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Sri Lanka
19.03.14
Urgent Interventions

Release of Mr. Ruki Fernando and Rev. Praveen Mahesan, but arbitrary detention of Ms. Balendran Jeyakumari continues

New Information

LKA 001 / 0314 / OBS 019.1

Release /Harassment /

Slander / Arbitrary detention

Sri Lanka

March19, 2014

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 been informed by reliable sources about the release of Mr. RukiFernando, a humanrights adviser to the human rights organisation INFORM, based in Colombo, andRev. Praveen Mahesan, former Director of the Centre for Peace andReconciliation (CPR) based in Jaffna.

Mr. Ruki Fernando and Rev. Praveen Mahesan

Credit: http://www.srilankabrief.org/

Accordingto the information received, on March 19, 2014, at about 1.30 am, Mr. Ruki Fernando and Rev. PraveenMahesan were released without being charged after appearing in the ColomboMagistrate Court.

The Observatory welcomesthe release of Mr. Ruki Fernando and Rev. PraveenMahesan and thanks all the individuals, institutions, and organisations whointervened in their favour.

However, the Observatoryregrets that the two human rights defenders were detained for three dayswithout access to legal counsel, and remains deeply concerned about the ongoingdetention of Ms. BalendranJeyakumari, in retaliation for campaigning against enforceddisappearances (See background information).

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”[1].

The Observatory recalls that this is not the first time that human rightsdefenders in Sri Lanka have been falsely accused of treason and of having linkswith the LTTE. Such false accusations have often been made following theirparticipation to UN Human Rights Council sessions and in response toresolutions on Sri Lanka adopted by the Council[2].

TheObservatory expresses its deepest concern about the harassment and smearcampaign against Mr. Ruki Fernando, Rev. PraveenMahesan and Ms. Balendran Jeyakumari, which merely aim atundermining the legitimacy of their peaceful activities, and calls upon theauthorities of Sri Lanka to guarantee in all circumstances their physical andpsychological integrity.

Background information:

OnMarch 16, 2014, at around 10.30 pm, Mr. Ruki Fernando and Rev. Praveen Mahesan werearrested by a specially appointed unit of the Terrorist Investigation Division(TID) as they were visiting the heavily militarised area of Kilinochchi, Northof Sri Lanka, in order to investigate into the arrest on March 13, 2014 ofhuman rights defender Ms. Balendran Jeyakumari and her 13-year old daughterVithuskaini, who have been campaigning against enforced disappearances. Theywere also arrested and interrogated by the TID. While Vithuskaini wassubsequently placed under the care of Probation and Child Care Service, Ms.Jeyakumari continues to be held in Boosa detention centre under the Preventionof Terrorism Act (PTA), under which a person can be held without charge for upto 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 (OIC) 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 firstdetained at the Kilinochchi police station under the PTA, before beingtransferred to Vavuniya and then to Colombo for further questioning. They wouldreportedly be charged with “attempting to create ethnic discord amongcommunities and to promote separatism”.

Action requested:

Please write to the authorities in SriLanka, 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 Jeyakumariimmediately and unconditionally since her detention is arbitrary and onlyaims at sanctioning her human rights activities;

iii. Repealthe above-mentioned slandering statements formulated by high Sri Lankanofficials and publicly affirm the legitimacy of the 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.

Addresses:

· 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: lalith@icta.lk

· D.M. Jayaratne, PrimeMinister 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. 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: sechrc@sltnet.lk

· 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: mission@lankamission.org

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

***

Geneva-Paris, March 19, 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


[1] http://www.dailynews.lk/editorial/defending-human-rights-terrorists

[2] See for instance ObservatoryUrgent Appeal LKA 002 / 0312 / OBS 028, issuedon March 28, 2012.

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