LKA 001 / 0314 / OBS 019.2
Obstacles to freedom of expression
TheObservatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme ofthe World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federationfor Human Rights (FIDH), has received new information and requests your urgentintervention in the following situation in Sri Lanka.
TheObservatory has been informed by reliable sources about further acts ofharassment against Mr. Ruki Fernando, a human rights adviser to thehuman rights organisation INFORM, based in Colombo, and Rev. PraveenMahesan, formerDirector of the Centre for Peace and Reconciliation (CPR) based in Jaffna.
According to the information received, onMarch 19, 2014, Magistrate No. 2 of Colombo issued, upon a request made by the TerroristInvestigation Division (TID) of the Sri Lanka police, three separate orders against Mr.RukiFernando and Fr. Praveen Mahesan. The first ordered them to impound theirpassport to travel outside the country and the second ordered all laptops andI-Pads in their possession to be taken by the TID. The third order banned Mr.Fernando and Fr. Praveen Mahesan to speak to anyone, locally orinternationally, including their relatives, about anything related to thecurrent investigation being conducted by the TID against them. This judicial order in factprevents them from speaking about not only their arrest but also almost allhuman rights violations taking place in the North of Sri Lanka.
The Observatory recalls that Mr. RukiFernando and Fr. Praveen Mahesan were arrested on March 16, 2014 at 10.30 pm asthey were carrying out a fact-finding mission in Darmapuram, Kilinochchi district, on thearrest of Ms. Balendran Jeyakumari and her 13 year old daughter VibushikaBalendran, in retaliation for campaigning against enforceddisappearances (See background information). They were subsequently subjected tolengthy interrogations by the TID and released without any charges on March 18at 1.30 am.
The above judicial orders were taken afterMr. Ruki Fernando was interviewed by CNN and BBC. In both interviews, Mr.Fernando rejected the accusations levelled by authorities linking them torevival of terrorism.
TheObservatory expresses its deepest concern about the judicial orders against Mr. Ruki Fernando and Rev. Praveen Mahesan, whichseem to aim at further harassing and silencing the two human rights defenders,and recalls that freedom of expression is a fundamental rightrecognised by the Constitution of Sri Lanka and enshrined in the UniversalDeclaration of Human Rights.
OnMarch 16, 2014, at around 10.30 pm, Mr. Ruki Fernando and Rev. Praveen Mahesan werearrested by a specially appointed unit of the TID as they were visiting theheavily militarised area of Kilinochchi, North of Sri Lanka, in order toinvestigate into the arrest on March 13, 2014 of human rights defender Ms.Balendran Jeyakumari and her 13-year old daughter Vithuskaini, who have beencampaigning against enforced disappearances. They were also arrested andinterrogated by the TID. While Vithuskaini was subsequently placed under thecare of Probation and Child Care Service, Ms. Jeyakumari continues to be heldin Boosa detention centre under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), underwhich a person can be held without charge for up to 18 months.
Mr.Ruki Fernando and Rev.Praveen Mahesan were brought to the Kilinochchi police station, which initiallydenied that the two defenders were detained there, before confirming thearrest. The officer in charge of the Kilinochchi police, Mr. Kumara, inparticular confirmed the arrest and further stated that “Ruki Fernando and Rev.Praveen behaved in a suspicious manner as they visited some families of thosewho have lost their family members”. Mr. Ruki Fernando and Rev. PraveenMahesan were reportedly questioned separately for three hours by around 15 TIDofficers at the Kilinochchi police station.
At around 1.30 am, Mr.Ruki Fernando and Rev.Praveen Mahesan left Kilinochchi police station handcuffed and blindfolded, accompanied with TID officers, before being questioned in Vavuniapolice station until 7.00 am on March 17, 2014.
On March 17, 2014, at 11 am, TID officersvisited Mr. Ruki Fernando's parents to inform them about his arrest. Mr.Fernando’s parents were issued with a Notice of Arrest stating that he was arrested by the TID onalleged acts of terrorism on March 16, 2014, in Kilinochchi. At 1.30pm, TIDDirector informed one of the lawyers that they were both brought to Colombo andwere being held at the TID headquarters.
Later in the day, police media spokesman SSPAjith Rohana announced that Mr. Ruki Fernando and Rev. Praveen were first detainedat the Kilinochchi police station under the PTA, before being transferred toVavuniya and then to Colombo for further questioning. They would reportedly becharged with “attempting to create ethnic discord among communities and topromote separatism”.
OnMarch 19, 2014, at about 1.30 am, Mr. Ruki Fernando and Rev. Praveen Mahesan were released without beingcharged after appearing in the Colombo Magistrate Court.
