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Sri Lanka: Appeal to surface two missing human rights defenders

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FORUM-ASIA received information that Mr. Lalith Kumar Weeraraj and Mr. Kugan Muruganandan have been missing since 9 December 2011. The two HRDs were last seen leaving the house of Mr. Muruganandan in Avarangal, Jaffna, North Sri Lanka.

Mr. Lalith Kumar Weeraraj is a prominent human rights defender mainly working on disappearances in the north and east Sri Lanka. He is the Jaffna Coordinator of the Movement for People’s Struggles (MPS, local name: Jana Aragala Wiyapaaraya), a group aiming at mobilizing people against state repression.  Mr. Kugan Muruganandan has been assisting Mr. Lalith Kumar Weeraraj in his work for MPS, especially on cases of enforced disappearances and unlawful detentions.

On 9 December 2011, Mr. Lalith Kumar Weeraraj travelled to Jaffna to meet Mr. Kugan Muruganandan  and organize a press conference together on International Human Rights Day, 10 December. The press conference planned to highlight a protest on 13 December in Colombo organized by MPS calling for the immediate release of missing activists . The two HRDs were last seen leaving Mr. Kugan Muruganandan’s house at around 5pm and rode his motorbike with license number NP GT 7852. After this last sighting, the fate and whereabouts of the two missing human rights defenders remain unknown, as they never reached their destination.  That evening, Mr. Lalith Kumar Weeraraj’s father received a number of threatening phone calls which he reported on 11 December 2011 at the Kosagma police station in Colombo.

Prior to his disappearance, Mr. Lalith Kumar Weeraraj had received repeated threats, intimidation and physical assault as a consequence of his active involvement in campaigns and work on enforced disappearances and arbitrary detention. In the year 2011 alone, Mr. Lalith Kumar Weeraraj was abducted twice by a group of men claiming to be army officers who questioned him about his work. On 14 November 2011, Mr. Lalith Kumar Weeraraj together with other activists were badly beaten up by a group of thugs while staging a protest with families of the disappeared in Jaffna. This attack took place in full view of the police and the army who did not take action to stop the violence.

The families of both Mr. Lalith Kumar Weeraraj and Mr. Kugan Muruganandan already filed a complaint at two separate police stations after they went missing. Mr. Lalith Kumar Weeraraj’s father also filed a complaint with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) regarding the two missing HRDs. On 10 December 2011, written complaints were submitted by the Member of the Parliament Mr. Ajith Kumara to the Secretary of Defence Mr. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, to the Jaffna police station, as well as to the National Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka. Mr. Ajith Kumara also made a statement in Parliament on 14 December 2011 regarding the two missing HRDs.

On 14 December 2011, Mr. Kugan Muruganandan’s wife found her husband’s motorbike inside the Atchuveli police station in Jaffna. The Jaffna police has thus far denied that the two missing HRDs are under their custody, and claim that the vehicle was found by the Kopai police parked near a Hindu temple in that area.

However, the Cabinet Spokesperson Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said in a briefing on 15 December 2011 that the missing HRDs were not disappeared and “are there”, without specifying any place. Minister Keheliya Rambukwella indicate that the two missing HRDs are in government custody, although added that if the two were in police or military custody, that they would be produced before a Magistrate and be treated according to the law.

The family has heard through unofficial sources that the two are being held in an unspecified detention center somewhere in Jaffna. However there is no official confirmation of this information. They have reason to believe that the two are being held by security forces because of their human rights work and previous incidents in relation to this.


Suggested Action:

FORUM-ASIA has been monitoring closely the situation of Sri Lankan HRDs. We urge that Sri Lanka authorities immediately launch an investigation to determine the whereabouts of Mr. Lalith Kumar Weeraraj and Mr. Kugan Muruganandan.  We urge fellow human rights defenders to express their concern regarding this case with the Sri Lankan government. Please send letters of concern to the following:

Secretary of Defence
15/5, Baladaksha Mawatha,
Colombo 03, Sri Lanka
Tel no: +94 11 2435879
Fax no: +94 11 2541529
Email address: [email protected]

Secretary Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka
118, Barnes Place
Colombo 7, Sri Lanka
Tel no: +94 11 2694925, +94 11 2685980
Fax no: +94 11 2694924
Email address: [email protected]

Inspector General of Police
New Secretariat
Colombo 1, Sri Lanka
Fax: +94 11 2440440
Email address: [email protected]

We encourage you to send a copy of your letters to the above officials to the Sri Lankan Embassy in your country and to FORUM-ASIA.