ANANTA RAJ LUITEL

18 March 2014
His Excellency Mahinda Rajapaksa,
President of Sri Lanka,
Presidential Secretariat,
Colombo 1

SAHR Condemns the arrest of Mr. Ruki Fernando and

other human rights defenders in an open letter to the President of Sri Lanka

Your Excellency,
South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR), a network of human rights defenders based in seven countries in South Asia, strongly condemns the arrest and detention of Mr. Ruki Fernando and Rev. Praveen Mahesan, prominent Sri Lankan human rights defenders, on 16 March 2014 in Kilinochchi.
Mr. Ruki Fernando, Rev. Praveen Mahesen and Ms. Balendran Jeyakumari are respected human rights defenders in Sri Lanka who are well known to the South Asian human rights community. SAHR notes that Mr. Fernando and Rev. Mahesan were arrested after they sought to ensure the welfare of 13-year-old Balendran Vithushaini, following the arrest of her mother, Balendran Jeyakumari, another human rights defender, on 13 March. We fear that their arrest may be intended to restrain their activities for the promotion and protection of human rights and their efforts for the prevention of harm to a human rights defender. It is a matter of serious concern that these human rights defenders have been charged under the Prevention of Terrorism Act for “attempting to create instability among communities” and “allegedly promoting separatism”. This action of the Government of Sri Lanka strengthens the belief of the human rights community world-wide that counter terrorism legislation is being used by many states to repress human rights activity and intimidate human rights defenders.
SAHR believes that the arrest of a well reputed human rights defender such as Ruki Fernando increases the climate of fear amongst the human rights community in Sri Lanka and gives greater credence to the concerns expressed by the international community regarding the safety of human rights defenders in Sri Lanka, especially those engaged on issues of transitional justice and calling for the end of impunity for gross human rights violations during the period of conflict.
SAHR urges the national human rights institutions and the relevant parliamentary and judicial bodies in Sri Lanka to take immediate action for the release of the defenders and to ensure their safety while in custody. SAHR urges that the condition of their detention be made public immediately. Reminding the Government of all its responsibilities under national law and of its obligations under international law, SAHR calls upon the Government to give lawyers and human rights bodies full access to the defenders in order that their physical and psychological integrity is safeguarded. SAHR expects the civil society in general and the human rights community in Sri Lanka in particular to monitor the situation of the two defenders continuously and to make all appropriate interventions to secure their release and their safety while in custody.
On behalf of South Asians for Human Rights,
Hina Jilani                                                                                             Dr. Nimalka Fernando
Chairperson                                                                                         Co-Chairperson
cc: Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka