Sri Lanka: Removal of the overseas travel ban on Mr. Ruki Fernando and ongoing judicial harassment against him

06/07/2015
Urgent Appeal

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the removal of the overseas travel ban on Mr. Ruki Fernando, a human rights adviser to the Colombo-based human rights organisation INFORM, and about the ongoing judicial harassment against him.

New Information
LKA 001 / 0314 / OBS 019.3
Judicial harassment /
Obstacles to freedom of expression
Sri Lanka
July 6, 2015

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 the removal of the overseas travel ban on Mr. Ruki Fernando, a human rights adviser to the Colombo-based human rights organisation INFORM, and about the ongoing judicial harassment against him.

According to the information received, on June 30, 2015, the Colombo Magistrate Courts decided to lift the travel restriction that had been imposed against Mr. Fernando on March 20, 2014, at the request of the Terrorist Investigation Department (TID). This decision was in response to a written submission filed by Mr. Fernando on November 5, 2014, before the Attorney General’s Department to contest the travel ban, and months of discussion with the Attorney General’s Department.

However, the TID investigation is ongoing, and Mr. Fernando is still subject to a government-issued “gag order” that bans him from speaking to anyone, locally or internationally, including his relatives, about anything related to the current investigation being conducted by the TID against him (see background information). In addition, electronic equipment, including an iPad and an external hard disk, confiscated by the TID has not yet been returned (see background information).

The Observatory recalls that Mr. Fernando was arrested with Rev. Praveen Mahesan on March 16, 2014, during a visit to the heavily militarised area of Kilinochchi, North of Sri Lanka, in order to investigate the arrest of human rights defender Ms. Balendran Jeyakumari and her 13-year old daughter Vithuskaini on March 13, 2014. The two who had been campaigning against enforced disappearances.

The Observatory welcomes the removal of the travel ban on Mr. Fernando but expresses its deepest concern about the ongoing judicial harassment against Mr. Fernando, which seem to aim at hampering his human rights work, 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 to the arrest on March 13, 2014 of human rights defender Ms. Balendran Jeyakumari and her 13-year old daughter Vithuskaini, who had been campaigning against enforced disappearances.

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, confirmed the arrest and stated that Mr. Ruki Fernando and Rev. Praveen “behaved in a suspicious manner during their visit to Kilinochchi”. 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 by 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 Mr. Fernando had been 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 confirmed that Mr. Ruki Fernando and Rev. Praveen had been first detained at the Kilinochchi police station under the PTA, before being transferred to Vavuniya and then to Colombo for further questioning.

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.

On March 18, 2014, the Representative of the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations in Geneva accused Mr. Ruki Fernando, Rev. Praveen Mahesan, and Ms. Balendran Jeyakumari of “terrorist connections” with the ethnic armed opposition group 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 took 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 published in the State-run newspaper Daily News, in which they were accused of “defending the human rights of terrorists” and 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”[1].

On March 20, 2014, Magistrate No. 2 of Colombo issued, upon a request made by the TID, three separate orders against Mr. Ruki Fernando and Rev. Praveen Mahesan. The first ordered them to impound their passport to travel outside the country and the second ordered all computer laptops and iPads in their possession to be taken by the TID. The third order banned Mr. Fernando and Rev. Praveen Mahesan from speaking to anyone, locally or internationally, including their relatives, about anything related to the investigation conducted by the TID against them. These orders were taken after Mr. Ruki Fernando was interviewed by CNN and BBC[2]. In both interviews, Mr. Fernando rejected the accusations of terrorism made by the authorities.

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, as well as of all human rights defenders in Sri Lanka;

ii. Repeal the gag order restricting freedom of expression and return the equipment confiscated from Mr. Ruki Fernando;

iii. Put an end to any acts of harassment - including at the judicial level - against Mr. Ruki Fernando and 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;

iv. 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 [...];

v. 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 Maithripala Sirisena, Presidential Secretariat, C Presidential Secretariat
Galle Face, Colombo 1, Sri Lanka, Fax: (+94) 11 2340340, Email: ps@presidentsoffice.lk
· Hon. Ranil Wickremesinghe, Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, Prime Minister’s Office
No: 58, Sir Ernest De Silva Mawatha,
Colombo 07, Sri Lanka. Fax no: (+94) 112 575310 / (+94) 112 574143. Email: info@pmoffice.gov.lk
· Hon. Yuvanjana Jawaharlal Wanasundera Wijayatilake, Attorney General of Sri Lanka, P. O. BOX 502, Hulftsdorp, Colombo 12, Sri Lanka. Fax: (+94) 11 243 6421. Email: administration@attorneygeneral.gov.lk
· 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
· Mr. E. Rodney M. Perera, Ambassador, Embassy of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka , Brussels , Belgium (also accredited to Luxembourg and to the European Union), Rue Jules Lejeune 27
1050 Brussels
Belgium. Fax: (+32) 2 344 67 37. Email: secretariat@srilankaembassy.be

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

***

Geneva-Paris, July 6, 2015

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

The Observatory, an OMCT and FIDH venture, is dedicated to the protection of Human Rights Defenders and aims to offer them concrete support in their time of need.

To contact 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 1 43 55 18 80

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