SRI LANKA: Government campaign against Transparency International and moves to arrest J.C. Weliamuna
The Asian Human Rights Commission reliably understands that there is a move to arrest and detain J.C. Weliamuna, the chairperson of Transparency International in Sri Lanka (TISL) on fabricated charges. During the last few weeks there have been several media attempts on the part of the government to make insinuations against the Sri Lankan branch of Transparency International. There were publicised reports about the misuse of funds which TISL has publically claimed as completely fabricated and false. There have also been reports over government media channels about NGOs and INGOs trying to destabilize Sri Lanka and an announcement that the government will carry out an all out campaign against such organisations.
These allegations come in the aftermath of the presidential elections and in the midst of a parliamentary election. In the presidential elections one of the most glaring complaints against the government was its abuse of the state resources for electoral purposes. This is also one of the major grounds for the petition filed by the opposition common candidate against the election results of the last presidential elections. The election monitoring organisations have made strong adverse reports against the government on this score. In the parliamentary elections also, if there is any abuse of government resources similar accusations are likely to arise.
The purpose of the attack on TISL and of the possible arrest its chairperson, J.C. Weliamuna, would be to create adverse impressions on the credibility of the organisations engaged in monitoring elections as well as the findings of these organisations in the last elections.
It is quite possible to make use of national security laws to arrest persons and then engage in heavy propaganda against them while they remain in detention. While TISL may have an impeccable record about their accounts and credibility, these things become relevant only at the final stage of a trial. Meanwhile persons can be kept in detention for long periods and then heavy adverse campaigns can be carried out against them in order to blackmail them for political purposes.
Over a long period the Asian Human Rights Commission has pointed out that Sri Lanka's criminal justice system is in serious crisis and can be manipulated by the authorities to achieve whatever purposes they wish. Even under normal circumstances the fabrication of charges can be achieved easily within Sri Lanka's criminal justice system. In recent times this has also been put to political use and the AHRC has been reporting for quite some time now that the process of arrest, detention and even trial is now being manipulated for political purposes. The cases against J.S. Tissainayagam, Santha Fernando and now the retired general, Sarath Fonseka and many of his associates are glaring examples of the severe abuse of the criminal justice process in order to achieve unscrupulous political purposes.
On the 27th September, 2008 two grenades were thrown at the house of J.C. Weliamuna. One exploded and damaged the building. The other was found inside the property. If it had exploded it could have seriously harmed Mr. Weliamuna and his family. There was a serious outcry locally by the Bar Association and human rights organisations and many international organisations including Transparency International and the International Commission of Jurists. The case was also reported by the International Bar Association. However, there were no serious investigations into the attack and no one was arrested. Recently there was a report by the government when it attempted to create the impression that Mr. Weliamuna threw the grenades to create publicity for himself. These types of counter attacks in order to ridicule the complaints relating to harassment have also become a common feature of government propaganda.
The Asian Human Rights Commission urges the Sri Lankan government to desist in the harassment of Transparency International and to refrain from abusing the criminal justice process by arresting Mr. J.C. Weliamuna or anyone else on fabricated charges. We also call upon the government as well as all members of parliament to intervene in order to stop the arrest and the abuse of the legal process. We also call upon the Inspector General of Police to desist from allowing the abuse of police powers for political purposes. We call upon the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka to intervene strongly to prevent the political harassment of civil society organisations and human rights activists. We call upon the Secretary General of the United Nations, the High Commissioner for Human Rights and all human rights agencies and international organisations to intervene seriously to protect the rights of citizens who participate peacefully in political life and to protect human rights activists and defenders.