SRI LANKA: The Human rights activist for fisher folk Herman Kumara tells the story of the attempted abduction and continuing threat to his life 

(Following is an English Translation of a written statement made by Herman Kumara to the police)

I am Mr. Wijetunga Appuhamilage Herman Kumara of Sandalankawa, Irabadagama, (located in the Kurunegalle District). I am 48 years of age, married and a father of two children. While, I am the Chief Executive or National Coordinator of the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement (NFSM) of Sri Lanka, I am also the Special Representative of the World Forum of Fisher People (WFFP). I am a Roman Catholic by religion.

In a written statement that was released earlier on the 28th of February 2012. I released information about the different threats to my life and intimidation I have been subjected too in the last few days. After leaving for Rome on the 18th of February 2012 to take part in Farmer Forum organized by the United Nation’s International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). I arrived back at the Katunayake Airport, Sri Lanka on the 24th of February 2012 at 1.30PM on board flight EK348 from Rome.

While I was presenting my travel documents to an officer in the Immigration section of the Airport I noticed that three individuals were observing me and behaving in a suspicious manner. They were loitering around the immigration counter I had given my travel documents too after which they started to enter and exit a room that was located behind the counter. I even heard one of the three, who I suspected to be the leader of the three men say “now finish this [objective] we will look after the other things later” to the other men. In addition to this I noticed that the Immigration officer paid a special interest to the details in my travel documents.

After this, the arrival of my baggage in the baggage retrieval section was delayed by a short period. While I was waiting for my baggage to arrive I noticed that two of the officials that I had noticed observing me earlier, had come close to where I was and they paid a keen interest towards me. After I had proceeded to meet my wife and friends at the public lobby and continue on, towards the car park, we all noticed that these two officials walked past us, crossed the road and hid behind a pillar to observe us in a suspicious manner. I noticed that they were using mobile phones to engage messages at this time. Freddy Gamage, a friend of mine who had come to pick me up from the airport stood next to the two men and heard what the two officials were saying over the phone. Freddy had heard they say “bring the vehicle quickly, the man is about leave” in a hurried manner.

When the group that came to pick me up joined me and my wife to leave the airport in the van that my wife had come in, we noticed that a green colored car bearing license plate number 301-2865 with one of the officials who we had noticed earlier, was following our vehicle. While our vehicle turned towards Negombo on the Colombo – Puttallam main road we stopped the vehicle I was travelling in at a Food and Drink shop in Katunayake so that some of my friends who had come to pick me up could get off the vehicle and go back home. The vehicle that was following us went past us and stopped a little ahead of where we were parked.

When we restarted our journey, the vehicle which was following us, which had been parked in manner so that we could not see it, started to follow us again. Due to this I felt deeply suspicious and a fear about my own safety, hence without going to my house as planned earlier we proceeded to travel faster, to lose the car that was following us and proceeded to a relative’s house.

However, even though the car could not follow us, the car bearing license plate number 301-2865 had gone close to my own residence and asked for details from my neighbours. The officials had told the neighbours that I had applied for a bank loan and hence they needed details about me. These officials had taken down information from my neighbours about my house and family, my job and the vehicles I use. They had obtained this information from the homes of 3 neighbours.

Due to these incidents I had to go into hiding for a few days. However on the 25th of February 2012 I decided to inform the people and the media by making a statement about these incidents and the threats faced by me when I gave a speech at the ‘Platform for Freedom’ event at Cardinal Cooray Centre, Negombo on the 25th of February 2012. We found out that intelligence officers were in attendance at that meeting. During this, a individual we suspect to be from the Security Forces.

He had then gotten onto a motor cycle bearing license number WP VX 2375 with another individual and left the meeting before it ended. When we finished the meeting and were leaving the meeting hall to go home, we noticed that a motor cycle bearing license plate number WP – 6442 (other letters were not visible) started to follow our line of vehicles. However, we were able to lose this motorbike by using one vehicle as a decoy to turn off from our route. Due to these continuous incidents I believe that some kind of group intend of either abducting me, making me disappear or doing some sort of harm to me.

A number of suspicious activities had also happened before these incidents took place. On the 20th of February 2012, while I was out of the country, an individual identifying himself to be from the intelligence section of the Kuliyapitiya Police had inquired whether the details he had about me and my vehicle numbers were correct from the agricultural officer of my village. He had also inquired whether the news about me being out of the country was correct.

In addition to this Minister for Fisheries Rajitha Senaratne had repeatedly made public statements that he feels it is me and my organization that are behind the protests and struggles of fishermen. On the 21st of February 2012 the Minister had made a statement in Parliament that it was I who was behind the fisherman’s protests and that I am responsible for the death of a fisherman who was killed during the protests. He had stated my name quite clearly during this statement. Even though it is not a surprise that our organization makes special interventions on behalf of fisherman’s rights, these fishermen’s protests and struggle were not done by our organization. This had been stated publically by fishermen’s organization involved in the fishermen’s struggle. I heard that the Minister for Fisheries was not happy with me because we organized a protest against landing Sea Planes in the Negombo lagoon along

On the 25th of January 2012 I was given a call on my mobile phone by Hon. Father Lester Nonis the head of Periyamulla Mission. He is also in charge of Fishermen’s activities for the Catholic community. After asking about whether I had made any interventions in relation to the issues faced by the Fishermen of Sinnapaduwa he proceeded to say “you go around inciting fishermen everywhere, even the cardinal asked about this” and “we will take care of this” in a threatening manner.

But I had not had any discussions in relation to these issues. After the Negombo protests Father Lester Nonis had made a statement  in the Independent Television Network (state owned) that a opposing group who were not fishermen and opposed to fishermen had thrown rocks at the security forces and created this conflict. He had then stated that these were NGO people and that they were to blame for this.

The father’s statement is a statement which targets us. After this, the father’s statement were used by many government MP’s and Ministers to state that the fishermen’s struggle is the work of NGO’s. These allegations were especially prevalent in Lake House newspaper publications. In addition to this, in the last few weeks groups identifying themselves as intelligence have shown up at the houses of two employees from my organization and asked them details about our office and about me.

In this situation, I suspect that there is an initiative to either kill me, abduct me or cause some other kind of harm to me. Due to this reason I must spend my time hiding in different places. Our organization; the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement (NFSM) of Sri Lanka is a state registered organization. Responsibly, I can say that neither I or the organization that I represent have been engaged in any illegal activities. While, the police or any other security forces organizations can utilize the accepted procedures under law to obtain information to obtain any information they need to know about me or our organization, I would like to state that we are happy to completely support them in this regard.

On the 24th of February 2012 my wife, Ms. Shrini Kumuduni Pradeepika Adihettie made a complaint to the Pannala Police Station in reference to these incidents and it was recorded with reference as, CIB (1)/241/490. Due to us seeing no fair investigation being conducted in this regard I have decided to send this written statement to you.

I request that you accept this written submission and conduct a thorough, fair and efficient investigation in this regard. I request that you protect my life, the lives of my family and the lives of the employees of our organization. I request that you protect my house and my office.

This is my written submission, I have read it, understand it completely and sign it on the 28th of February 2012 in Negombo.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-039-2012
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Issues : Enforced disappearances and abductions,