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Sri Lanka
06.12.13
Urgent Interventions

Harassment and intimidation suffered by a group of women protesters, including Ms. Nimalka Fernando

New information

LKA 002 / 1113 / OBS 089.1

Harassment /

Obstacles tofreedoms of expression

and peaceful assembly

Sri Lanka

December6, 2013

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.

New information:

TheObservatory has received with concern information from reliable sources aboutthe harassment and intimidation suffered by a group of women protesters,including Ms. NimalkaFernando, attorney-at-law, women’s rights activist andPresident of the International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination andRacism (IMADR) in Sri Lanka, who were peacefully demonstrating to denounce therecent smear campaign against Ms. Fernando.

Accordingto the information received, on December 2, 2013, a peaceful protest organisedby women's groups to denounce the recent hate speech and smear campaignpromoted by the State-owned radio station, the Sri Lanka BroadcastingCorporation (SLBC), against Ms. Nimalka Fernando, was disrupted, hooted andintimidated by a pro-government group of men for an hour. Some witnessesreported that the pro-government supporters - some of whom were believed to bestaff members of the SLBC - had gathered bottles and stones with the allegedintention of attacking the peaceful demonstrators. On December 3, 2013, Ms.Fernando was outrageously referred to as a “well known dollar vulture” on theSri Lankan Government's official news portal.

Thepolice, instead of protecting the demonstrators, cornered the peaceful protestors toa small space, showed their support to thegroup of men and set the placards carried by the women on fire. Senior Superintendent of PolicePremalal Ranagala himself was seen intimidating and threatening thepeaceful protestors.

TheObservatory is deeply concerned by the above-mentioned obstacles to freedom ofpeaceful assembly and recalls the responsibility that Sri Lankan authoritieshave to ensure the protection of human rights in general and of rights relatedto freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly, in particular.

Background information:

OnNovember 4, 2013, Ms. Nimalka Fernando was threatened and defamed on the radio programme Rata Yana Atha (“theway the country is forging ahead”) on the commercial channel ofthe SLBC, following comments she had previously made on the legalization of sexwork. The death threats against Ms. Fernando also took place inthe context of her public opposition as one ofthe Conveners of the Alternative People’s Forum, which had decided to boycottall official event related to the Commonwealth Heads ofGovernment Meeting (CHOGM) in November.

Theaforesaid radio broadcast, entitled “Stoning the Sinner Woman”, was presentedby Mr. Hudson Samarasinghe, Chairman of the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation,who took fragments of the interview Ms. Fernando had previously granted to HIRUTV on November 3. Ms. Fernando was described asa 59-year old divorced woman who had served 30 different organisations, and“since 1989 carried tales”.

Listeners had the opportunity to call to the radioprogramme to give their opinion and some threatenedMs. Nimalka Fernando in those terms: “We cannot allow persons likeNimalka Fernando to live in this society”; “If we do something to themthe government will be blamed by the human rights people. We should use a lorryand cause an accident”, “There is something callcleaning in the army. [...] We should hand her over to the cleaning system”or “Weuse insecticides to eliminate the spread of mosquitoes. Some mosquitoes developa resistance to such spray. These people are like that. We have to find amethod to destroy them”. Ms.Fernando was also called a prostitute. Reportedly, most of the callerswere men, and some of them identified themselves as having served the armedforces and retired. Mr. Samarasinghe did not stop the callers in theiroffensive and violent statement against Ms. Fernando,and even seemed to encouragethem.

Subsequently, Ms. NimalkaFernando lodged a complaint to the HumanRights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRC-SL) and the Inspector General of Police(IGP), requesting an investigation for criminaloffence and violation of her fundamental rights, and also demanding that thetapes be secured for proof together with information of the callers and theirtelephone numbers.

Thiswas not the first time that Ms. Nimalka Fernando has been subjected to a smearcampaign in a State media. For instance, in March 2012, Ms. Fernando, alongwith three other human rights defenders, was accused of being a traitor andworking against the interests of the country to obtain “dollars”. In addition,the Minister of Public Relations threatened Ms Fernando and the other defendersinvolved to “break their limbs” in public if they were to dare to set foot inthe country[1].

Action requested:

Please write to the authorities in Sri Lanka, urging them to:

i. Guaranteein all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Ms. Nimalka Fernando as well as of all human rights defenders in Sri Lanka;

ii. Ensurethe respect of the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly in SriLanka, as a fundamental means to ensure the work of human rights defenders andactivists.

iii. Orderan immediate, thorough, transparent investigation into the above-mentionedfacts in order to identify all those responsible, bring them before an independenttribunal, and apply them the sanctions provided by the law;

iv. Putan end to any kind of harassment against Ms. Nimalka Fernando and moregenerally against all human rights defenders in Sri Lanka and ensure that theyare able to carry out their peaceful and legitimate activities without anyhindrance 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.

Addresses:

· President Mahinda Rajapakse,Presidential Secretariat, C/ Office of the President, Temple Trees 150, GalleRoad, Colombo 3, Sri Lanka, Fax: (+94) 11 472100 / (+94) 11 2446657 / (+94) 11243 0590, Email: lalith@icta.lk / priu@presidentsoffice.lk

· D.M.Jayaratne, Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, No. 58, Sir Ernest De Silva Mawatha,Colombo 07, Sri Lanka. Fax no: (+94) 112 575454. Email: slpm@pmoffice.gov.lk

· Mr. Keheliya Rambukwella, Ministerof Mass Media and Information, 63, Kirulappona Mawatha, Polhengoda, Colombo 05,Sri Lanka. Fax no: +94 11251 4352. Email: govds@nationalsecurity.lk

· 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. Tel.: (+94) 11 2 696470 Fax: (+94) 11 2 694924. Email: sechrc@sltnet.lk

· H.E. Mr. Ravinatha P. Aryasinha, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the UnitedNations. 56, rue de Moillebeau, PO Box 436,1211 Geneva 19. Switzerland. Tel.:(+41) (0) 22 91 91 251, (0) 22 91 91 250. Fax: (+41) (0) 2273 49 084. E-mail: consulate@lankamission.org

Pleasealso write to the diplomatic missions or embassies of Sri Lanka in yourrespective country.

***

Geneva-Paris, December 6, 2013

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:

· 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

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