20 March 2014 – The release of Sri Lankan Human Rights Defenders Ruki Fernando and Father Praveen Mahesan must be met with substantive reform to advance human rights say CIVICUS, the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) and the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice (SLCPJ).
“While we welcome the release of Fernando and Father Praveen following an outpouring of international condemnation, numerous activists and dissidents remain in detention for trying to advance human rights,” says Danny Sriskandarajah, CIVICUS Secretary-General. “The Sri Lankan Government must further heed the appeals of national and international civil society groups to remove all unwarranted restrictions on peaceful dissent and ensure a sustainable transition to democracy and rule of law,” continued Sriskandarajah.
Ruki Fernando, of the civil society group INFORM and Father Praveen, a catholic priest, were detained on March 16 under Sri Lanka’s draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) after attempting to meet 13-year-old Balendran Vithushaini who was placed on probationary supervision following the arrest of her mother, Balendran Jeyakumari, a prominent rights activist, days before.
Jeyakumari, a longstanding campaigner against enforced disappearances, remains in prison following her arrest on 13 March for allegedly harbouring an ex-LTTE member. She is being detained at the Boosa Prison Camp under the broadly worded PTA, which allows for detention without charge for up to 18 months. Several other activists are currently held under the PTA and the number increased due to a spate of recent arrests across the north and east of Sri Lanka.
The arrests represent a continuing escalation of the government’s ongoing attempt to silence independent reporting on human rights abuses in Sri Lanka. A recent report by CIVICUS, Sri Lanka’s Harassed Civil Society, highlights the government’s sustained campaign against active citizen participation and its overly sensitive stance on international scrutiny of its record on human rights, including the routine persecution of civil society activists who cooperate with UN human rights mechanisms.
CIVICUS, CHRI and SLCPJ call on the Government of Sri Lanka to end its intolerance of dissenting voices and unconditionally release all Human Rights Defenders, including Balendran Jeyakumari.