Category Archives: Reports

Sri Lanka: Police and Military Block Family Members of Disappeared Heading to UN in Colombo: UN should act

NfR, a network of Sri Lankan journalists and human rights defenders, expresses its strongest indignation to the Government of Sri Lanka for its dastardly act of blocking Tamil civilians travelling to Colombo to demand justice for the disappeared. Police has used their trucks to block the buses they were travelling with.

 On 5th March 2013 the family members, who were travelling to Colombo to participate in a protest campaign and to hand over a petition to UN regarding their disappeared relatives, were blocked in Vavuniya by a joint operation of the police and the military. This is a clear attempt to create a fear-psychosis among the Tamil people demanding accountability and justice for the disappeared. Continue reading

NfR Sri Lanka expresses deep concern on the threats to Sri Lankan human rights lawyer Lakshan Dias and calls for show of solidarity

NfR Sri Lanka, a net work of Sri Lankan journalists and Human Rights Defenders expresses its deep concerns on the reported Threats and intimidations directed at Sri Lankan human rights lawyer Lakshan Dias.

 Mr. Lakshan Dias is a well known human rights activist with a long standing experience in promoting and protecting all human rights for all.

 A formal complaint was lodged on these threatening developments at the Moratuwa Police (Colombo district) under reference no. CIB-1- 232/442 on 25th Feb. 2013. Updates of further incidents were also communicated to the Police. The number of the motorcycle has also been communicated to the Police. Action taken by the Police is not known. Continue reading

Sri Lanka: NfR’s calls for a serious investigation into the discovery of a mass grave in the Matale District of Sri Lanka.

13.02.2013
NfR Sri Lanka, a net work of Sri Lankan journalists and human rights defenders,  views the discovery of a mass grave in Matale in the  Central Province of Sri Lanka   should lead  to a renewed  discussion on   violence against political opponents, accountability, truth and reconciliation in Sri Lanka. Finding a mass grave of 200 bodies is a serious matter  that needs special attention.  Continue reading

Open appeal to Human Rights Council: At UPR – Sri Lanka prevail upon Sri Lanka not to dismantle the 13 amendment and provide speedy political solution

An open appeal to the UN HRC in connection with the Universal Periodic Review in November, 2012  on Sri Lanka urging  it  to  prevail  upon Sri Lanka to stop the dismantling  the devolution of powers that have been conferred on the Provincial Councils by the provisions of the  13th Amendment to the Constitution.
 

NfR Sri Lanka, a net work of journalists and human rights defenders,  makes this urgent and open appeal to the members of UN Human Rights Council in the context of the up coming second session  of the Universal Periodic Review. The human rights situation of Sri Lanka is to be reviewed during this session commencing on  1st November 2012.  Continue reading

Report: Violation of Freedom of Expression Rights in Sri Lanka; Period: March 2012 – July 2012

Read as a PDF NfR report FOE violation in Sri Lanka, March – July 2012

NfR release – 27 July 2012

 Period: March 2012 – July 2012

 23 July 2012: Film Magazine banned for criticizing pro government film director

The distribution of the magazine called “Chitrapata” (Film) has been stopped due to the criticism of the movie and the Rajapaksa government in the article written by one Ranjith Perera.

http://sunandadeshapriya.wordpress.com/2012/07/25/chitrapata-magazine-banned-for-criticizing-kusa-pabha/#more-6998

 23 July 2012: Web site charged under Obscene Publications (Amendment) Act

The CID has informed the Colombo Magistrate’s Court that they have found material violating the Obscene Publications Act from the computers seized from the office premises of SrilankaMirror website. http://www.srilankamirror.com/news/557-srilankamirror-charged-under-obscene-publications-amendment-act

11 July 2012: Websites registration fee imposed

GoSL imposed a first off registration fee of Rs. 100,000 would be levied from each website, and that there would be a 50,000 rupee annual fee on all news casting websites. Local and International press freedom organisations condemned the move.

https://nfrsrilanka.wordpress.com/2012/07/19/sri-lanka-internet-freedom-further-restricted-by-imposing-registration-fees/

 25 July 2012: CID questions Uthayan Editor

The Editor of the Jaffna based Uthayan newspaper was questioned by the CID following a news story referring to Army Commander Jagath Jayasuirya. The Editor of the newspaper Mr. Premanand had represented the news paper during the inquiry which lasted 4 hours, sources said. http://www.dailymirror.lk/news/20440-cid-questions-uthayan-editor.html

 18 July 2012: Director News website questioned for forth day by CID

Director editorial of Sri Lanka X News and former director editorial of Sri Lanka Mirror, Ruwan Ferdinandis was summoned    to the CID for the forth day for questioning.

http://sunandadeshapriya.wordpress.com/2012/07/17/ruwan-ferdinandis-once-more-at-the-cid/#more-6980

 16 July 2012: Death threats issued to journalists in Mannaar

Two newspaper reporters in Mannaar, S.R. Lambert and ASM Faszmi have been issued death threats for their reporting on inciting violence at Koanthaip-piddi jetty recently.

http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=35394

 17 July 2012: Six Sri Lankan journalists sue over their arrests

Six Sri Lankan web journalists of http://www.srilankamirror.com filed a court case Tuesday seeking for their arrests last month to be declared illegal and demanding compensation.

http://sunandadeshapriya.wordpress.com/2012/07/17/six-sri-lankan-journalists-sue-over-their-arrests-say-govt-trying-to-stifle-free-expression/#more-6978

 07 July 2012: Defense secretary tells editor: They will kill you

Sri Lankan defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa verbally abused and threatened Sunday Leader editor Frederica Janz during a telephone interview. http://www.srilankabrief.org/2012/07/gota-goes-berserk-tells-janz-is-pig.html

 05 July 2012: Journalist escape form an abduction attempt

An abduction attempt was made on Shantha Wijesooriya , 48  journalist of  Lanka X news website  at Nugegoda, suburb of Colombo city.  He was able to break free and escape in a three wheeler taxi. He left the country soon after. http://www.srilankabrief.org/2012/07/shantha-makes-written-complaint-to-igp.html

 08 July 2012: Stay order against Jaffna magistrate by Appeal court

A stay order was issued by the Appeal Court today against the Jaffna Magistrate from taking steps to make the Editor of the Uthayan newspaper to apologize in court over an article which appeared in the Jaffna based newspaper. http://colombogazette.com/stay-order-in-support-of-uthayan/

 01 July 2012: Sri Lanka seals office of pro-opposition websites

Police sealed an office from which two pro-opposition news websites operated, arrested nine workers and seized computers and documents. A court order enabled the sealing. https://nfrsrilanka.wordpress.com 

 29 June 2012: Magistrate summons Uthayan news paper editor

Uthayan Editor Thevanayagam Premananth was on Friday June 29 summoned to court by Jaffna Magistrate Manikavasagar Ganesaraja over an article published in the newspaper.  http://sunandadeshapriya.wordpress.com/2012/07/01/jaffna-magistrate-compels-editor-to-apologise-in-courts-over-article-in-tamil-newspaper/

 26 June 2012: Govt imposes necessary registration of websites

 Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Mass Media and Information published an application form which the news websites operating within or outside the country publishing news on Sri Lanka and its citizens will have to use to register the site under the Ministry.

http://www.news360.lk/politics/sri-lanka-starts-website-registration-program-application-is-issued-online

 26 June 2012: Five Tamil language web sites banned

Five websites were blocked by Sri Lanka services providers. The sites   www.tamilwindotcomwww. dothirvu.com, www.sarithamdotcom, www.ponguthamildotcom , www.pathivudotcom     were not accessible through any of the  Sri Lankan  internet service  providers.

  https://nfrsrilanka.wordpress.com/2012/06/27/sri-lanka-web-censorship-reaches-new-level-five-tamil-language-web-sites-blocked/ 

 13 June 2012: Ceylon Today editor in chief forced to quit

The management of the newspaper Ceylon Today forced its editor in chief Lalith Allahakkoon to resign on 13 June. The journalist received no letter of dismissal.

http://en.rsf.org/sri-lanka-ceylon-today-editor-in-chief-22-06-2012,42866.html

 15 June 2012:  Journalist/ media activist receive threats to his life

Sujith Mangala de Silva, a journalist attached to ‘Lankadeepa’ newspaper  and the president of the United Media Forum, a media rights group complained to the  police headquarters that two unidentified men had visited his home and threatened him.

http://english.srilankamirror.com/2012/06/lankadeepa-journalist-complains-about-threats-to-his-life/

 05 June 2012: Channel-4 journalist deported form Colombo

Shirani Sabaratnam, who works at the London-based Channel-4 TV Station as an editor and a presenter, was detained on arrival and later deported to Britain.

http://www.dailymirror.lk/news/19181-channel-4-journalist-deported.html

 28 May 2012: Muslim journalist assaulted 

An official employed by the Sri Lankan Minister of Industries and Trade, Rishard Badurdeen, assaulted a 72-year-old Muslim journalist, MA Cader, for having taken part in a prayer expressing solidarity with Mannaar Bishop. http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=35234

 12 May 2012: Journalist writes to IGP alleging plot against him

Senior journalist C.J. Amaratunga has written to the police chief alleging a plot by a section of the government against him using the police. The IGP has not responded to the letter send by the senior journalist. http://english.srilankamirror.com/2012/05/journalist-c-j-amaratunga-writes-to-igp-alleging-plot-against-him/

 17 May 2012:  Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court rejecte the Internet Restrictions case

A three-member bench of Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court, declined to give leave to proceed in a case filed by FMM under the country’s fundamental rights provisions against the blocking of certain websites.http://sunandadeshapriya.wordpress.com/2012/05/17/ifj-disappointed-by-sri-lankas-supreme-court-decision-on-internet-restrictions/

 02 May 2012: CCD detains journalists

The Colombo Crimes Division (CCD) detained two journalists, Indika Sri Aravinda and Randiva newspaper photographer Sajeewa Chinthaka for taking visuals and images outside the CCD office in Dematagoda. http://colombogazette.com/ccd-detains-journalists/

