Sri Lanka arrests top rights activists, including Catholic priest under PTA

Despite coming under heavy criticisms at the ongoing UN Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva over its ever worsening rights record, Sri Lanka’s anti-terrorism unit on Sunday night has arrested two top human rights activists, including a Catholic Priest in Kilinochchi under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), further stifling dissenting voices and critiques.

According to reports from the island’s north, prominent human rights activist Ruki Fernando and Rev. Father Praveen, Director of the Centre for Peace and Reconciliation (CPR) have been arrested and detained at a police station in Kilinochchi by the Terrorism Investigation Division (TID) around 10 pm on Sunday.

'Separately questined'

Sending text messages from his mobile phone, Ruki Fernando has informed his wider network of friends that he and the Catholic priest, were “being questioned separately” in relation to a shooting incident.

Denying their role in the arrests, the Kilinochchi police have reportedly confirmed to a lawyer via phone that the two persons had been arrested by a specially appointed unit of the TID and were currently being held in at a separate location in Kilinochchi, which was formerly the politico-administrative capital of the Tamil Tiger rebels.

“We don't know the details of arrest or the facts leading up to it. We are very concerned for their safety,” a fellow human rights activist said.

Under PTA

Sri Lanka’s Police spokesman has said that Ruki Fernando and Rev Father Praveen have been arrested under the PTA and brought to Colombo late Sunday Colombo headquarters of the TID for further inquiry.

Encouraged by the weak and watered down resolutions in Geneva, hawkish government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa has stepped up its terror campaign against human rights activists and the desperate victims, who are risking their lives in the absence of a strong international pressure.

Sources in Kilinochchi told the JDS via phone on Sunday that the military “while notably increasing its threatening presence in Kilinochchi, Pooneryn and Palai areas, has stepped up its round-ups, random road checks, house-to-house checking since Thursday, resulting in creating fresh panic waves among the people in the war-ravaged region”.

Heightened repression

The arrest of the two well-known human rights defenders have come barely a couple of days after the TID controversially arrested a 50-year-old mother Balendran Jeyakumari, who has been campaigning for the release of her missing son. Her 13-year old daughter Vibooshika was also arrested by TID along with her, after raiding her home in Kilinochchi. Jeyakumari, who has already lost two of her sons to the war and the third son disappeared during the final days of the war, is now kept behind the bars in the Boosa prison in Southern Sri Lanka just for demanding authorities to release her son.

It could well be noted here that after the visit to Sri Lanka by Prime Minister David Cameron, the British government said that it has “emphasised to the Sri Lankan government that the human rights defenders, journalists, and members of the public whom the ministers met during CHOGM should not face any reprisals”. It also said that its High Commission in Colombo “is closely morning the situation post-CHOGM” with concerns continued over the prevailing culture of impunity in Sri Lanka.