URGENT ALERT - SRI LANKA : The Dominican Order strongly condemns the arrest of Mr. Ruki Fernando, Human Rights adviser of Pax Romana and of Rev. Fr. Praveen Mahesan O.M.I. and ask the Srilankan authorities to take all action leading to their prompt release and to the respect of the Rule of Law in the country.
Mr. Ruki Fernando is a long standing working partner of the Delegation of the Order of Preachers to the United Nations and a prominent non partisan Human Rights Defender. Member of the Catholic organization Pax Romana, he has always been an advocate of peace and reconciliation through justice.
Together with Pax Romana, the Delegation of the Dominican Order to the United Nations ask to take action to free the two prisoners :
Mr. Ruki Fernando, a member of Pax Romana in Sri Lanka and Fr Praveen Mahesan, OMI, a catholic priest & ex-director of CPR have been arrested last night. They were working in the North of Sri Lanka, had been accredited by Pax Romana to advocate & lobby on HR Situation & accountability of SL State for the grave HR violations that happened during last few years in Sri Lanka. You can find below the urgent appeal letter issued by the OMCT and FIDH asking all HR organisations and individuals to act immediately to secure their safety and their immediate liberation.
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), requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Sri Lanka.
Brief description of the situation:
The Observatory has received with concern information from reliable sources about the arbitrary arrest and interrogation by the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) of Mr. Ruki Fernando, a human rights adviser to the human rights organisation INFORM, based in Colombo, and Rev. Praveen Mahesan, former Director of the Centre for Peace and Reconciliation (CPR) based in Jaffna.
According to the information received, on March 16, 2014, at around 10.30 pm, Mr. Ruki Fernando and Rev. Praveen OMI were arrested by a specially appointed unit of the TID as they were visiting the heavily militarised area of Kilinochchi, North of Sri Lanka, in order to investigate into the arrest on March 13, 2014 of human rights defender Ms. Balendran Jeyakumari and her 13-year old daughter Vithuskaini, who have been campaigning against enforced disappearances. They were also arrested and interrogated by the TID. While Vithuskaini was subsequently released, Ms. Jeyakumari continues to be held in Boosa detention centre under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), under which a person can be held without charge for up to 18 months.
Mr. Ruki Fernando and Rev. Praveen Mahesan were brought to the Kilinochchi police station, which initially denied that the two defenders were detained there, before confirming the arrest. The officer in charge (OIC) of the Kilinochchi police, Mr. Kumara, in particular confirmed the arrest and further stated that “Ruki Fernando and Rev. Praveen behaved in a suspicious manner as they visited some families of those who have lost their family members”. Mr. Ruki Fernando and Rev. Praveen Omi were reportedly questioned separately for three hours by around 15 TID officers at the Kilinochchi police station.
At around 1.30 am, Mr. Ruki Fernando and Rev. Praveen Mahesan left Kilinochchi police station handcuffed and blindfolded, accompanied with TID officers, before being questioned in Vavunia police station until 7.00 am on March 17, 2014.
On March 17, 2014, at 11 am, TID officers visited Mr. Ruki Fernando's parents to inform them about his arrest. Mr. Fernando’s parents were issued with a Notice of Arrest stating that he was arrested by the TID on alleged acts of terrorism on March 16, 2014, in Kilinochchi. The notice also stated that Mr. Fernando will be detained for further investigation on the 2nd floor of the police New General Secretariat in Colombo. No information could be obtained on whether a similar notice was issued to Fr. Praveen’s next of kin. At 1.30pm, TID Director informed one of the lawyers that they were both brought to Colombo and were being held at the TID headquarters.
Later in the day, police media spokesman SSP Ajith Rohana announced that Mr. Ruki Fernando and Rev. Praveen were first detained at the Kilinochchi police station under the PTA, before being transferred to Vavuniya and then to Colombo for further questioning. They would reportedly be charged with “attempting to create ethnic discord among communities and to promote separatism”.
Yet, as of issuing this Urgent Appeal, no charges have been formally framed yet and there is still no clear information on their current location. In addition, no lawyer has been allowed to visit them.
The Observatory condemns the arrest and judicial harassment of Mr. Ruki Fernando, Rev. Praveen Mahesan and Ms. Balendran Jeyakumari, which seem to merely aim at sanctioning their peaceful human rights activities, and calls upon the authorities of Sri Lanka to release them immediately and unconditionally.
Please write to the authorities in Sri Lanka, urging them to:
i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Mr. Ruki Fernando, Rev. Praveen Mahesan and Ms. Balendran Jeyakumari as well as of all human rights defenders in Sri Lanka;
ii. Release Mr. Ruki Fernando, Rev. Praveen Omi and Ms. Balendran Jeyakumari immediately and unconditionally since their detention is arbitrary and only aims at sanctioning their human rights activities;
iii. Put an end to any kind of harassment - including at the judicial level - against Mr. Ruki Fernando, Rev. Praveen Mahesan and Ms. Balendran Jeyakumari and more generally against all human rights defenders in Sri Lanka and ensure that they are able to carry out their peaceful and legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals;
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 realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels;
- Article 5 (a): For the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, at the national and international levels (a) To meet or assemble peacefully;
- 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.
· President Mahinda Rajapakse, Presidential Secretariat, C/ Office of the President, Temple Trees 150, Galle Road, Colombo 3, Sri Lanka, Fax: (+94) 11 472100 / (+94) 11 2446657 / (+94) 11 243 0590, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
· D.M. Jayaratne, Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, No. 58, Sir Ernest De Silva Mawatha, Colombo 07, Sri Lanka. Fax no: (+94) 112 575454. Email: email@example.com
· Mr. Sarath Palitha Fernando, Attorney General, Attorney General's Department. Colombo 12, Sri Lanka. Fax: (+94) 11 2 436421.
· Justice Priyantha R.P. Perera, Chairman, Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka. No: 165 Kynsey Road, Borella, Colombo 8, Sri Lanka. Fax: (+94) 11 2 694924. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
· H.E. Mr. Ravinatha P. Aryasinha, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations in Geneva, 56 rue de Moillebeau, 1211 Geneva 19. Switzerland. Fax: +41 22 73 49 084. E-mail: email@example.com
Please also write to the diplomatic missions or embassies of Sri Lanka in your respective country.