Freedom House Condemns Arrest of Sri Lankan Activists, Calls for Their Immediate Release

Freedom House condemns the arbitrary arrest and detention of two Sri Lankan human rights activists on March 16 and calls for their immediate release. The Sri Lankan government must end its harassment and arbitrary detention of human rights activists, and foster a safe environment free from interference for activists to conduct their work.

Ruki Fernando and Father Praveen Mahesh were detained and questioned on Sunday, March 16 in Kilinochchi while investigating the recent arrest of human rights activist Balendran Jayakumari and her daughter – who were arrested after campaigning against forced disappearances.  Though not yet charged, Fernando and Father Mahesh could face up to 18 months in jail without trial under Sri Lanka’s Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).

Fernando, a prominent rights activist, works on cases relating to freedom of expression, attacks on human rights defenders, land grabbing, and the issue of displaced and resettled persons. Father Praveen previously served as the director of the Centre for Peace and Reconciliation (CPR). The two have no ties to criminal or terrorist activities, and thus far, the lawyers working on their behalf have been given “contradictory information” regarding the reason for their detention.

Sri Lanka is rated Partly Free in Freedom in the World 2014. Although freedom of expression is guaranteed in the constitution, a number of laws and regulations - including the PTA and the Officials Secrets Act – have been used to restrict free expression. In recent months, other rights defenders – including Jayakumari and her daughter - have been arrested and arbitrarily detained.

Learn more:
Blog: In a Mostly Democratic Commonwealth, Sri Lanka Stands Out
Freedom in the World 2013: Sri Lanka
Freedom of the Press 2013: Sri Lanka
Freedom on the Net 2013: Sri Lanka