 29 April 2012: Govt. officials forcefully delete TV visuals

Officials from the Urban Development Authority (UDA) forcefully detained a TV cameraman and a producer of Sihatha TV abused them and deleted the visuals they had taken of some stalls being removed at the Pettah fish market. http://sunandadeshapriya.wordpress.com/2012/04/29/govt-officials-forcefully-delete-tv-visuals/

 04 April 2012: Slander campaign against journalist union leader

A campaign of slander and vilification was launched against the leader of the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA) Gnanasiri Koththigoda, president of the SLWJA through state-controlled media. http://sunandadeshapriya.wordpress.com/2012/04/04/halt-the-slander-campaign-against-sri-lankas-journalist-union-leader/

 March 23 2012: Govt censors BBC Tamil, Sinhala services

Sri Lankan state-run Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC), which relays BBC’s Tamil and Sinhala services in the island, avoided airing Sandeshya, the BBC Sinhala service on Sunday. On 24th of March 2012 the Sinhala service was not aired at all as it carried a story quoting an exiled journalist Poddala Jayantha, who was forced to leave the island after being abducted and tortured.http://tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=35035

Sri Lanka: 2012 Submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review by NfR, FMM & INFORM on Freedom of Expression Rights in Sri Lanka

Read as a PDF hereNfR Sri Lanka – joint UPR submission – Sri Lanka Freedom of Expression Rights – November 2012

Networking for Rights in Sri Lanka

Free Media Movement, Sri Lanka

INFORM Human Rights Documentation Center, Sri Lanka

 

 

Freedom of Expression Rights in Sri Lanka

NGO Submission

Universal Periodic Review second cycle onSri Lanka(1 November 2012)

April 23, 2012

 

Submitted by:

 

Networking for Rights in Sri Lanka,

C/o 18953,

Shermanway,#5,

Reseda,CA91335,USA

NfR.SriLanka@gmail.com;

http://www.nfrsrilanka.org/

 

For Further information please contact:

Sunanda Deshapriya at  sunandadeshapriya@gmail.com

Sunila Abeysekera  at sunilasj2011@gmail.com

 

In cooperation with:

 

Free Media Movement, C/o No 96,Kirula Road,Colombo 05,Sri Lanka,  

fmmsrilanka@gmail.com and

 

INFORM Human Rights Documentation Center, 237/22, Vijaya Kumaratunga Mawatha, Colombo 5, Sri Lanka, informcolombo@gmail.com

 

For further information, please contact:

NfR.SriLanka@gmail.com, fmmsrilanka@gmail.com and informcolombo@gmail.com

 

 

 

  1. NfR Sri Lanka, a net work of human rights defenders and journalists of Sri lanka together with the Free Media Movement, an organisation of journalists, writers and press freedom defenders in Sri Lanka and INFORM human rights documentation center Sri Lanka – submits this report to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on the situation of Freedom of Expression and Opinion, to be considered in the second cycle of UPR on Sri Lanka to be reviewed at the 14th session in October – November 2012. According to the framework for the second UPR cycle, emphasis should be given to the recommendations accepted by the country under review. Therefore, a main source of reference is the documents A/HRC/8/46 together with the responses of the Government of Sri Lanka to the recommendations contained in document A/HRC/8/46/Add.1.

 

  1. In section 2 this document also deals with issues relating to Freedom of Expression & Opinion inSri Lankasince the last UPR process ofSri Lankain May 2008. 

 

Section 1: Assessment of the implementation of recommendations accepted by the Government of Sri Lanka and voluntary commitments made during the UPR process in 2008

 

  1. In general, there has been little progress on many of those recommendations made in UPR 2008. Compared to the first UPR in 2008, the human rights situation in Sri Lanka remains bleak and lack of impartial and speedy investigations into killings, abductions, assaults, threats and hate campaigns on journalists and media workers remains a grave threat to freedom of expression in Sri Lanka.

 

  1. According to the document A/HRC/8/46, paragraph 82, A.4, Sri Lankaaccepted the recommendation by Ukraineto “Cooperate actively with international mechanisms (…) as well as special procedures of the Human Rights Council”. Until now, Sri Lanka has refused to invite the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Opinion and 6 other mandate holders who have requested for invitations to visit Sri Lanka[i].  In 2006 when Sri Lanka became a member of the UN Human Rights Council for the years 2006-2008 GoSL made a commitment to invite the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression which it has not fulfilled to date[ii].

 

  1. In November 2011 the Free Media Movement accused the GoSL of deliberately misleading the UN Committee Against Torture (UN CAT) with regard to prominent cases of arrest and conviction, abduction and torture and disappearance of journalists in 2008-2009[iii]. Journalist J. S. Tissainayagam denied that he ever expressed complicity to an offence or remorse as claimed by Mr. Mohan Peiris, senior legal advisor to the Cabinet of Sri Lanka, during the sessions of the UN CAT[iv]. Press freedom activist Poddala Jayantha denied claims of the Government to the UN CAT that he requested the Police to stop the investigations into his abduction and torture[v]. Mrs. Sandya Ekneligoda, also challenged Mr. Peiris to disclose information about the whereabouts of her husband, disappeared journalist/cartoonist Prageeth Ekneligoda[vi].

 

  1. Cooperation with HR mechanisms goes beyond the submission of reports and information. Meaningful cooperation with the OHCHR requires the GoSL to reveal the implementation of the treaties, the recommendations of treaty bodies, of special procedures, and UPR recommendations at the national level.

 

  1. According to the document A/HRC/8/46, paragraph 82/39 Sri Lankaaccepted the recommendation by Irelandto take measures to safeguard freedom of expression and protect human rights defenders, and effectively investigate allegations of attacks on journalists, media personnel and human rights defenders and prosecute those responsible.[vii]  There has been no concrete progress in investigations of attacks on journalists and media organisations including the killings and disappearances of journalists.
  2. On 15th Nov 2011, more than 3 years after GoSL accepted the above mentioned recommendation, the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) appointed by the President of Sri Lanka observed that ‘The Commission was deeply disturbed by persistent reports concerning attacks on journalists and media institutions and killing of journalists and the fact that these incidents remain to be conclusively investigated and perpetrators brought to justice.’ (9.114). This clearly shows that no action has been taken to implement the above mentioned recommendation.

 

  1. 9.      For example none of the below listed killings/abductions and assaults of media personal after the May 2008 UPR process have been investigated to a completion and those responsible held accountable. [viii]

 

  1. Killed:

 

                                i.            Paranirupasingham Devakumar: Sirasa, Shakthi and MTV Television Network Jaffna district correspondent P. Devakumar was hacked to death on 28 May 2008.

 

                              ii.            Lasantha Wickrematunga: Chief Editor of The Sunday Leader was killed on 08 January 2009.

 

                            iii.            Puniyamoorthy Sathiyamoorthy: long standing Tamil journalist was killed by artillery fire within the no fire zone in Vanni demarcated by the government on 12 Feb 2009.

 

  1. Abducted/ Assaulted

 

                          i.                  Keith Noyahr: Deputy Editor and Defense analyst of The Nation was abducted on 22 May 2008 and dropped near his home the following morning.  Noyahr had been severely beaten and was hospitalised for treatment following the attack.

 

                        ii.                  Thiruchelvam Thirukumaran: A Freelance journalist was abducted from his home in Dehiwela on 21 June 2008 and released two day later. He had been subjected to mental and physical torture and was hospitalised for treatment.

 

                      iii.                  Namal Perera: Deputy-head of the advocacy section of the Sri Lanka Press Institute (SLPI) and journalist was assaulted by a group of people in an attempt to abduct him on 30 June 2008. He was hospitalised for treatment following the attack.

 

                      iv.                  Upali Tennakoon: Chief Editor of Rivira Sinhala Weekly was assaulted using sharp weapons in an attempt to kill him on his way to work on 24 January 2009. He was hospitalised for treatment following the attack.

 

                        v.                  N. Vithyatharan: Editor of Tamil language dailies Uthayan and Sudaroli was abducted and assaulted on 26 February 2009.  Police spokesman Gunasekara, who first said that the editor was abducted by unidentified men, hours later, admitted that he had been arrested. He was hospitalised for treatment.

 

                      vi.                  Poddala Jayantha: Senior journalist and General Secretary of the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association was abducted on 1 June 2009. He was severely beaten and left by the road side several hours later.  He was admitted to the intensive care unit of theColombo GeneralHospital and underwent two operations to correct injuries suffered during the attack.  

 

                    vii.                  Prageeth Eknaligoda: A Cartoonist and writer was disappeared on 24 January 2010 two days prior to the presidential election. There has been no information regarding Mr. Ekneligoda despite appeals by his wife and rights activists to conduct a credible investigation into his case.

 

                  viii.                  Gnanasundaram Kuganathan: News editor of Uthayan Newspaper, aJaffna based Tamil daily was severely assaulted with iron bars on 29 July 2011.  Mr. Kuganathan was seriously injured and hospitalised for treatment following the attack.

 

  1. Media institutions attacked/ burned

 

                          i.                  MBC/MTV network:  An armed group of nearly 15 people destroyed equipment and set fire to the MTV-MBC station early morning on 06 January 2009.

 

                        ii.                  Siyatha TV: An armed mob stormed the Siyatha TV and radio station in central Colombo, and set fire to the premises on July 30 2010.

 

                      iii.                  Lanka e News: The office of the web site was set on fire on 31st January 2011. The computer Hall and the library were completely destroyed.

 

  1. According to document A/HRC/8/46, paragraph 82 / 40 Sri Lankaaccepted the recommendation by Denmarkto take measures to improve safeguards for freedom of the press;

 

  1. More than 3 years after GoSL accepted this recommendation, in November 2011 the LLRC recommended that:

 

9.115 Freedom of expression and right to information, which are universally regarded as basic human rights play a pivotal role in any reconciliation process. It is therefore essential that media freedom be enhanced in keeping with democratic principles and relevant fundamental rights obligations, since any restrictions placed on media freedom would only contribute to an environment of distrust and fear within and among ethnic groups. This would only prevent a constructive exchange of information and opinion placing severe constraints on the on-going reconciliation process. The Commission strongly recommends that:

a) All steps should be taken to prevent harassment and attacks on media personnel and institutions.

b) Action must be taken to impose deterrent punishment on such offences, and also priority should be given to the investigation, prosecution and disposal of such cases to build-up public confidence in the criminal justice system.

c) Past incidents of such illegal action should be properly investigated. The Commission observes with concern that a number of journalists and media institutions have been attacked in the recent past. Such offences erode the public confidence in the system of justice. Therefore, the Commission recommends that steps should be taken to expeditiously conclude investigations so that offenders are brought to book without delay.

d) The Government should ensure the freedom of movement of media personnel in the North and East, as it would help in the exchange of information contributing to the process of reconciliation.

e) Legislation should be enacted to ensure the right to information.

