Sri Lanka: Arbitrary arrest and subsequent release on bail of Shehan Malaka

25/02/2022
Urgent Appeal

LKA 001 / 0222 / OBS 010
Arbitrary arrest /
Release on bail /
Judicial harassment
Sri Lanka
February 25, 2022

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Sri Lanka.

Description of the situation:

The Observatory has been informed about the arbitrary arrest and subsequent release on bail of Mr. Shehan Malaka, a human rights defender who has been advocating for truth and justice in relation to the Easter Sunday attacks of April 2019 [1] . Mr. Malaka worked to prevent public uprisings or riots after the Easter Sunday attacks. He was also involved in organising blood donation campaigns.

On February 14, 2022, while he was on the road in Panadura, Kaluthara District, Shehan Malaka was accosted in a threatening manner by several men in plain clothes from a white van, who did not identify themselves and asked him if he knew them. Mr. Malaka tried to escape but was surrounded by the men and arrested, without being presented with any warrant or being told why he was arrested. After having apprehended Shehan Malaka, one man identified himself as a Criminal Investigation Department (CID) officer, and Mr. Malaka recognised another one as a CID officer. Mr. Malaka was then taken to the headquarters of the CID and the men who arrested him identified themselves as CID officers.

According to the police, Shehan Malaka was arrested under Section 120 of the Penal Code (“exciting or attempting to excite disaffection”) on the advice of the Attorney General. This advice is based on reports submitted by the CID, after they interrogated Shehan Malaka over the course of eight days in August and September 2021, regarding a speech he delivered at a press conference held on August 17, 2021, during which he denounced what he believed to be the political motives behind the Easter Sunday attacks as well as the impunity for the perpetrators of these attacks.

On February 15, 2022, the CID produced Shehan Malaka before the Maligakanda Magistrate Court. Mr. Malaka’s lawyers requested bail, but the CID opposed it, citing a risk of public uprising in case Mr. Malaka was released and arguing that he tried to escape during his arrest. Mr. Malaka’s lawyers argued that his reaction was natural as the men who arrested him did not identify themselves and approached him in a threatening manner. Moreover, the lawyers pointed out that Shehan Malaka’s statements did not result in any uprisings. The Magistrate eventually granted bail to Mr. Malaka on February 15, 2022 and he was released under conditions of two personal sureties of LKR 500,000 (approximately 2,175 Euros) each, a cash surety of LKR 15,000 (approximately 65 Euros), the confiscation of his passport, an overseas travel ban. Additionally, he will have to report to the CID on the last Sunday morning of every month. The next hearing in his case is scheduled for March 29, 2022. If convicted, Mr. Malaka faces up to two years in prison.

The Observatory strongly condemns the arbitrary arrest and judicial harassment of Shehan Malaka, which seem to be only aimed at punishing him for his legitimate human rights activities and the exercise of his right to freedom of expression.

The Observatory urges the Sri Lankan authorities to immediately lift the bail conditions imposed on Mr. Malaka, especially the restrictions on overseas travel and monthly appearances before the CID, as this may interfere with his human rights activism, and to drop all the charges against him. The Observatory further calls on the authorities in Sri Lanka to put an end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, and against all human rights defenders in the country, in particular against those advocating for truth and justice for the Easter Sunday attacks, and to ensure they can carry out their legitimate human rights activities and exercise their right to freedom of expression without any hindrance or fear of reprisals.

Actions requested:

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

i. Guarantee, in all circumstances, the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Shehan Malaka;

ii. Immediately lift the bail conditions and drop all charges against Shehan Malaka;

iii. Put an immediate end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Shehan Malaka and all other human rights defenders in Sri Lanka;

iv. Guarantee, in all circumstances, the right to freedom of expression, as enshrined in international human right law, and particularly in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Addresses:

• President H.E. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Email: prsec@presidentsoffice.lk, Twitter: @GotabayaR
• Hon. Mahinda Rajapaksa, Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, Email: info@pmoffice.gov.lk, Twitter: @PresRajapaksa
• Hon. Sanjay Rajaratnam, Attorney General of Sri Lanka, Email: administration@attorneygeneral.gov.lk
• Justice Rohini Marasinghe, Chairperson, Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, Email: sechrcsl@gmail.com
• H.E. Mr. C. A. Chandraprema, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations in Geneva, E-mail: prun.geneva@mfa.gov.lk
• H. E. Ms. Grace Asirwatham, Ambassador, Embassy of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, Brussels (also accredited to Luxembourg and to the European Union), Email: secretariat@srilankaembassy.be

Please also write to the diplomatic representations of Sri Lanka in your respective countries.

***
Paris-Geneva, February 25, 2022

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
• E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
• Tel. FIDH: +33 1 43 55 25 18
• Tel. OMCT: +41 22 809 49 39

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