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Nov-14-2013 06:45printcomments

Sri Lanka: Stop Smear campaign and threats against Ms. Nimalka Fernando

Put an end to any kind of harassment against Ms. Nimalka Fernando and more generally against all human rights defenders in Sri Lanka


Nimalka Fernando

(Washington, D.C) - Mr. N K Illangakoon
Inspector General of Police
New Secretariat
Colombo 1
SRI LANKA
Fax: +94 11 2 440440 / 327877
E-mail: igp@police.lk

Dear Mr. N K Illangakoon,

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

I have received information from the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) about the smear campaign and threats suffered by Ms. Nimalka Fernando, attorney-at-law, women’s rights activist and President of the International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR) in Sri Lanka. Ms. Fernando was also a convener of the alternative summit to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), which is taking place in Sri Lanka from November 10 to 17, 2013 amid strong criticism of the country’s human rights abuses.

According to the information received, on November 4, 2013, Ms. Nimalka Fernando was defamed on a radio programme called Rata Yana Atha (“the way the country is forging ahead”) on the Commercial Channel of the State-owned Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC).

On that day, the radio show, entitled “Stoning the Sinner Woman”, was presented by Mr. Hudson Samarasinghe, Chairman of the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation, who broadcast fragments of an interview Ms. Fernando had previously granted to HIRU TV on November 3. Ms. Fernando was described as a 59-year old divorced woman who had served 30 different organisations, and “since 1989 carried tales”.

A number of listeners subsequently phoned the radio to react, and some of them threatened Ms. Nimalka Fernando in those terms: “We cannot allow persons like Nimalka Fernando to live in this society”; “If we do something to them the government will be blamed by the human rights people. We should use a lorry and cause an accident”, “There is something call cleaning in the army. [...] We should hand her over to the cleaning system” or “We use insecticides to eliminate the spread of mosquitoes. Some mosquitoes develop a resistance to such spray. These people are like that. We have to find a method to destroy them”. Ms. Fernando was also called a prostitute.

Reportedly, most of the callers were men, and some of them identified themselves as having served the armed forces and retired. Mr. Samarasinghe did not stop the callers in their offensive and violent statements against Ms. Fernando, and even seemed to encourage them.

Subsequently, Ms. Nimalka Fernando lodged a complaint to the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRC-SL) and the Inspector General of Police (IGP), requesting an investigation for criminal offence and violation of her fundamental rights, and also demanding that the tapes be secured for proof together with information of the callers and their telephone numbers.

This is not the first time Ms. Nimalka Fernando has been subjected to a smear campaign in a State media. For instance, in March 2012, Ms. Fernando, along with three other human rights defenders, was accused of being a traitor and working against the interests of the country to obtain “dollars”. In addition, the Minister of Public Relations threatened Ms. Fernando and the other defenders involved to “break their limbs” in public if they were to dare to set foot in the country[1].

I firmly condemn the death threats and smear campaign against Ms. Nimalka Fernando, and considers it as an attempt to delegitimise her efforts to defend human rights in the country. I urge the Sri Lankan authorities to guarantee in all circumstances her physical and psychological integrity.

Background information:

On October 25, 2013, Ms. Maheesha Mudugamuwa of the Island newspaper asked Ms. Nimalka Fernando to comment on three questions: the report of the Health Ministry that indicated that there are over 40,000 sex workers, her views related to abortion and the increase of AIDs patients in Sri Lanka. Among others, Ms. Fernando called for the abolition of abortion laws in Sri Lanka, for safe sex and for promoting a more protective reproductive health approach in Sri Lanka. She also requested the journalist not to use the word prostitution. On October 27, 2013, the journalist wrote her article with the caption “Call for Legalising Prostitution”[2]. Following this article another reporter from the Mawbima (the Nation) asked for a clarification and he too wrote an article with the caption “Legalise Prostitution”. These two newspaper articles became the centrepiece of debates in few newspapers while those for and against initiated a public debate. Several FM channels got Ms. Fernando to clarify her statement and she also had an opportunity to engage in a public debate over one of the FM channels with the Secretary of the JHU (Buddhist monk lead political party in Sri Lanka) since they issued a press statement related to her position, accusing her of destroying culture and traditional norms of Sri Lanka[3]. Several days later, the TV channel Hiru also requested her to give few comments under their segment titled “Hard Talk”.

Action requested:

  • i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Ms. Nimalka Fernando as well as of all human rights defenders in Sri Lanka;
  • ii. Order an immediate, thorough, transparent investigation into the facts denounced above in order to identify all those responsible, bring them before an independent tribunal, and apply them the sanctions provided by the law;
  • iii. Put an end to any kind of harassment against Ms. Nimalka Fernando and more generally against all human rights defenders in Sri Lanka;
  • iv. Conform with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, especially regarding the following Articles:
  • - Article 1: everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels;
  • - Article 12.2: the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of his or her rights [...];
  • v. Ensure in all circumstances the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Sri Lanka.

Sincerely
William Nicholas Gomes
Human Rights Ambassador for Salem-News.com
Twitter@wnicholasgomes
www.williamnicholasgomes.com

[1] See Observatory Urgent Appeal LKA 002 / 0312 / OBS 028, issued on March 27, 2012.

[2] http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=91017

[3] For instance, see http://www.ceylontoday.lk/59-46646-news-detail-protecting-the-sex-workers.html

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