 

  1. This recommendation shows that no concrete improvements has been made as requested by the above mentioned recommendation A/HRC/8/46, paragraph 82 / 40.  So far no action has been taken by the GoSL to implement those recommendations including the enactment of a Right to Information Act.

 

  1. The Committee to Protect Journalist (CPJ), an internationally recognised press freedom organisation, in its 2012 report said that ” The government of Mahinda Rajapaksa has failed to prosecute any perpetrators in the nine murders that have taken place during his time in power, first as prime minister and then president.  In recent months, government officials have issued brazen public threats of violence against their critics, an alarming development given that 60 percent of Sri Lankan victims were known to have received threats before they were killed.”  [ix]

 

  1. The International Federation of the Journalists (IFJ), an organisation with 600,000 members in 140 countries ”strongly deplored the alarming escalation in hostile rhetoric and the barely concealed threats of reprisals that have been made against some of the country’s leading journalists and human rights defenders by representatives of the Sri Lankan government and by state-owned media outlets.[x] (26 March 2012)

 

  1. One glaring example of the impunity enjoyed by Press freedom offenders is the case if Minister Mervyn Silva. On March 23, Sri Lanka’s Minister for Public Relations, Mervyn Silva addressed a public demonstration against the adoption of a resolution on Sri Lanka at the 19th session of the UN Human Rights Council, threatening to “break the limbs” of any of the exiled journalists if they dared set foot in the country again.

 

  1. ‘Silva has been known for several bruising encounters with the media in recent years and was in July 2009, credibly reported as publicly claiming credit for the murder of newspaper editor Lasantha Wickramatunge in January and the assault on Jayantha in June, said IFJ.[xi]

 

  1. No inquiry was held and no disciplinary action was taken against the Minister by the GoSL and according to media reports the inquiry against him has been suspended.[xii]

 

  1. Improving the general human rights situation of the country has direct relevance to the full enjoyment of people’s right to information.

 

  1. According to document A/HRC/8/46, paragraph 82 / 2, 5, 12 and 13  Sri Lanka accepted the recommendations by respectively the Czech Republic, Ukraine, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Germany, Ireland, Canada, Turkey; Algeria and the Netherlands to;

 

Strengthen and ensure the independence of its human rights institutions such as the National Human Rights Commission in accordance with the Paris Principles, including through implementation of the 17th Amendment at the earliest, and ensure its pluralist character (82/2);

 

Try to respond in a timely manner to the questionnaires sent by the special procedures (82/5);

 

Further support human rights machinery and capacity building in its national institutions to implement the human rights instruments, such as the introduction of a human rights charter as pledged in 2006(82/12);

 

That the National Plan of Action provide specific benchmarks within a given timeframe (82/13);

 

  1. The 18th Amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka has seriously undermined the independence of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), National Police Commission and the Election Commission (still to be appointed) among other commissions set up by the 17th amendment to the Constitution.  The 18th amendment has completely nullified the 17th amendment.

 

  1. The NHRC still remains on B status after a review by the Sub Committee on Accreditation in 2009. Since 2010, it had shown reluctance to accept complaints with regard to disappearances (E.g. case of disappeared journalist/ cartoonist Prageeth Ekneligoda) and harassment of journalists (E.g. Media trade unionistDharmasiri Lankapeli) and to pursue such cases with a sense of urgency. The NHRC has failed to exercise its’ powers to investigate the countless attacks, restrictions, threats to freedom of expression since 2008 and despite specific requests, had not pursued options such as producing and placing before parliament a report on the situation of Freedom of Expression and Opinion in Sri Lanka

 

  1. A number of questionnaires sent by the Special Rapportuer on Human Rights defenders has not been responded to at all.

 

  1. No human rights charter has been prepared.

 

  1. The Human Rights Action Plan remains as a mere document even in March 2012. According to Dr. Rajiva Wijesinghe ruling party member of parliament, and Secretary to the Ministry of Human Rights during the 2008 UPR process, no guide lines had been sent to ministries on the implementation of the HRAP. ” The sad thing was that no one in authority seemed to care. I kept suggesting that the Action Plan we had drafted should be taken forward, but though in time the Attorney General assured me that he was putting to Cabinet what he described as ‘your Action Plan’, the lack of specific responsibility meant that it took another year to be finalized. Then it took six months for a system to be set up to ensure action but the necessary instructions have still not gone out formally to all Ministries.”[xiii]

 

 

 

 

 

Section 2: Some key concerns about Freedom of Expression & Opinion in Sri Lanka since the last UPR process of Sri Lanka in May 2008

 

Censorship:

 

  1. In November 2011 GoSL internet service provider Sri Lanka Telecom, which covered more than 80% internet connections in the country, blocked at least six websites without prior warning. Secretary to the Media Ministry admitted that the websites had been blocked as they violated laws but did not specify which news item of what date violated which law, and no charges have been filed for violating of any such laws to date.[xiv]

 

  1. The Free Media Movement (FMM) filed a Fundamental Rights petition in the Supreme Court over the blocking of websites. The case has been postponed over 3 times and leave to proceed has not been granted by the Supreme Court to date.

 

  1. In the meantime, dozens of news websites have been blocked by Government order.  The Department of Government Information under the Ministry of Mass Media and Information, has ordered all news websites that report onSri Lankato register with the ministry without any legal provisions to support its decision.

 

  1. On 12 March 2012, Sri Lanka’s Defense Ministry ordered news outlets to get prior approval before sending mobile phone alerts about the military or police. In a letter hand-delivered to news outlets including Reuters, the MediaCenterfor National Security (MCNS) Director-General Lakshman Hulugalle said the new order was effective immediately.[xv]

 

  1. The reintroduction and enforcement of draconian legislation in 2009 led to the reactivation[xvi] of the Press Council Act which empowers the Press Council to reccomend jail sentences of upto two years to jouranlists and media workers wihtout a formal court procedure. The Press Council requires the nomination of a representative of media organizations, but media organizations in Sri Lanka have opposed the Press Council and have not nominated a representative to the Council. The President of Sri Lanka has since appointed his own representative from a party which is closely allied with the ruling UPFA Government, to the Press Council.[xvii]

 

  1. During the height of the war and even after the end of the war, the govermment prevented international and local media from accessing the war affected areas and speaking with civilians in these areas.

 

  1. The Goverment also prevented foreign media from covering public hearings of the LLRC held in the North[xviii].

 

Arrests, detention and torture of journalists and publishers:

 

  1. A journalist was convicted in September 2009[xix] under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). Several others were charged under the PTA and Emeregcy laws that were in place in 2008-2009. At least one journalist was tortured while in custody, Two journalists arrested and detained in March 2008 were finally released in October 2009, as there was no evidence, but they were released only after one of the jouralists agreed to withdraw the fundemental rights case he had filed against torture while in custody[xx].

 

  1. Iridia Lanka newspaper editor Chandana Sirimalwatte was arrested, detained and subsequently released in 2009[xxi]. Jayampathy Bulathsinhala and his family members incuding his wife, were arrested and detained in September 2010 for printing a poster that opposed the 18th Amendment to the Constitution by the governmnet that was widley seen as undemocratic[xxii].

 

  1. In 2011, News Editor of popular government critque Lanka e-News (www.lankaenews.com ) was arrested and detained.

 

Hate campaigns, obstructions and threats to campaigns on press freedom

 

35.              Hate speech against journalists conveyed through state media[xxiii] as well as threats of violence and death issued by a government minister[xxiv] – and the failure of the government to intervene – have given rise to concerns over the clamping down on dissent and engendered a fear psychosis in the media, despite the government’s pronouncements about and commitments relating to media freedom and democracy.[xxv] Almost all media institutions are directly or indirectly owned and / or managed by the state, hence there is very clear complicity of the government. In most cases the perpetrators have not been arrested and even in the few cases arrests were made there have been attempts to manipulate/subvert the judicial process.[xxvi]

 

  1. In January 2012, press freedom organizations in Sri Lankaorganized a campaign named “Black January”, to remember attacks on media institutions and journalists in general and especially those in the month of January in the preceding years and to demand justice and accountability. State media attempted to discredit the campaign, particularly targeting the Free Media Movement and included personal attacks against its FMM convenor Sunil Jayasekera and Committee Member Udaya Kalupathirana; Police resorted to unprecedented step of seeking a court order to stop the event[xxvii]. The court ultimately allowed the event to go ahead, but imposed restrictions and banned any marches. However, a pro-government group armed with clubs occupied the space designated for the “Black January” campaign by courts, chanted slogans discrediting press freedom activists and organizations and branding them as working for foreign money and in support of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Although the pro-government protest occupied the area designated by courts for the Black January campaign, impeded public access to public transport, blocked an entire half of a busy road and engaged in marches, the police, which had actively sought court orders against the Black January campaign, did nothing to stop or restrict the pro-government protest. Organizers of the Black January protest eventually held their event at another location in order to avoid a violent attack and confrontation that looked inevitable.[xxviii]

 

  1. In August 2011, Police tried to obstruct a historic protest campaign against the attack on a senior News Editor of a local Tamil newspaper inJaffna, a city affected by war for years and which currently has a high military presence. The protest was led byColombobased press freedom groups together with concerned journalists and activists inJaffna.