The Observatory is alsodeeply concerned overthe statement made by the Representative of the Permanent Mission ofSri Lanka to the United Nations in Geneva on March 18, 2014, which accused Mr. Ruki Fernando, Rev. Praveen Mahesan and Ms. Balendran Jeyakumari of“terrorist connections” with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The statement was madein response to concerns raised by several NGOs against the detention of thethree defenders during the 25th session of the UN Human RightsCouncil, which is currently taking place in Geneva, Switzerland.
On March 18, 2014, the Ministry of Defenceposted on its website a statement stating that Mr.Ruki Fernando and Rev.Praveen Mahesan had been taken into custody for questioning under thePrevention of Terrorism Act because of their alleged connections with ahard-core LTTE cadre. The statement was subsequently removed from the website.
Moreover, on March 19, 2014, the twodefenders were vilified in an editorial in the State-run newspaper DailyNews, in which they were accused of “defending the human rights ofterrorists” and of having established links with “a known terrorist who not only escaped from an IDP camp, but attackeda law enforcement officer by discharging a firearm in broad daylight recently”.The article further said: “what these NGO con-artistes want, it seems,is on the one hand to exploit a normal law enforcement arrest for the purposeof making a case against Sri Lanka at the UN HRC as a resolution on Sri Lankais currently being discussed at the 25th session of the UN HumanRights Council, and on the other to make sure that nobody can be arrested forterrorism related issues - thereby granting impunity for potential acts ofterrorist subversion”.
Thisis not the first time that human rights defenders in Sri Lanka have beenfalsely accused of treason and of having links with the LTTE. Such falseaccusations have often been made following their participation to UN HumanRights Council sessions and in response to resolutions on Sri Lanka adopted bythe Council.
Please write to the authorities in Sri Lanka, urging them to:
i. Guaranteein all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Mr. Ruki Fernando, Rev. Praveen Mahesan and Ms. Balendran Jeyakumari as well as of all human rights defenders in SriLanka;
ii. Release Ms.Balendran Jeyakumari immediatelyand unconditionally since her detention is arbitrary and only aims atsanctioning her human rights activities;
iii. Repealthe three above-mentioned judicial orders issued against Mr. RukiFernando and Rev. Praveen Mahesan as well as the slandering statementsformulated by high Sri Lankan officials and publicly affirm the legitimacy ofthe work of human rights defenders;
iv. Putan end to any kind of harassment - including at the judicial level - against Mr. Ruki Fernando, Rev. Praveen Mahesan and Ms. Balendran Jeyakumari and more generally against all human rightsdefenders in Sri Lanka and ensure that they are able to carry out theirpeaceful and legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals;
v. Conformwith the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted bythe General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, especiallyregarding the following Articles:
- Article1: everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, topromote and to strive for the protection and realisation of human rights andfundamental freedoms at the national and international levels;
- Article5 (a): For the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamentalfreedoms, everyone has the right, individually and in association with others,at the national and international levels (a) To meet or assemble peacefully;
- Article12.2: the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection bythe competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association withothers, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adversediscrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of hisor her legitimate exercise of his or her rights [...];
vi. Ensurein all circumstances the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms inaccordance with international human rights standards and internationalinstruments ratified by Sri Lanka.
· President MahindaRajapakse, Presidential Secretariat, C/ Office of the President, Temple Trees150, Galle Road, Colombo 3, Sri Lanka, Fax: (+94) 11 472100 / (+94) 11 2446657/ (+94) 11 243 0590, Email: email@example.com
· D.M. Jayaratne, PrimeMinister of Sri Lanka, No. 58, Sir Ernest De Silva Mawatha, Colombo 07,Sri Lanka. Fax no: (+94) 112 575454. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
· Mr. Sarath Palitha Fernando, Attorney General,Attorney General's Department. Colombo 12, Sri Lanka. Fax: (+94) 11 2 436421.
· Justice Priyantha R.P. Perera, Chairman, HumanRights Commission of Sri Lanka. No: 165 Kynsey Road, Borella, Colombo 8, SriLanka. Fax: (+94) 11 2 694924. Email: email@example.com
· H.E. Mr. Ravinatha P. Aryasinha, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations in Geneva, 56 ruede Moillebeau, 1211 Geneva 19. Switzerland. Fax: +41 22 73 49 084. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Pleasealso write to the diplomatic missions or embassies of Sri Lanka in yourrespective country.
Geneva-Paris, March 24, 2014
Kindlyinform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in yourreply.
TheObservatory, an OMCT and FIDH venture, is dedicated to the protection of HumanRights Defenders and aims to offer them concrete support in their time of need.
Tocontact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
- E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
· Tel and fax OMCT + 41(0) 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 29
· Tel and fax FIDH + 33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 143 55 18 80
 See for instance ObservatoryUrgent Appeal LKA 002 / 0312 / OBS 028, issuedon March 28, 2012.