Amnesty & others ask Colombo to free rights activists

Both activists are believed to be detained at the Terrorism Investigation Division headquarters in Colombo without formal charges under Sri Lanka’s notoriously draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act.

Sri Lanka
Mar 19 2014, 4:16 PM
Amnesty & others ask Colombo to free rights activists
Father Praveen Mahesan (Left) and Ruki Fernando.

A group of international rights organisations have asked the Sri Lankan government to release two human rights activists arrested and illegally detained by the police in northern Sri Lanka.

The arrest and detention of prominent human rights defenders is an attempt to silence criticism and divert the spotlight from ongoing abuses, a joint statement by Amnesty International, Forum Asia, Human Rights Watch, the International Crisis Group and the International Commission of Jurists said on Monday.

The Kilinochchi anti-terrorism police had arrested Father Praveen Mahesan of the Oblate of Mary Immaculate and Ruki Fernando of the Colombo-based NGO INFORM on March 16.

Father Praveen Mahesan is the director of the Centre for Peace and Reconciliation in Jaffna and Ruki Fernando is special advisor at the Centre for Human Rights Documentation.

Both activists are believed to be detained at the Terrorism Investigation Division headquarters in Colombo without formal charges under Sri Lanka’s notoriously draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).

They were taken into custody after they sought to ensure the welfare of 13-year-old Balendran Vithushaini, ordered into probationary care following the arrest of her mother, Balendran Jeyakumari, on March 13. Both mother and daughter were prominently featured in international media covering demonstrations by families whose members have disappeared.

According to Senior Superintendent of Police Ajith Rohana, Fernando and Father Praveen would be soon charged with “attempting to create instability among communities” and “allegedly promoting separatism” under PTA.

PTA has been widely criticized by Sri Lankan civil society, international monitoring organizations and United Nations bodies. The provisions of the PTA have resulted in arbitrary detention, contravened suspects’ right to a fair trial and due process and facilitated torture and other ill-treatment.

The human rights groups’ statement said that the arrests call into question the Sri Lankan government’s stated commitment to improving respect for human rights since the end of the armed conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in 2009.

The international community at the UNHRC voting must judge Sri Lanka not by its promises but by its actions, the groups said. A resolution on Sri Lanka’s failure to address accountability is under discussion and will be voted on soon at the ongoing UNHRC sessions in Geneva.

Source: Human Rights Watch

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