 

  1. In November 2011, the Legal Advisor to the Cabinet told the UN Committee Against Torture that he has reliable information that Mr. Prageeth Ekneligoda, the cartoonist / journalist who disappeared on 24th January 2010, is living overseas. Mr. Ekneligoda’s wife sought the intervention of Courts, the National Human Rights Commission and the President of Sri Lanka to find out information that Mr. Peiris claimed to have, but nearly 6 months after the statement, no information has been provided. Mr. Peiris is yet to be summoned to Courts or before the National Human Rights Commission. During the last court hearing related to Mr. Peiris being summoned to courts, the state counsel choose to discredit the wife of the disappeared journalist[xxix]

 

39.              In the aftermath of the arson attack on Lanka e-News (www.lankaenews.com) and the arrest of its’ News Editor in early 2011, there appears to have been an attempt to implicate Lanka-e-News journalists in the attack. There were also threats to destroy lawyers and NGOs who were supporting e-News journalists[xxx].

 

Compelling journalists into exile and self censorship

 

40.              The severe repression of freedom of expression and constant attacks and threats led to an unprecedented exile of journalist fromSri Lankaduring the period 2009-2011. Most of the exiled journalists were those who were critical of the government and leaders of prominent press freedom organizations inSri Lanka. Amongst those in exile are two conveners of the Free Media Movement and two former Presidents of the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association and senior editors and journalists who count more than 25 years of work as journalists. Majority of the exiled journalists are those who worked in Sinhalese and Tamil language and thus, it is extremely difficult to continue their journalism from exile. The exodus had led to a serious gap in activism for press freedom inSri Lanka. With few exceptions, most journalists remaining inSri Lankaexercise self censorship.

 

IV. Recommendations

 

        i.            Cease the harassment, threats, attacks and murders of and ensure a safe environment for all media workers.

 

      ii.            Ensure prompt investigations, arrests, prosecutions and convictions in relation to all attacks and threats to journalists and media institutions, including but not limited to those mentioned in this submission

 

    iii.            The President and the Minister for Media should publicly condemn and distance themselves from hate campaigns and public threats made against press freedom activists and human rights defenders by any person, including by Government Ministers, politicians and state media and ensure that all such cases are investigated and those responsible held accountable without considering political affiliations.

 

    iv.            Do away with requirement to register all websites and lift the blockage on websites

 

      v.            Do away with the requirement to obtain prior permission to send out mobile phone news alerts

 

    vi.            Abolish the Press Council

 

  vii.            Senior Advisor to the Cabinet, Mr. Mohan Peiris, should inform the family, Police, Courts,  the National Human Rights Commission and the general public about any information he has regarding the whereabouts of  disappeared journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda

 

  1. Enact the Right to Information Act, as requested by the media community and recomended by the LLRC

 

    ix.            Present to Parliament a specific action plan on what recommendations of LLRC will be implemented when and by whom, and indicating also involvement of opposition parties, civil society and OHCHR.

 

      x.            Voluntarily present a regular progress report to the Parliament on progress made on implementing the LLRC recommendations.

 

    xi.            Ratify the Optional Protocol to CAT and the Convention against Disappearances

 

  xii.            Extend a standing invitation to all Special Procedures, starting by at least now, honouring the commitment made in 2006 to invite the Special Rapportuer on Freedom of Expression and Opinion and extending invitations to other Special Procedures whose requests for invitations remain pending, including since 2006.

 


[viii]  From Free Media Movement press releases and news paper reports

[xi] i bid

[xvi] “Press Council reactivated”, Sunday Times, June 14, 2009, http://sundaytimes.lk/090614/News/sundaytimesnews_10.html

[xvii] Press Council Act of 1973

[xix] In September 2009, J.S. Tissainayagam, a journalist, was convicted under the Prevention of Terrorism Act for inciting “communal disharmony” by writing two articles for the North-Eastern Monthly magazine in 2006, which were critical of the government’s military campaign. Tissainayagam was detained by the Terrorism Investigation Department (TID) on March 7, 2008 without charge: “Release Tissainayagam NOW”, IFJ, September 8, 2009, http://asiapacific.ifj.org/en/articles/free-tissainayagam/; “J.S. Tissainayagam interview”, RSF, November 17, 2010, http://en.rsf.org/sri-lanka-j-s-tissainayagam-interview-17-11-2010,38836.html; “J.S. Tissainayagam, Sri Lanka, Sunday Times”, CPJ, 2009, http://cpj.org/awards/2009/js-tissainayagam-journalist-sunday-times.php

[xx] Section 7 of the IFJ report on “Key Challenges for Media at War’s End” available at http://asiapacific.ifj.org/assets/docs/236/115/1d464ec-8892c73.pdf

[xxiv] July 2009, Non-cabinet Labour Minister Mervyn Silva stated publicly at a meeting in his electorate that he “Lasantha from the Leader paper went overboard. I took care of him. Poddala (Jayantha) agitated and his leg was broken” (http://groundviews.org/2009/07/13/mervyn-silva-publicly-admits-to-killing-lasantha-wickrematunge-and-grievously-attacking-another-journalist/) ; In September 2010 Deputy Highways Minister Mervyn Silva (who had been promoted from a non cabinet minister to a deputy cabinet minister) told Parliament that he had evidence to prove that former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka ordered the assassination of the Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunga (http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=7378) ;  In October 2010 The same deputy minister made a statement to a private TV channel on that he had evidence as to who killed the Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge (http://www.thesundayleader.lk/2010/10/10/mervyn-refuses-to-give-details-of-lasantha%E2%80%99s-killers/); On 23 March 2012 Minister for Public Relations Mervyn Silva claimed he was “the one who chased Poddala Jayantha from Sri Lanka” (http://www.adaderana.lk/news.php?nid=17473 ). See also Charles Haviland, “Sri Lanka minister Mervyn Silva threatens journalists”, BBC, March 23, 2012, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-17491832; Easwaran Ratnam, “I will break your bones says Mervyn”, Sunday Leader, March 23, 2012, http://www.thesundayleader.lk/2012/03/23/i-will-break-your-bones-says-mervyn/; “Mervyn threatens to break limbs of journos”, Daily Mirror, March 23, 2012, http://dailymirror.lk/news/17607-mervyn-threatens-to-break-limbs-of-journos.html; “Video: No one can touch me as long as Rajapaksas are in power”, Ada Derana, March 27, 2012, http://www.adaderana.lk/news.php?nid=17520

[xxv] Recommendations on the freedom of expression accepted by the Government from the UPR 2008 included “Take measures to safeguard freedom of expression and protect human rights defenders, and effectively investigate allegations of attacks on journalists, media personnel and human rights defenders and prosecute those responsible” and “Take measures to improve safeguards for freedom of the press”.

[xxvi] One suspect in the murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge died in hospital after being admitted for chest pains. Another suspect a former army intelligence officer Kandegedara Priyawansa claimed in open court that an official of the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) had promised him protection and a foreign job had he given evidence to the effect that a senior military officer was involved in the killing of the journalist. An application was made on the next date that Kandegedara Piyawansa’s statement be recorded and the Mt. Lavinia Magistrate proceeded to do so in Chambers. This statement was not made public nor placed on record but sent to the Inspector General of Police for a report which has been ignored to date. Whilst the TID insists in court that investigations are going on, no evidence has been forthcoming nor reported to Court. It is over three years since the murder and the Police reports to Court say that any further facts to Court would hamper a successful investigation. (http://www.thesundayleader.lk/2012/04/08/happy-birthday/ )

Sri Lanka: Submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review by NfR, FMM & INFORM on Human Rights Defenders, Freedom of Assembly, Freedom of Association and Dissent in Sri Lanka

Read the PDF hereNfR Sri Lanka joint UPR submission Sri Lanka Nov 2012 ,Defenders, Freedom of Assembly, Freedom of Association and Dissent

Networking for Rights in Sri Lanka (NfR)

INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre, Sri Lanka

Free Media Movement, Sri Lanka (FMM)

 

 

NGO Submission

Universal Periodic Review – second cycle onSri Lanka

(14th UPR Working Group – Oct / Nov. 2012)

April 23, 2012

 

Human Rights Defenders, Freedom of Assembly, Freedom of Association and Dissent in Sri Lanka

 Submitted by:

 Networking for Rights in Sri Lanka,

C/o 18953,

Shermanway,#5,

Reseda,CA91335,USA

NfR.SriLanka@gmail.com;

http://www.nfrsrilanka.org/

 For Further information please contact:

Sunanda Deshapriya at   sunandadeshapriya@gmail.com

Sunila Abeysekera  at  sunilasj2011@gmail.com

 In cooperation with:

 Free Media Movement, C/o No 96,Kirula Road,Colombo 05,Sri Lanka, 

fmmsrilanka@gmail.com and

 INFORM Human Rights Documentation Center, 237/22, Vijaya Kumaratunga Mawatha, Colombo 5, Sri Lanka, informcolombo@gmail.com

 For further information, please contact:

NfR.SriLanka@gmail.com, fmmsrilanka@gmail.com and informcolombo@gmail.com

 Human Rights Defenders, Freedom of Assembly, Freedom of Association and Dissent in Sri Lanka

                                                       May 2008 – March 2012

  1. A.     Background
  2. The period from May 2008 to May 2009 saw the escalation of the war between the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), and the military defeat of the LTTE in May 2009. The final phase of the war witnessed intense fighting between Government forces and the LTTE. Thousands of civilians fleeing the fighting were killed or injured inside Government designated ‘safe zones’. Those who entered Government controlled territory were detained in camps controlled by the military and many were arrested and detained. Many of those who surrendered to the military in May 2009 have not been seen or heard from since despite complaints, appeals and campaigns by relatives and rights groups. The exact number of fatalities during the final phase of the war is highly disputed. The actions of the GoSL have been called into question by the international community regarding its treatment of civilians during this final phase of the war and its adherence to international human rights and humanitarian law.

 

  1. Almost three years since the end of the war, Sri Lankais yet to move into a post-conflict phase. The restrictions on human rights and fundamental freedoms that were in place during the war in the name of ‘national security’ are largely unchanged.  Although the Emergency Regulations (ER) were lifted in August 2011, several of its provisions were introduced into the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act 1979. As the repeal of ER took place one month before a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), this act was viewed as a move to detract international pressure by many.[1]

 

  1. Following the presidential elections in January 2010 Sri Lankawitnessed a wave of political persecution of opposition leaders, activists and independent journalists including state media workers.  The period leading up to and immediately following the election was characterised by violence;[2] the censoring/blocking of independent media websites;[3] the restriction of and threats to journalists;[4] and disappearances.[5]  General Sarath Fonseka, former commander of the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) who contested as the Common Opposition Candidate was arrested several months after the election, and  charged  and convicted of numerous crimes in military and civilian courts.

