Sri Lanka: Further acts of harassment against Mr. Ruki Fernando and Rev. Praveen Mahesan

25/03/2014
Urgent Appeal

New Information
LKA 001 / 0314 / OBS 019.2
Judicial harassment /
Obstacles to freedom of expression
Sri Lanka
March 24, 2014

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Sri Lanka.

New information:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about further acts of harassment against Mr. Ruki Fernando, a human rights adviser to the human rights organisation INFORM, based in Colombo, and Rev. Praveen Mahesan, former Director of the Centre for Peace and Reconciliation (CPR) based in Jaffna.

According to the information received, on March 19, 2014, Magistrate No. 2 of Colombo issued, upon a request made by the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) of the Sri Lanka police, three separate orders against Mr. Ruki Fernando and Fr. Praveen Mahesan. The first ordered them to impound their passport to travel outside the country and the second ordered all laptops and I-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 or internationally, including their relatives, about anything related to the current investigation being conducted by the TID against them. This judicial order in fact prevents them from speaking about not only their arrest but also almost all human rights violations taking place in the North of Sri Lanka.

The Observatory recalls that Mr. Ruki Fernando and Fr. Praveen Mahesan were arrested on March 16, 2014 at 10.30 pm as they were carrying out a fact-finding mission in Darmapuram, Kilinochchi district, on the arrest of Ms. Balendran Jeyakumari and her 13 year old daughter Vibushika Balendran, in retaliation for campaigning against enforced disappearances (See background information). They were subsequently subjected to lengthy interrogations by the TID and released without any charges on March 18 at 1.30 am.

The above judicial orders were taken after Mr. Ruki Fernando was interviewed by CNN and BBC [1]. In both interviews, Mr. Fernando rejected the accusations levelled by authorities linking them to revival of terrorism.

The Observatory expresses its deepest concern about the judicial orders against Mr. Ruki Fernando and Rev. Praveen Mahesan, which seem to aim at further harassing and silencing the two human rights defenders, and recalls that freedom of expression is a fundamental right recognised by the Constitution of Sri Lanka and enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Background information:

On March 16, 2014, at around 10.30 pm, Mr. Ruki Fernando and Rev. Praveen Mahesan were arrested by a specially appointed unit of the TID as they were visiting the heavily militarised area of Kilinochchi, North of Sri Lanka, in order to investigate into the arrest on March 13, 2014 of human rights defender Ms. Balendran Jeyakumari and her 13-year old daughter Vithuskaini, who have been campaigning against enforced disappearances. They were also arrested and interrogated by the TID. While Vithuskaini was subsequently placed under the care of Probation and Child Care Service, Ms. Jeyakumari continues to be held in Boosa detention centre under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), under which 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 initially denied that the two defenders were detained there, before confirming the arrest. The officer in charge of the Kilinochchi police, Mr. Kumara, in particular confirmed the arrest and further stated that “Ruki Fernando and Rev. Praveen behaved in a suspicious manner as they visited some families of those who have lost their family members”. Mr. Ruki Fernando and Rev. Praveen Mahesan were reportedly questioned separately for three hours by around 15 TID officers 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 Vavunia police station until 7.00 am on March 17, 2014.

On March 17, 2014, at 11 am, TID officers visited 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 on alleged acts of terrorism on March 16, 2014, in Kilinochchi. At 1.30pm, TID Director informed one of the lawyers that they were both brought to Colombo and were being held at the TID headquarters.

Later in the day, police media spokesman SSP Ajith Rohana announced that Mr. Ruki Fernando and Rev. Praveen were first detained at the Kilinochchi police station under the PTA, before being transferred to Vavuniya and then to Colombo for further questioning. They would reportedly be charged with “attempting to create ethnic discord among communities and to promote separatism”.

On March 19, 2014, at about 1.30 am, Mr. Ruki Fernando and Rev. Praveen Mahesan were released without being charged after appearing in the Colombo Magistrate Court.

The Observatory is also deeply concerned over the statement made by the Representative of the Permanent Mission of Sri 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 made in response to concerns raised by several NGOs against the detention of the three defenders during the 25th session of the UN Human Rights Council, which is currently taking place in Geneva, Switzerland.

On March 18, 2014, the Ministry of Defence posted on its website a statement stating that Mr. Ruki Fernando and Rev. Praveen Mahesan had been taken into custody for questioning under the Prevention of Terrorism Act because of their alleged connections with a hard-core LTTE cadre. The statement was subsequently removed from the website.

Moreover, on March 19, 2014, the two defenders were vilified in an editorial in the State-run newspaper Daily News, in which they were accused of “defending the human rights of terrorists” and of having established links with “a known terrorist who not only escaped from an IDP camp, but attacked a 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 purpose of making a case against Sri Lanka at the UN HRC as a resolution on Sri Lanka is currently being discussed at the 25th session of the UN Human Rights Council, and on the other to make sure that nobody can be arrested for terrorism related issues - thereby granting impunity for potential acts of terrorist subversion” [2].

This is not the first time that human rights defenders in Sri Lanka have been falsely accused of treason and of having links with the LTTE. Such false accusations have often been made following their participation to UN Human Rights Council sessions and in response to resolutions on Sri Lanka adopted by the Council [3].

Action requested:

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

i. Guarantee in 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 Sri Lanka;

ii. Release Ms. Balendran Jeyakumari immediately and unconditionally since her detention is arbitrary and only aims at sanctioning her human rights activities;

iii. Repeal the three above-mentioned judicial orders issued against Mr. Ruki Fernando and Rev. Praveen Mahesan as well as the slandering statements formulated by high Sri Lankan officials and publicly affirm the legitimacy of the work of human rights defenders;

iv. Put an 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 rights defenders in Sri Lanka and ensure that they are able to carry out their peaceful and legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals;

v. Conform with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, especially regarding the following Articles:
- Article 1: everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels;
- Article 5 (a): For the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, at the national and international levels (a) To meet or assemble peacefully;
- Article 12.2: the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of his or her rights [...];

vi. Ensure in all circumstances the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Sri Lanka.

Addresses:

· President Mahinda Rajapakse, Presidential Secretariat, C/ Office of the President, Temple Trees 150, Galle Road, Colombo 3, Sri Lanka, Fax: (+94) 11 472100 / (+94) 11 2446657 / (+94) 11 243 0590, Email: lalith@icta.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. Sarath Palitha Fernando, Attorney General, Attorney General’s Department. Colombo 12, Sri Lanka. Fax: (+94) 11 2 436421.
· Justice Priyantha R.P. Perera, Chairman, Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka. No: 165 Kynsey Road, Borella, Colombo 8, Sri Lanka. 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 rue de Moillebeau, 1211 Geneva 19. Switzerland. Fax: +41 22 73 49 084. E-mail: mission@lankamission.org

Please also write to the diplomatic missions or embassies of Sri Lanka in your respective country.

Read more
appelobs