staged a silent protest in front of the main railroad station in the capital Colombo, demanding the immediate release of their family members still detained under anti-terrorism laws even though the civil war ended six years ago. Demonstrators displayed a placard that read: "Free all political prisoners."

The protest was held to support a fast by Tamil detainees in various prisons.

Sanjeewa Bandara, a spokesman for the Movement for Equal Rights, said about 300 minority Tamils are being held, "but they are not responsible for the war, they are in fact the victims of the war."

Gajendra Ponnambalam, a former lawmaker and one of the protesters, said these detainees are being kept in custody in a "fundamentally flawed and unjust manner" and therefore, they should be released immediately without any conditions.

Noorthamma Emmanuel, 50, said her husband Sebamalai Emmanuel, 53, was taken into custody in February 2009, just three months before the war ended, and "he is still being detained without charges being filed against him."

She said they have three daughters and her husband was the family breadwinner. Now, Noorthamma works as a domestic laborer, which provides the only income for the family. "I request the government to release my husband immediately as his arrest has dealt a severe blow to our family," she said.