 

  1. The period of May 2008 to March 2012 was characterised by the continued suppression of dissent in all forms in Sri Lanka (SL).  Those defending human rights, documenting violations and expressing dissent in any form, both nationally and locally were targeted as traitors and terrorists and worked under constant threat of violent reprisals. Many were forced into hiding and to seek protection outsideSri Lankadue to threats and surveillance. Activists mobilising people at the community level against human rights violations also faced serious threats. During this period, the Government has systematically sought to restrict and suppress the fundamental freedoms of assembly, association and expression guaranteed under the Constitution.

 

  1. Freedom of Assembly: The government has employed the police and the military to suppress, often violently, protests by trade unions, activists and citizens groups against regressive/repressive Government policies. On 30th May 2011, one worker was killed and over two hundred injured when police used live ammunition and tear gas to suppress a protest by Free Trade Zone (FTZ) workers against Government’s Private Pension Scheme.  In August 2011 Police used tear gas to disperse crowds who were throwing stones at a protest in Pottuvil.  There were reports of a protestor being shot and killed by security forces. Members of the SLA shot at demonstrators at a navy base on in Kinniya 15th August 2011, injuring two. In August 2011, police and military cracked down violently against civilians protesting against ‘grease devil attacks’ in the North and East of Sri Lanka.[6] On 15th February 2012 fisherman Anton Fernando was shot dead by police at a protest in Chilaw over a rise in petrol prices.

 

  1. Freedom of Association: post war – the NGO Secretariat which registers NGOs and regulates their activities has been brought under the Ministry of Defense (MoD). In June 2011 the Community Trust Fund (CTF) a development NGO based in Puttalam, was taken over by the MoD without a clear reason or justification for the move. The Managing Trustee of CTF, Mr. Pattani Razeek, was abducted in February 2010 and his body was recovered in July 2011. Local activists and family members have accused a prominent Government Minister of influencing the police inquiry into his abduction and killing. Official records indicate that the same minister was responsible for a petition which lead to the inquiry and takeover of CTF by the MoD. Apart from CTF many NGOs particularly at the local level are often visited by intelligence officers who question staff about their work and funding causing fear and insecurity among NGO staff.

 

  1. Freedom of Expression: There has been little progress on many of those recommendations made in UPR 2008 and the human rights situation in Sri Lanka remains bleak and lack of impartial and speedy investigations into killings, abductions, assaults, threats and hate campaigns on journalists and media workers remains a grave threat to freedom of expression in Sri Lanka.

 

 

  1. B.     KEY TRENDS IN SUPPRESSING DISSENT

Killings

  1. On 20th September 2008, torture victim and complainant in a bribery case, Sugath Nishantha Fernando was shot dead in Negombo. Mr. Fernando had suffered previous threats, attacks and torture by the Negombo police following a bribery complaint and a fundamental rights case against torture by officers of the Negombo police station. Mr. Fernando’s wife and children and the lawyer representing his case faced threats and attacks following his killing and his family were forced to seek protection abroad[7].

 

  1. Lasantha Wickrematunge, editor of the Sunday Leader Newspaper , was shot to death by armed men on motorcycles on 8th January 2009 on his way to work. Wickramatunge was a known critic of the Government and was being sued by the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence and brother of the President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Wickrematunge had been very vocal in criticising the government’s military response to the LTTE and the human rights violations perpetrated against SL citizens.[8]

 

  1. On 31st December 2010 an activist who had campaigned against environmental damage due to sand excavation in Jaffna was shot dead[9]

 

  1. In May 2011, the police attacked workers protesting against the government’s proposed pension bill, including inside the factories where they worked. Police opened fire on thousands of workers who were protesting, with some 250 being admitted to hospital. One person, Roshen Chanaka Ratnasekera, was killed. He was shot in the leg and was reportedly kept for two hours at the police station without treatment even though he was bleeding profusely, before being taken to the hospital where he succumbed to his injuries.

 

  1. In September 2011, Perumal Sivakumara a well known civil rights activist from the Puttalam District died after being tortured in public by officers attached to the Special Task Force of the Sri Lanka Police. [10]

 

  1. On 11th February 2010, Pattani Razeek, the Managing Trustee of CTF was abducted and his body was found on 28th July 2011. No action was taken against the main suspect in his abduction and murder, Shahadbeen Nowshaadh, until over a year following the abduction and Police had identified him as the chief suspect. Local activists and family members believe that the failure to arrest the suspect was due to the intervention of Minister Rishad Bathiudeen, the current Minister of Trade & Commerce. Nowshaadh and another suspect were arrested in July 2011 and Mr. Razeek’s body was found a few weeks later based on information given by the two men to the police.  Razeek’s family and those campaigning for justice in his case have been threatened and harassed on several occasions[11]

.

Disappearances

  1. On 7th May 2009, Stephen Sunthararaj, an HRD  working at the Centre for Human Rights and Development (CHRD) was abducted while returning home following his release from detention that day. Mr. Sunthararaj who is a former Government Child Rights Officer had faced threats following his report on the Allaipiddy Massacre, an incident in Jaffna in which several civilians including two infants were killed, in which he incriminated para-military groups in the area, as well as certain elements of the military. He was arrested in February 2009 on terrorism charges and was released following a fundamental rights petition to the Supreme Court  seeking his release. There has been no information regarding the whereabouts of Mr Sunthararaj to date.[12]

 

  1. On 24th January 2010, journalist and cartoonist Prageeth Ekneligoda disappeared, two days before the Presidential election.  Mr. Ekneligoda was a journalist at Lanka-e-News, an independent web portal in Sri Lanka. There has been no information regarding his whereabouts to-date. His family and those campaigning for justice in his case have faced intimidation, surveillance and his wife was labelled a ‘traitor’ after speaking out about his disappearance at the 19th session of the UNHRC.[13] Presenting to the UN Committee Against Torture (UNCAT) in November 2011, the Attorney General Mohan Pieris stated that Ekneligoda has merely sought asylum abroad.[14]

 

  1. In a recent spate of disappearances and abductions, political activists and HRDs Lalith KumarWeeraraj and KuganMuruganandan, disappeared in Jaffnaon 9th December 2011 while preparing for a human rights day event in Jaffna the following day. Mr. Lalith Weeraraj worked extensively in the North against disappearances and arbitrary detention and had suffered repeated threats, attacks including a previous abduction due to his work. To date there is no information regarding their fate or whereabouts. [15]   Family members and those campaigning in their case have faced threats, intimidation and surveillance.

 

  1. Overall families of the disappeared and their supporters who have campaigned extensively for information regarding their whereabouts, including those who surrendered to the military upon entering Government territory in May 2009, have faced threats, intimidation and surveillance and live under constant fear of reprisals or arrest.

 

Abductions and assault

  1. Poddala Jayantha, a senior journalist at ‘Dinamina’, the state-owned Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Limited (ANCL) newspaper, and leading press freedom activist, was abducted on 1st of June 2009 by men in a white van. Jayantha had been highly critical of the government, particularly of the suppression of media freedoms. Jayantha was beaten with iron rods and metal poles, had acid poured on him, had three fingers crushed and his ankle and leg broken. He was released the next day and spent nearly a month in hospital. He was unable to walk for an additional six months.

 

  1. In February 2012, a bribery complainant from Hatton who had complained against corruption by the Hatton police, was abducted and severely beaten before being released the following day. He was abducted and beaten previously in January 2011 and has lived in hiding ever since.

 

  1. Political activists Premakumar Gunaratnam and DimithuAttygalle were abducted on 6th April 2012. Both are members of the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP), a breakaway group of the opposition party, JanathaVimukthiPeramuna(JVP). The GoSL originally denied any knowledge of the two and argued that there was no evidence that Gunaratnam was even in the country. Following pressure from the Australian government, as Gunaratnam is an Australian citizen, both activists were released on 10th April 2012 in different locations and Gunaratnam was summarily deported to Australia. In a statement made by Gunaratnam following his abduction, he stated “I have no doubt that if I didn’t have the Australian Government’s support, I would have been… I can confirm I was abducted by the Sri Lankan Government forces, blindfolded me and tortured.”[16]Attygalle claimed she was manacled and struck by her captives once.

 

Arrests

  1. The government has increasingly used arrest and legal persecution as a means of suppressing HRD activity. Several activists and HRDs have been arrested and detained on false charges under Emergency Regulations. Following the repeal of ER, local HRDs fear arrest under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act under which a person can be detained under a detention order for up to 18 months without charge and without being produced before a Magistrate.

 

  1. Shantha Fernando, Executive Secretary of the Commission for Justice and Peace –National Christian Conference, was arrested by the Terrorism Investigation Department (TID) at the airport on 27th March 2009. Fernando is accused of possessing literature and a CD containing anti-government information. The recovered items are said to be documents on the humanitarian crisis in Vanni, downloaded from the internet. Fernando was held without charge under Emergency Regulations. In August, the TID informed the Magistrate that Fernando had made a voluntary confession to the TID over his involvement in the alleged crimes. The lawyer for Fernando submitted that he had made the confession under pressure byTID officers who assured him that he would be released on bail following a confession. Fernando was released on bail on 11thNovember 2009, but the case against him continues.

 

  1. On 28th November 2010, Aruna Roshantha and Marcus Fernando, two fisheries rights activists protesting against the Governments’ proposed sea plane project in Negombo were arrested and accused of conspiring against the Government and attempting to incite people to overthrow the government. Mr. Roshantha who is the Fisheries Union President and Mr. Marcus had distributed leaflets against the sea plan project at a protest in Negombo the previous day. Their case is still pending.

 

  1. Many other HRDs were also arrested and detained during this period.[17] On several occasions, HRDs leaving the country and arriving back in the country after overseas visits, were questioned at the airport and at least on one occasion, was also tortured during questioning. Most of these HRDs have opted not to complaint due to severe warning received by interrogators and fear of reprisals and lack of confidence in any protection and justice through existing domestic mechanisms.

