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Crackdown on HRDs in Sri Lanka

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At the 25th Session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, member states adopted a landmark resolution on Sri Lanka calling for the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to undertake an investigation into allegations of human rights violations in Sri Lanka. However, the government of Sri Lanka has continued to thumb its nose at the international community and target human defenders with impunity.

On 13 March, while the Council sat in deliberation, in Sri Lanka a prominent campaigner against enforced disappearances, Balendran Jeyakumari and her 13-year-old daughter were taken into custody. Jeyakumari was subsequently detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and still remains in detention.

On 16 March two well-known human rights defenders Ruki Fernando, a former FORUM-ASIA staff member; and Father Mahesan, a priest; were arbitrarily detained under the PTA when attempting to ascertain the circumstances of Jeyakumari’s detention. They were released on 19 March, but attacks and intimidation on human rights defenders are far from being over.

While Jeyakumari remains arbitrarily detained under the PTA which permits “suspects” to remain in police custody for 18 months without charge, Fernando and Father Praveen were served with court orders which prevent them from travelling abroad or speaking about their subjection to arrest and investigation without the court’s permission. In addition, the court ordered them to hand over their tablets and SIM cards to the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID). Their right to freedom of expression has clearly been denied.

After the Council passed its resolution, the Sri Lankan government has lost no time in warning of reprisals against those who cooperate with UN mechanisms Sri Lankan media reported that the Cabinet Spokesperson and Minister of Mass Media and Information, Keheliya Rambukwella, has warned of legal action against anyone who testifies before the OHCHR investigation, if the evidence they submit are in violation of the constitution.