SRI LANKA: The UN Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression refers to attacks on human rights defenders
We reproduce below the section on Sri Lanka from the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue. The Report was submitted to the Seventh Session of the Human Rights Council. The Full report can be viewed at: http://www.humanrights.asia/news/alrc-news/human-rights-council/hrc17/ahrc1727.pdf/view
2019. On 17 March 2010, the Special Rapporteur, together with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, sent an urgent appeal concerning the existence of a worrying and increasing trend aimed at delegitimizing the activities of human rights organizations, individual human rights defenders and journalists working in Sri Lanka. Such information includes reports regarding physical attacks, threats, intimidation and public smear campaigns.
2020. Such attacks and threats, while experienced since 2006, have tangibly intensified following the Special Session of the Human Rights Council on Sri Lanka, which was held on 26-27 May 2009. It is reported that the Human Rights Minister, Mr. Mahinda Samarasinghe commented in The Hindu newspaper that "The people who go and sit in the cafeterias in the UN and lobby people in a very subjective manner putting forward those kind of sentiments (against Sri Lanka) would be inviting a very stern response from the government of Sri Lanka".
2021. In another article published in the online edition of the newspaper Divayina on 25 May 2009, it was alleged that "an NGO team goes to Geneva to defend the LTTE leadership. A team of people from NGOs in this country, including a representative of the Free Media Movement, has reached Geneva airport (…) with the aim of going before the Human Rights Council with inaccurate and false statements against the government of Sri Lanka and the security forces". It is further reported that the Inspector General of the Police claimed in an interview on ITN TV station on 28 May 2009, that several journalists were on LTTE payroll. The Inspector General of the Police further alleged that these journalists have committed treason and distorted and misreported against Sri Lanka.
2022. On 3 March 2010, the Sri Lankan news website Lanka News Web published an article and a list containing the name of 31 human rights defenders and journalists allegedly compiled by the Sri Lankan State Intelligence Services. The list includes human rights defenders and journalists categorized according to their work, and a brief description of the activities of each individual. The list contains the names of individuals who have been engaged in "international outreach" on human rights related issues and grades them according to their perceived importance to the intelligence services. Several human rights defenders and journalists are referred to as "providing information on human rights issues and IDPs to several local and international outlets", as "international platform speaker on media/human rights" and as a person who "speaks on human rights and media freedom and involved in advocacy overseas". While the purpose of the list remains unclear, it gives rise to a serious concern about the physical and psychological integrity of the individuals contained therein.
2023. The head of Transparency International's Sri Lanka office, Mr. J. C. Weliamuna is at the top of the list. It was reported on 8 March 2010 that the Government of Sri Lanka is planning to arrest Mr. Weliamuna in connection with the alleged misuse of funds. This information comes amidst a media campaign targeted against the Sri Lankan branch of Transparency International. It is feared that the allegations may be related to reports that Transparency International issued in December 2009 and January 2010, which included allegations about violation of election laws and misuse of public resources by the ruling party, and would be aimed at discrediting organizations engaged in monitoring elections. Mr. Weliamuna was the subject of a communication sent on 6 October 2008 by the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders and the Chairman of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances. We have not yet received a response to this communication from your Excellency's Government. The communication related to a grenade attack on the house of Mr. Weliamuna, causing damages to his property. It is reported that no credible inquiry has been carried out into this attack.
2024. Mr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, Executive Director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives, has been listed number three in the list. Mr. Saravanamuttu has been receiving death threats mainly in connection with the extension of GPS Plus (Generalized System of Preferences) status by the European Union to Sri Lanka in case it should have been rejected. Mr. Saravanamuttu was the subject of an urgent appeal sent on 24 August 2009 by the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. A response from your Excellency's Government to this communication was received on 25 August 2009.
2025. Mr. Sunanda Deshapriya, a prominent journalist and human rights defender, who is number six on the list, has been living in exile in Switzerland since May 2009, due to the threats received and the ongoing denigration campaign in the media following his participation and intervention at the March 2009 session of the Human Rights Council and the 11th Special Session on Sri Lanka. He has been accused of being a "traitor" and a "liar" due to his participation at the Special Session. Videos containing death threats against him have been posted on the social networking site Facebook; he has received numerous threatening text messages and has been vilified in television and radio shows and a number of editorials. The Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa allegedly stated in an interview on 7 June 2009 in The Nation that it was a betrayal by Mr. Deshapriya to talk against his own country and to say that Sri Lanka violates human rights, while countries like India, China and Russia were firmly standing by the Government. In an interview with ITN TV on 4 June 2009, Mr. Mahinda Samarasighe, the Minister of Disaster Management and Human Rights allegedly did not object to the talk show host's suggestion that Mr. Deshapriya should be expelled from the country for his intervention at the HRC Special Session. Mr. Deshapriya was the subject of urgent appeals sent on 7 June 2006 and 23 May
2005 by the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. A response from the Government to this communication was received on 27 June 2006.
2026. Concern was expressed that threats and harassment of, and intimidation against human rights defenders and journalists, including media smear campaigns, may be related to their legitimate activities in defense of human rights, in particular to their international advocacy and outreach efforts. Further serious concern was expressed that some of the threats may be related to their having cooperated with the UN Human Rights Council and Special Procedure mandate holders. Given the extent of the allegations, an overarching concern was expressed that the threats, attacks and media smear campaigns may form part of a broader attempt to delegitimize the activities of human rights defenders who are critical of actions and policies of the Government.
Observations 2027. The Special Rapporteur regrets that at the time of the finalization of this report, the Government had not transmitted a response to his communication of 17 March 2010, and to earlier communications sent on 9 February 2010, 6 November 2010, 15 October 2010, 9 October 2010, and 8 October 2010. He urges the Government to respond to the concerns raised by him, and to provide detailed information regarding investigations undertaken, subsequent prosecutions as well as protective measures taken.
2028. The Special Rapporteur remains seriously concerned about the situation of journalists and human rights defenders in Sri Lanka, and restrictions to the right to freedom of opinion and expression, as well as the rights to freedom of assembly and association. In particular, he expresses his grave concern regarding physical assaults, abduction, intimidation and harassment of journalists, and lack of effective investigation into such acts and prosecution of perpetrators.
2029. In this regard, the Special Rapporteur expresses his continued concern regarding the disappearance of Mr. Prageeth Eknaligoda since 24 January 2010, who had been reporting on the 26 January 2010 presidential elections and had completed an analysis that favoured the opposition candidate, Mr. Sareth Fonseka. He urges the Government to undertake independent and effective investigation into his whereabouts and the circumstances of his disappearance, and to bring responsible persons to account.