 

  1. Calls were made by the Buddhist nationalist party Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), for the Bishop of Mannar, Rt. Rev. Dr. Rayappu Joseph, to be arrested and prosecuted after he and thirty priests sent a letter to the UNHRC urging international intervention in the human rights situation in SL in March 2012.

                       

Intimidation and threats

 

  1. Dharmasiri Lankapeli, activist with the Federation of Media Employees Trade Unions, has been the target of threats and smear campaigns and was forced to spend several months in hiding in 2009 and 2010. The state-owned newspaper company, the ANCL his employer, has accused Lankapeli of supporting the LTTE and branded him a traitor.   In a television program and in newspaper articles, by the state-owned media, on the ‘Black January’ protests organised by media freedom groups in January , 2012, Lankapeli was singled out and accused of links to the LTTE.[18]

 

  1. J.C. Weliamuna, a prominent human rights lawyer and former Executive Director of Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL), has received numerous threats and been the subject of attack on many occasions. On 27th September 2008 two grenades were thrown at his house. Only one exploded and no one was injured, although the house sustained damage. Weliamuna lived in close proximity to a police station, an army camp and a checkpoint roadblock, yet no suspicious activity was reported. Weliamuna has been involved in many fundamental rights cases (FRC) with the Supreme Court, and this attack was thought to be in retaliation for his legal representation of clients in human rights cases where the MoD was implicated.[19] There has been no credible investigation of the incident, yet a government report released appeared to insinuate that Weliamuna was responsible for the attack in an attempt to garner public support.[20]

 

  1. Mano Ganesan, Member of Parliament, HRD and the founder of the Civil Monitoring Commission on Extra-Judicial Killings and Disappearances (CMC), was interrogated for six hours on 26th August 2008 by the TID regarding the peace delegation visits he undertook to Killinochchi on the request of the then president during the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) period in 2002 and 2004. The TID wished to know if he had developed any links with the LTTE while he was there.

 

  1. There have been instances following the war in which any who attempt to hold commemorative events for those Tamils killed in the war have been subjected to threats. In Vanni, an army officer threatened to shoot a parish priest and drag him behind his jeep because the priest was organising prayer services for those killed in the war. Another priest was prevented from celebrating a holy mass organised for the same reason. A priest in the north who was trying to build a monument for those civilians killed was warned by the army to stop building it.

 

  1. 30.  In November 2011, the premises of Companions on a Journey (CJ), an NGO working on HIV/AIDS prevention, was searched by police and those present were questioned for several hours and intimidated. Prior to this incident, the group were attacked in a Sinhala newspaper, and accused of promoting homosexuality under the guise of HIV/AIDS prevention. The NGO has ceased to function as a result of these threats and harassment.

 

  1. 31.  In February-March 2012, well known HRD and fisheries rights activist, Mr. Herman Kumara and his organization NAFSO faced threats, intimidation and surveillance following a protests by local fisherman against fuel price increases by the Government. TID officers have questioned Mr. Kumara’s colleagues, partners, NAFSO staff and his neighbours regarding his work and whereabouts[21].

 

  1. 32.  In December 2011, a group of political activists and HRDs travelling to Jaffna to attend a protest to mark international human rights day were stopped in Jaffna by police and prevented from attending the protest[22].

 

  1. 33.  In March 2012, a legal clinic in Jaffna was attacked by unidentified groups and organizers in Jaffna and lawyers conducting the clinic have faced intimidation and surveillance following the incident.

 

Death threats

  1. On 20th August 2009, the Executive Director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu received an anonymous death threat written in English, posted to his residence. The letter threatened to kill Dr. Saravanamuttu because Sri Lanka risked been deprived of the European Union’s GSP Plus trade benefits later that year due to information supplied by Dr. Saravanamuttu to Ms. Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the EU’s Commissioner for External Relations.[23] In 2010, Dr. Saravanamuttu’s name was placed at the top of an alleged “hit list” that was made public, along with the then Executive Director of Transparency International Sri Lanka and prominent human rights lawyer, Mr. J. C. Weliamuna.[24]

 

Questioning and Surveillance

  1. Many HRDs across the country have been subjected to questioning and surveillance. In the aftermath of the resolution on Sri Lankaat the 19th session of the UN Human Rights Council, several NGO staff had been questioned in the North by state intelligence officials, including several women’s organizations. On several occasions, female staff members have been visited at home by male intelligence officers. Many other HRDs and political activists critical of the government have been subjected to questioning.[25]

 

Reprisals for working with the United Nations (UN) including labelling of human rights defenders as ‘terrorists’ and ‘traitors’

 

  1. Nonviolent Peaceforce Sri Lanka (NPSL), an international NGO, had organised training for local HRDs on the UN complaints mechanism in the North and East of Sri Lanka. Later on in 2010, senior NPSL staff, including its country director Tiffany Eastham and HRDs project coordinator Ali Palh had their visas cancelled by the GoSL and were compelled to leave at short notice.[26]The successor to the HRD project,[27]as well as another senior expatriate staff member,[28] was also forced to leave prematurely. On 3rdOctober 2010, the Divaina newspaper disclosed details of the training conducted by NPSL with thirteen HRDs from Mannar and Vavuniya. On 22nd October 2010, the Sunday Island Online carried a follow up article stating that the military intelligence were investigating thirteen HRDs who were accused of submitting false complaints regarding human rights violations against Tamil civilians in the North to the UN. On 2nd January 2011, the Sunday Divaina Newspaper carried a further article in which it named the thirteen HRDs in question. An HRD in the North who was named in the article has faced threats, intimidation and torture and accused of documenting cases of disappearance and detention and submitting information to international organizations.

 

  1. Journalists and HRDs who document and report on continuing rights abuses, particularly on enforced disappearances and killings in the North, are often labelled as ‘terrorists’ in the media and subjected to serious threats and intimidations.  HRDs involved in international advocacy, particularly lobbying in Genevahave also been labelled as “traitors”. On 1st April 2009 an article titled ‘Sri Lanka slams “pro-LTTE” countries’, quoted the then Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe (who presently serves as Special Envoy of the President on Human Rights) describing a recent UN summit in Geneva as “a desperate attempt to throw a lifeline to the few remaining LTTE leaders.”[29]

 

  1. On 26th January 2012, an article in Dinamina quoted Minister Keheliya Rambukwella, who stated that exiled media personnel who lobby in Geneva are traitors to the country and are bringing the country to disrepute.[30] The attacks intensified during the advocacy at the 19th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva from February 27 to March 23, 2012. On 14th March 2012, the state-owned newspaper the Daily News,  in an article titled ‘Pakiasothy, Sunila and Nimalka working with LTTE rump’, alleged that these HRDs “continue to work with the LTTE terrorist rump and betray Sri Lanka in Geneva.”[31] From  14th to 16th March 2012 a daily news item on the state  television station, ITN, clearly alleged that the named HRDs are aligned with the LTTE and that they are traitors and degenerates. They also showed photos of selected HRDs.[32] On 17th

 

  1. C.     KEY DOMESTIC INSTITUTIONS
  2. The domestic institutions and mechanisms put in place to purportedly protect the rights of Sri Lankan citizens have been woefully ineffective in this respect, both in preventing the abuses themselves and holding those responsible accountable.

 

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)

  1. The NHRC has continually failed in its mandate to protect and promote human rights through inaction or insufficient action on its part in instances of blatant rights violations, particularly in relation to HRDs. On the 12th of April 2012 following information that two missing HRDs, LalithWeeraraj and KuganMuruganandan, were being held in a particular police station in Colombo rather than conducting a surprise inspection, the NHRC chose to call the police station in question to confirm the report. A visit by NHRC staff members took place the following morning but not surprisingly, the two men were not there.

 

  1. Following a statement made on 9th November 2011 by then AG Peiris to the UNCAT that journalist Ekneligoda was not in fact missing, but had merely sought refuge overseas, Prageeth’s wife sent a letter to the Chairman of the NHRC on 20th November 2011 requesting that Mr Peiris be made to clarify and provide proof as to his statement. The only action that has taken place is a request sent to Mr Peiris on 27th January 2012 for him to submit an affidavit with regard to his statement. No further information has been provided to Mrs Ekneligoda as to whether this affidavit has been produced.

 

  1. On two separate occasions government Minister Mervyn Silva has made comments which suggest he has been involved with or has knowledge of human rights violations perpetrated against journalists and human rights defenders. In July 2009, following the murder of Wickrematunge Minister Silva stated at a public event that “Lasantha from the Leader went overboard… If this fellow goes against what I say, I will send him to the place I sent Lasantha.”[33] On 23rdMarch 2012 now Public Relations Minister Silva claimed that he “was the one who chased PoddalaJayantha out of this country,”[34] To date, no action has been taken by the NHRC against Minister Silva with regard to these statements.

 

  1. Following the killing of Ratnasekera at the FTZ protests in May 2011 the NHRC conducted an investigation into the incident; A short report has been published, however no detailed report has been provided to Ratnasekera’s family, nor made public.The results of a presidential commission on this incident were presented to President Rajapaksa on 6th August 2011. The report has not led to any substantive action on the part of the president.

 

The Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC)

  1. The LLRC is the commission initiated by President Rajapaksa in response to calls for international intervention over accusations of severe human rights violations. This report was made public on 16th December 2011, but has failed to have a noticeable impact on the human rights situation in SL. It largely exonerated the government’s actions at the latter end of the war, despite the UN Secretary General’s Panel of Experts finding credible allegations of human rights violations on both the part of the government and the LTTE. Despite specifically condemning ‘white van abductions’ and arbitrary disappearances, as well as stating that “all steps should be taken to prevent… attacks on media personnel,” such incidences continue with no apparent response from the government. Even though the report states that “priority should be given to the investigation, prosecution and disposal of such cases” and “past incidents of such illegal action should be properly investigated,” there has been no instances of prosecutions or convictions for any of the cases listed in this report. In fact, in the period under review, of the seven journalists and HRDs who have been murdered and the four who have disappeared, no prosecutions or convictions have been recorded for any of these cases.­

 

Fundamental Rights Cases with the Supreme Court

  1. Also contributing to the impunity found in SL are the cases of those who bring FRCs to the Supreme Court for violations of their human rights, however find that they have no protection against reprisal. SugathNishantha (September 2008) and Ramasamy Prabakaran (February 2012) were both killed by unknown assailants while their FRs were waiting to be heard by the Supreme Court. Devarathnam Yogendra, (2011-2012) received death threats and has been forced to go into hiding following filing a bribery complaint against a police officer. His FRC is still pending.

