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Dec-14-2012 12:01printcomments

Sri Lanka: End Police Harassment of Members of Human Rights Organisations

Members of 'Right to Life' and 'Families of the Disappeared' in trouble for speaking freely and video.

Majinda Rajapakse
Sri Lanka Pres. Majinda Rajapakse photo: scmp.com

(SALEM) - A new round of arrests and unlawful detentions in Sri Lanka aimed at two particular human rights groups, remind us of the political danger that this island nation represents.

As our Human Rights Ambassador William Nicholas Gomes writes in this letter to the Sri Lanka president, the members of human rights organisations 'Right to Life' and 'Families of the Disappeared' are being targeted only because of their work that draws attention to and demands accountability for enforced disappearances in Sri Lanka.

In fact the police were very clear, that some of those hassled were undergoing that treatment specifically because of a documentary they produced and showed.

Mr. Gomes urges the authorities in Sri Lanka to cease all further forms of harassment against human rights defenders working with the NGOs in question. He believes that they have been targeted solely as a result of their legitimate and peaceful human rights work. He asks Sri Lanka to immediately return items confiscated as they are manifestly not linked to any criminal activity.

He also seeks a guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Sri Lanka are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial and police harassment. This would be in keeping with international law which guarantees the right of free speech, regardless of how much effort Sri Lanka officials go to in order to stifle it.


President Majinda Rajapaksa,
Office of the President
Republic Square,
Colombo,
Sri Lanka.

Your Excellency,

I am William Nicholas Gomes, Human Rights Ambassador for Salem-News.com.

I came to know about the alarming situation from Front Line Defenders.

Members of the human rights organisations 'Right to Life' and 'Families of the Disappeared' (FOD) were repeatedly summoned and questioned by police and immigration officials on 4 and 7 December 2012 following a solidarity event organised by the Asian Federation against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD) and its partners. Police officers appeared at the event and threatened to arrest several human rights defenders who were in attendance, seizing a copy of a documentary and electronic equipment in the process. Both NGOs work on human rights issues including enforced disappearances in Sri Lanka.

The solidarity event took place at Lagoon View Restaurant in Negombo around 6.30pm on 3 December 2012. Among the guests were AFAD Council members from various Asian countries including the Philippines and Indonesia, and numerous members of civil society organisations as well as two mothers of victims of enforced disappearances. A Sinhala-language version of an AFAD primer on the UN Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance was presented, and a documentary was shown about the commemoration of victims of disappearances and massacres in Sri Lanka that was held on 27 October 2012.

At 9.10pm, a group of people including the two mothers of disappeared victims and FOD Secretary Mr Wasantha Ranil Kumara left the venue in a taxi, which was stopped 100 metres further down the road. A group of policemen, both uniformed and in plain clothes, questioned the human rights defender and the mothers of the victims before forcing them to sit in the police jeep and confiscating their mobile phones and a laptop which they had with them. Wasantha Ranil Kumara was told by the officers that the group would be arrested. The officers reportedly said this was because they had shown a documentary critical of the President to foreigners at the event. The officers also demanded a copy of the documentary. After being held in the jeep for an hour, the group were eventually let go without arrest after the FOD Chairperson Mr Brito Fernando arrived and argued with the officers. Right to Life Secretary Mr Philip Dissanayake was also stopped by police while leaving the venue, and the organisation’s laptop, projector and camera were seized. AFAD Council members who left the venue to go to the airport were also followed and stopped by police officers who recorded their passport details.

Around 1pm the following day, five officials from the investigative unit of the Department of Immigration and Emigration led by Chief Immigration Officer W. P. Aminth S. Perera came to the Right to Life and FOD offices and questioned three staff members, among them Wasantha Ranil Kumara, about the purpose of the event and the foreigners who had come to attend it. When Brito Fernando arrived, he was similarly questioned but refused to answer in the absence of an official written request. He was subsequently summoned for questioning at the Department of Immigration and Emigration on 7 December 2012. During that interview he was again asked for details of the foreign visitors who had come to Sri Lanka for the event.

I believe that the members of human rights organisations Right to Life and Families of the Disappeared are being targeted solely because of their work drawing attention to and demanding accountability for enforced disappearances in Sri Lanka.

I urge the authorities in Sri Lanka to: 1. Cease all further forms of harassment against human rights defenders working with the NGOs Right to Life and Families of the Disappeared as I believe that they have been targeted solely as a result of their legitimate and peaceful human rights work; 2. Immediately return the confiscated items as they are manifestly not linked to any criminal activity; 3. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Sri Lanka are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial and police harassment.

Your Sincerely

William Nicholas Gomes

Human Rights Ambassador for Salem-News.com

www.williamnicholasgomes.com

Yours sincerely,
William Nicholas Gomes
Salem News, Human Rights Ambassador
William’s Desk
www.williamgomes.org

______________________________

Salem-News.com Human Rights Ambassador William Nicholas Gomes is a Bangladeshi journalist, human rights activist and author was born on 25 December, 1985 in Dhaka. As an investigative journalist he wrote widely for leading European and Asian media outlets.

He is also active in advocating for free and independent media and journalists’ rights, and is part of the free media movement, Global Independent Media Center – an activist media network for the creation of radical, accurate, and passionate telling of the truth. He worked for Italian news agency Asianews.it from year 2009 to 2011, on that time he was accredited as a free lance journalist by the press information department of Bangladesh. During this time he has reported a notable numbers of reports for the news agency which were translated into Chinese and Italian and quoted by notable number of new outlets all over the world.He, ideologically, identifies himself deeply attached with anarchism. His political views are often characterized as “leftist” or “left-wing,” and he has described himself as an individualist anarchist.

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