Pressure mounts on Sri Lanka to release writer jailed by misusing UN treaty law

International rights watchdogs have intensified their campaign urging authorities to unconditionally release a Sri Lankan award winning author detained for more than 100 days for writing a short story.

Amnesty International identified Shakthika Sathkumara as a prisoner of conscience on his 120th day of detention, joining several organisations that have been calling for the writer’s release.

Short story in English

Pen International, German PEN Center, CIVICUS - the global civil society alliance, Forum Asia, Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) and Sri Lanka Campaign have also denounced the arrest as a clear violation of his right to freedom of expression.

Shakthika’s short story Ardha (half) translated for the first time to English by JDS goes online today. It revolves around a Buddhist monk who renounced the saffron robe.

The father of two children aged 4 and 1 ½ years, was charged under ICCPR Act enacted in 2007 to give effect to certain provisions of the United Nations multilateral treaty, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

A UN special rapporteur visiting Sri Lanka expressed his alarm at the misuse of laws in a “discriminatory fashion” favouring the majority.

“Despite the fact that sufficient legislation is in place to effectively combat and prosecute hate speech through, inter alia, the ICCPR Act 2007, the usage of section 3 of the act - which criminalises speech which advocates for national, racial or religious hatred leading to or inciting discrimination, hostility or violence - has been used to target minority communities, while highly publicised instances of hate speech within the majority community have remained largely unpunished,” Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Peaceful Assembly and Association told journalists in Colombo.

Misuse of law

Although Shakthika Sathkumara is a member of the Sinhala majority, his work of fiction angered Buddhist monks who complained to police insisting that the ICCPR Act 2007 be used to punish him.

“The use of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act to detain and prosecute writers for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression is a clear violation of international law in general, and specifically the ICCPR, as well as infringement of the right to freedom of thought and expression guaranteed by the constitution of Sri Lanka,” says an appeal by Amnesty International to Sri Lanka’s attorney general urging him to drop all charges and release the writer.

“The very law that is meant to protect people’s fundamental rights in Sri Lanka, including freedom of expression, is now being misused to violate them.”

Shakthika Sathkumara’s wife and author Yanusha Lakmali has lodged a complaint with the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka while Shakthika has filed a Fundamental Rights petition with the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka.

The supreme court, which granted leave to proceed, is to take up the case on September 30.☐



Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

  • JDS is the Sri Lankan partner organization of international media rights group, Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The launching of this website was made possible by the EU’s European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), of which Reporters Without Borders is a beneficiary.