 

  1. D.    ROLE OF INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY
  2. To an increasing extent the international community, in the form of both the UN and delegates of foreign governments, has been obliged to pay greater level of involvement in the events taking place in SL, as the GoSL continually refuses to fulfil its mandate to protect its citizens.

 

The United Nations

  1. The UN’s Human Rights Council has passed two resolutions onSri Lankasince 2008, in 2009 and 2012 respectively. Both resolutions failed to even express concern about the consistent and serious attacks on HRD. Freedom of assembly, association and expression inSri Lanka.

 

  1. The above inaction was despite compelling evidence and consistent expression of concern by the Special Procedures of the Council and the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

 

  1. In its reports covering the period of December 2009 to December 2011 The Special Rapporteur (SR) on the situation of HRDs noted that in the Asia-Pacific region SL had one of the highest number of communications sent regarding threats and abuses against HRDs over the period. The Secretary General’s report on reprisals against those who cooperate with the UN system noted the lower-than-average number of complaints during the reporting period. This was accounted for by noting that threats have often been specifically leveled against those who attempt to utilise the UN complaints systems, stating that “…such a climate persists in this country.” Threats against HRDs and those who participated in the lead-up to the 19th session of the HRC reached such a level that the OHCHR was forced to release a statement stating that “there has been an unprecedented and totally unacceptable level of threats, harassment and intimidation directed at Sri Lankan activists,” and noting that many of the threats “were carried in Sri Lankan state media and Government websites or were filed by journalists who had been officially accredited to the Council session by the Sri Lankan permanent mission.”[35]

 

  1. The UN Resident Coordinator and large and well resourced UN agencies in the country had not taken a prominent role in protecting and supporting HRDs, though on occasions, specific UN agencies had tried to negotiate access for NGOs in war affected areas. The mandate of the Human Rights Advisor to the UN Country Team appears to have been designed in a way that makes it very difficult for the Advisor to get involved in supporting HRDs at risk and promoting and recognizing the role of HRDs inSri Lanka.

 

Foreign representatives

  1. Representatives of some foreign embassies had attempted to support HRDs by regular meetings at the embassies, in HRDs work places and also in neutral venues. They have also visited HRDs and independent journalists who were detained, monitored key court trials and regularly taken up key cases with the Sri Lankan government. Some embassies also collaborated in ensuring the physical safety of HRDs at risk by providing accompaniment and working with HRDs networks to facilitate safe houses. 

 

  1. The Australian High Commission’s intervention was widely seen as a key intervention that helped to secure the release of an abducted leader of a new political party in early April.

 

  1. E.     IMPLEMENTATION OF RECOMMENDATIONS/VOLUNTARY COMMITMENTS FROM THE 2008 UPR
  2. The following are recommendations put forward during the 2008 UPR of SL to do with the issue of dissent that enjoyed the support of the GoSL at the time, along with examples of non-implementation during the period under review:
    1. Strengthen and ensure the independence of the NHRC (this was also put forward as a voluntary commitment of the GoSL).

The downgrading in accreditation of the NHRC from Status A to Status B in 2007 has not been reversed, even though the accreditation was reviewed in March 2009. The change in status was instigated due to the personal appointment of five Commissioners by the president in 2006 and the Commission’s lack of investigation, or discontinuation of investigation, into thousands of disappearances that have taken place in SL.

  1. Cooperate fully with UN and international mechanisms, including special procedures mandate holders.

The SR on the situation of HRDs has two pending requests for an invitation by the GoSL from 2008 and 2010. The SR on the promotion and protection of the rights to freedom of opinion and expression has had a pending request for an invitation since June 2009.

  1. Take measures to protect HRDs and journalists.

There have been seven journalists and HRDs killed and four who have disappeared in the period in question. There have been dozens more who have been attacked or faced threats and harassment. Far from taking measures to protect them, the government has appeared either indifferent to their plight, or supportive of those who have carried out the attacks. When President Rajapaksa was informed of the brutal attack on Mr Jayantha, he merely stated he did not want to become involved in friction between media institutions.[36]On 11th December 2010 Deputy Minister Sarath Kumara Gunaratna, who was accused of attacking two journalists, after denying involvement in the incident, stated “I am happy that even ordinary people of this country are taking their patriotic duty seriously and acting against traitors… People will beat up anyone who betrays this country. That is what I call people’s power.”[37]

  1. Effectively investigate allegations of attacks on journalists, media workers and HRDs, and prosecute those responsible.

As mentioned above, there have been no prosecutions or convictions for any of the cases of killings, disappearances or attacks on HRDs or journalists. No progress has been made in the cases of Mr Wickrematunge, Mr Ekneligoda, Mr Jayantha or Mr Sunthararaj. Even in cases where a suspect has been identified, such as Mr Razeek, little or no action is taken.

  1. Safeguard freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

The blocking of news websites critical of the government, the restrictions placed on the release of information at the end of the war, and the continued censorship of the media by the Media Centre for National Security (MCNS) on the grounds of ‘national security and defence,’ demonstrate that freedom of expression and the press continue to be suppressed.

  1. Adopt legislation designed to ensure the protection of witnesses and victims of abuse.

The GoSL voluntarily committed to the adoption of a Witness and Victim Protection Bill. Such legislation has yet to be implemented.

 

G. RECOMMENDATIONS

        i.            Cease the harassment, threats, attacks and murders of and ensure a safe environment for all HRDs.

 

      ii.            Ensure prompt investigations, arrests, prosecutions and convictions in relation to all attacks and threats to HRDs, including but not limited to those mentioned in this submission

 

    iii.            The President and the Government should publicly condemn and distance themselves from hate campaigns and public threats made against HRDs by any person, including by Government Ministers, politicians and state media and ensure that all such cases are investigated and those responsible held accountable without considering political affiliations.

 


[4] A journalist was threatened when he took a photograph of military personnel changing number plates of a vehicle belonging to a supporter of General Fonseka. He was forced to delete the photo. On 28th January, soldiers roughed up photographers working for foreign news agencies when they tried to attend a news conference given by General Fonseka. Soldiers also prevented journalists from working freely near a hotel being used by General Fonseka the previous day.

[5]PrageethEkneligoda, cartoonist and journalist for the pro-opposition website LankaeNews disappeared on 24 January 2010, two days before the election. There has been no news on his whereabouts.

[6]

[17] Pethuru Jesuthasan, a HRD and former officer of Jaffna Human Rights Commission was arrested and detained for two months, as was an intern at the Law & Society Trust, both in 2009. Journalist and human rights defender J.S. Tissainayagam was arrested in March 2008 and held for five months before he was charged (http://transcurrents.com/tc/2009/09/sentenced_journalist_tissainay.html). Another journalist and human rights defender, Mr. K. Wijesinghe, was detained and released in March 2008, but went into exile as he continued to be subjected to surveillance, questioning and intimidation and couldn’t continue his human rights work. Five doctors who reported on civilian deaths during the end of the civil war were detained by the army in May 2009 and accused of aiding the LTTE and denouncing their accounts as ‘terrorist propaganda’. They were subsequently forced to recant their statements (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jul/08/sri-lanka-doctors-casualty-figures). Jayampathy Bulathsinhala , the owner of a printing house that printed posters opposing the 18th Amendment,  was charged under the Prevention of Terrorism Act in September 2010. His wife, Kumudu Wijeyawardena, and her two younger brothers were also arrested, though later released (http://www.thesundayleader.lk/2010/09/12/printer-detained-under-prevention-of-terrorism-act-for-anti-mahinda-posters/).  Aruna Roshantha and Marcus Fernando, two activists protesting against a sea plane project, were arrested and charged with ‘anti-government behaviour’ (http://www.thesundayleader.lk/2010/11/28/negombo-lagoon-activists-arrested-released/).

 

[25] The eight-hour Colombo Crime Division interrogation of staff of Law & Society Trust & Right to Life Human Rights Centre on 13 July 2008 regarding the contents of a joint leaflet marking the International Day against ‘Disappearances’. The seven-hour Criminal Investigation Department interrogation on 26 August 2008 of Mano Ganesan, prominent human rights defender, opposition parliamentarian and convenor of the multi-party Civil Monitoring Commission. In late 2011, a well known human rights defender from Mannar who wants his name kept confidential was questioned several times by Police and Army separately and on one occasion he was tortured, he has also fled overseas since then. In 2011 a written statement by PAX ROMANA A/HRC/16/NGO/37 states that women human rights defenders who had attended training were questioned about the training by police officers. In March 2012 at least three activists working on land issues were subjected to interrogation by Criminal Investigation Department in Colombo. In November 2011, the office premises of Companions on a Journey, an NGO working on HIV/AIDS prevention was searched by police and those present were questioned for several hours and intimidated. Prior to this incident, the group were attacked in a Sinhala newspaper, and accused of promoting homosexuality under the guise of HIV/AIDS prevention. The NGO has ceased to function as a result of the threats and harassment. In September 2009 human rights activists were questioned by CID regarding a statement they signed condemning death threats sent to the Centre for Policy Alternatives Executive Director Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu (see http://www.humanrights.asia/news/ahrc-news/AHRC-STM-196-2009/?searchterm=Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu). In a separate incident, Dr. Saravanamuttu himself had been questioned for several hours by the Criminal Investigation Department. In March 2012 Belgian and French independent filmmakers were questioned regarding their filming in north-western Sri Lanka and had their footage and equipment confiscated (http://english.sina.com/world/2012/0320/450493.html).  In January 2012, the military prevented a meeting of the Socialist Equity Party (SEP) in Jaffna after previously having detained two SEP members who were pasting posters at Gurunagar and demanded details of party members. The same soldiers had followed the party members after their release and organized a physical attack on them. The military has visited the homes of party members to further intimidate them (see http://www.socialequality.lk/content/sri-lanka-sep-open-letter-defence-minister). In June 2009 Chandana Sirimalwatte, editor of the ‘Lanka’ newspaper, and an editor of another Sinhalese daily, were interrogated by officers from the Colombo Crimes Division (CCD), in an attempt to force them to reveal their sources for articles on sensitive subjects (http://www.ifex.org/sri_lanka/2009/06/25/editors_questioned/).

 

[28] See Mediafreedom in Sri Lanka report for August-September 2010.

Support for an initiative to bring Sri Lanka on to the formal agenda of the UN Human Rights Council at its 19th session, commencing on February 27, 2012

Press release/ 27h Feb 2012

The final report of the Sri Lankan government’s Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), which was made public in November 2011, contains some positive recommendations. This has already been pointed out by civil society organization, political parties and human rights defenders in Sri Lanka, who have called for effective and immediate implementation of these recommendations. The government of Sri Lanka has also declared its intention of implementing the recommendations of the LLRC.

 However, the LLRC mandate, and therefore its Report, falls short of responding in any way to the issues of accountability and justice, relating to the allegations of violations of human rights and humanitarian law by the LTTE and by the Government of Sri Lanka in the last months of the war in 2009, set out, for example, in the Report of the Panel of Experts created by the UN Secretary General.

 Among the recommendations of the LLRC are some that could challenge the record of impunity in the country and address the issues of accountability and justice that remain in the post-conflict era; there are others that could pave the way for a constructive discussion on power-sharing in the country, in which the minority communities, in particular the Tamil community, could feel an affirmation of their status as full and equal citizens of Sri Lanka.

 In this context, the Network for Rights (NfR) welcomes the current initiative at the UN Human Rights Council’s 19th session to bring the LLRC report on to the formal agenda of the Council, through a Resolution that will reflect cross-regional concern regarding the situation in Sri Lanka.

 The Sri Lankan government has launched a big campaign to resist this process, attacking political parties and civil society groups and human rights groups in Sri Lanka, accusing them of collaborating with the LTTE and bringing the country to disrepute. The attacks have in particular been focused on their participation in the 19th session of the Human Rights Council. This has led to major concern regarding the safety and security of the few human rights defenders who will engage in advocacy around accountability for human rights violations in Sri Lanka at the Council in spite of these threats. It is very important to keep in mind that these attacks take place in an environment in which the number of abductions and disappearances has risen; there have been 4 abductions, one death of a protester killed by police shooting and two dead bodies found on the roadside just in the 7 days between February10 and 16.

 In Sri Lanka, our past experience of Presidential Commissions of Inquiry is negative. They have often been used as a way for successive governments to avoid issues of justice, reparation and reconciliation, and have ignored the voices of the victims and survivors of egregious violations.

 We appeal to the members of the Human Rights Council to honour their commitment to the promotion and protection of all human rights for all by ensuring that the government of Sri Lanka is called on to implement the recommendations of the LLRC and other human rights obligations within a specified time period. For this, it is imperative that the outcomes of any Resolution on this matter will be time-bound and subject to monitoring by an independent and credible body established according to international human rights norms and standards.

 We also call on the Human Rights Council to impress upon the government of Sri Lanka that all and any reprisals against human rights defenders in Sri Lanka that arises out of their cooperation with UN human rights mechanisms and procedures would be considered a serious breach of obligations.

 

Sri Lanka: Gov place military on alert; Protester killed, peaceful demos attacked, 3 abducted

The NfR is appalled by the recent attacks on demonstrators, including those protesting against the rise in prices of petrol, diesel and kerosene oil in Sri Lanka, following a February 1O decision by the government to place the army on alert, allegedly to prevent acts of sabotage by terrorists.

 On February 15, Warnakulasuriya Anthony Fernando (35) a fisherman, was shot and killed in Chilaw, a coastal town in northwest Sri Lanka, by military firing on a group of fisherfolk protesting against the recent increase in the prices of diesel. Six other demonstrators were injured, one of them seriously. Chilaw was then placed under curfew.

 These events, which have left one dead and many injured, clearly point to the heightened intolerance of dissent in the country and to the government’s blatant disregard for the rights of people to organize and mobilize against injustice. The deterioration of the rule of law and the prevalence of impunity contribute to a rising toll of human rights violations in the first two months of 2012.

 In addition, there have been three abductions and the recovery of one dead body in Colombo within a matter of a few days.

On February 11, Mr. Ramasamy Prabakaran (42), a Tamil businessman owning an electronics shop at the Majestic City Complex in Bambalapitiya (Colombo 4), was abducted from the road in front of his home in Wellawatta (Colombo 6) at about 3 p.m. in the afternoon, in front of his wife and daughter, by a group of seven armed men armed with assault rifles who dragged him into a ‘white van’ and drove off. Mr Prabakaran’s abduction took place two days before February 13, when the Supreme Court was due to hear his fundamental rights application through which he was seeking judicial remedies for torture and illegal detention. He had been released from detention by order of the Courts in September 2011, after 28 months in police custody, without any charges being filed against him.

On February 13, Chandrapala Mervyn, a suspect who was being taken to prison after a court appearance was abducted from the Court premises in Hulftsdorf, Colombo, by a group of six men in a white van who had assaulted the prison officers present. The Police attacked members of his family who gathered outside the Courts on the morning after his abduction to express their protest at what had happened.

 On February 14, a businessman (42) from Nawinna was abducted at the Dehiwala railway station around 8:30 p.m by a group of armed men in a van.

 On February 14, a severely burnt body was found between Torrington Avenue and Boteju Mawatha in Colombo 5 by the Narahenpita Police.

 It is all the more appalling that these egregious violations of human rights take place as the international community prepares for the 19th session of the UN Human Rights Council.

 The NfR appeals to all those who stand for the right of all human beings to enjoy human rights and democratic freedoms to come to the defense of the people of Sri Lanka who are being horribly penalised for daring to exercise their rights.

 We call on them to support all national and global initiatives that week accountability and justice in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka: GOSL unleashed a dreadful campaign against FMM and free media activists

Press release/ 06th Feb 2012

 NfR Sri Lanka, a network of Sri Lankan journalists and human rights defenders, expresses its strongest condemnation of the life threatening hate campaign unleashed by the government of Sri Lanka on the Free Media Movement (FMM) and media freedom activists in the country.  This campaign which has been going on for more than a month now is based on complete lies and dangerous allegations.

State controlled electronic and print  media, the political mouth piece of ruling party has started leveling unfounded charges against FMM and media freedom activists saying that they belongs to a larger international conspiracy against the ‘sacred motherland’. 

In the second week of January, 2012   the Sri Lanka Government launched this  new round of attacks on FMM, media freedom activists and human rights defenders on its main TV channel. Showing visuals of activists who live in exile with a voice-over stating ………………………“Those who betrayed the motherland for gold and titles were even killed in time of kings. Their decendents live on today” The programme was concluded with the prediction that ”They do no good to this country, some day they will also face no good.” ……

On 10 January GOSL accused FMM of sending petitions to the European Union urging it to terminate GSP plus tax concessions to Sri Lanka.  In a news report on State print media, it named two former convenors of FMM and impliedly the present convenor too, for sending those so called petitions.  Quoting intelligences reports  the  GOSL  Information Department website  said that ”It has been found that these anti-national elements sustaining on foreign funds, have sent about 700 petitions calling for the suspension of GSP+ facility to Sri Lanka. ”

 While responding to those accusations FMM Convener, Sunil Jayasekara told BBC that ”FMM  did not campaign against the European Union’s Generalised System of Preferences plus (GSP+) facility to Sri Lanka.   The FMM only campaigned for retaining GSP+ by urging Sri Lanka government to respect its human rights obligations.”

 On 25th January state sponsored gangs, including pole wielding thugs invaded the venue where media orgnisations had planned to hold The Black January protest rally.  The printed placards carried by the gang said that ” Free Media Movement Portrays Tiger ( the LTTE) in Sheep’s Clothing”. 

On 3 February state print media accused FMM of working with a Tamil political party to discredit GOSL at the up coming UNHRC secessions in Geneva.   The report said that ”intelligence units have revealed information on a joint conspiracy by the country’s major Tamil party, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) with the Media Rights Organization and the Free Media Movement (FMM), to discredit Sri Lanka”; and that ”a group of TNA MPs and six FMM representatives have already left for Geneva to participate in the 19th Sessions of the United Nations Human Rights Council to present false facts against Sri Lanka.”

Denying the story as completely false the FMM expresses its concern that this planned story could be used to harass and suppress its activists and the press freedom campaigns in Sri Lanka.

In a country where abductions and disappearances are continuing with complete impunity and extremist forces are unleashing dreadful hate attacks on dissenting voices, these attacks cannot be dismissed as mere media reports. If this continues unabated, these attacks may create a situation of intolerance and threaten the very right to life of media freedom activists.

Today FMM has become one of the leading and uniting factors in the struggles for media freedom in Sri Lanka.  It has been in the fore front of campaigns for press freedom in the country for two decades now.  It is a member of International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) the largest world body of journalist’s trade unions of 131 countries and with more than 600,000 members. In early 2000, the FMM initiated and consolidated unity among the journalist’s organizations cutting across ethnic and other divisions.  The FMM played a pivotal role in establishing Sri Lanka Press Institute which includes the Press Complaints Commission and the Sri Lanka College of Journalism.  Further it is a founding member of the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence, one of the leading election monitoring organizations in the country. FMM has co-ordinated and lead a number of press freedom, and, free and fair election campaigns in the country.

 NfR views these renewed attacks on activists of press freedom as part of an overall strategy to silence dissenting voices and calls for rule of law and accountability.  NfR has reliable information that state intelligence agencies are keeping a close surveillance on media freedom activists in the country. On the top of this, leading activists have been followed by unknown vehicles on several occasions in recent weeks.

NfR calls on national and international press freedom and human rights organizations to consider this dangerous situation seriously, to make their concerns known to GOSL and to take other appropriate action in defense of FMM and media freedom activism in Sri Lanka.

Recommended action:

 Please write to Minister Keheliya Rambukwella at keheliya61@gmail.com
Please send a solidarity message to FMM at fmmsrilanka@gmail.com