SRI LANKA: A political investigation into a solidarity letter — Asian Human Rights Commission

The President of Sri Lanka is reported to have instructed the Defense Secretary to verify the facts stated in a newspaper advertised petition published in several papers, signed by 133 persons condemning the death threat to Dr. P. Saravanamuttu who has received the threat by way of a letter that he would be killed if Sri Lanka does not get the GSP+. (Kindly see the advertisement and the copy of the death threat reproduced below).

The Defense Secretary was asked to verify as to whether there was such a threat stating that there is some international conspiracy against Sri Lanka.

Following the report of the instructions of the president, officers from the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) visited and questioned several signatories to this advertisement. They were asked:

a. How they know of Dr. P. Saravanamuttu
b. Whether there was any meeting for all signatories of the advertised petition.
c. Have they in fact seen the threatening letter, and
d. Who had sent the threatening letter?

The persons who had been questioned are concerned that perhaps another kind of political prosecution may be on the way. In any case the visits by the CID and the questions are without any basis in law and are direct interference into the basic rights of citizens to engage in any kind of solidarity work within the framework of the law.

The Defense Secretary does not have the power to direct inquiries into acts which are entirely legal and are within the rights of citizens. The basis of any inquiry is the allegation of a criminal act. In this instance the engagement of acts of solidarity by a group of citizens are not criminal acts. The CID officers do not have the duty to obey any orders which are not based in law. They particularly do not have any obligation to carry out political work aimed at suppressing those that the government considers their political opponents.

The CID officers are law enforcement officers and their activities must be defined within the framework of the law.

It is the duty of the director of the CID to ensure that the officers who work under him are not being directed or used for purposes of political activities and particularly for activities directed towards intimidation.

Under Sri Lanka’s fundamental rights laws, any directions given to engage in purely political activities done under the pretext of investigations are a violation of the rights of citizens for security, which is a violation of article 13 of the Constitution and article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Sri Lanka is a party.

It is the duty of any investigating officer to explain to anyone who is being questioned as to what crime he or she is being charged with. Engaging in an act of solidarity on behalf of a fellow citizen is not a crime. In fact, it is one of the most honorable duties that a citizen owes to his fellows.

In the past the Asian Human Rights Commission has warned that a political police and a political prosecution system are emerging in Sri Lanka. Several previous cases indicate an attempt to give the pretext of investigations and prosecutions on the basis of criminal charges while, in fact, the purpose of such investigations and prosecutions are entirely political.

This is even more alarming in a situation where assassinations and threats of assassinations are not being investigated by the authorities who have the responsibility to investigate them. In this instance the letter containing the death threat was brought to the notice of the government and it was very widely publicized. Like in the earlier cases of such deaths threats no investigation was carried out. In fact, some who work for the propaganda machinery of repression tried to ridicule the complaint regarding the threat.

Now instead of investigating into those who issued the threat investigations are being carried out against those who expressed concern and wanted protection for the threatened person. This is no different, for example, to conducting enquiries against the parents of the recent assassinations at the Angulana police station instead of the officers who carried out the killings. It was due to the popular uproar that such an occurrence did not happen and that, in fact, the actual perpetrators were investigated and prosecuted. However, what happens most of the time is the protection of the actual perpetrators of the crime and the suppression of those who complain about harassment. The AHRC has repeatedly warned that the entire legal process in the country has been turned upside down and the justice process is being deliberately subverted for political purposes.

The Asian Human Rights Commission calls for the end to the harassment of Dr. P. Saravanamuttu and his organisation and also to stop the persecution of Sri Lankan citizens who have engaged in acts of solidarity relating to a fellow citizen. We also urge the Director of the CID to conduct an inquiry as to how the officers working under him are being utilised for such political activities. We also urge the director to issue instructions to his officers to clarify the position of the law that they are under no obligation to obey illegal orders. We urge the civil society to follow the courageous lead of the signatories to this petition and to act in solidarity for the defense of their rights. We urge the international community to support the Sri Lankan people in their struggle for a return to a society based on the rule of law and in their attempt to prevent the emergence of a political police in Sri Lanka.

Statement Condemning Death Threat against Dr. P. Saravanamuttu
As concerned citizens and members of civil society organisations committed to the protection and defence of human rights and democracy in Sri Lanka, we are gravely disturbed at the most recent attempt to intimidate Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, Director, Centre for Policy Alternatives through a death threat by letter posted to his home. We condemn it unreservedly. On August 20th 2009 Dr Saravanamuttu received a letter threatening him with death for allegedly passing information to the European Union which the letter claims will result in the GSP + plus facility being denied to Sri Lanka.

Dr Saravanamuttu, and the organizations he heads, the Centre for Policy Alternatives, is involved in contributing to public policy making and implementation processes to ensure good governance, proposing constructive policy alternatives aimed at strengthening and safeguarding democracy, pluralism, the rule of law, human rights and social justice, and drawing attention to the social and political consequences of development. At a time when space for dissent has been restricted he has been one of the outspoken critics showing exemplary courage in speaking out.

He is a well respected scholar and is invited to speak and write not only on Sri Lanka but on broader issues of democracy, governance and social justice issues at a global level, by many institutions and organizations around the world.

In the past years, Dr. Saravanamuttu and the CPA have engaged in a range of actions aimed at ensuring that the Sri Lankan government honours its obligations under Sri Lankan law and international conventions that it has ratified. This work has often been in collaboration with other Sri Lankan organizations concerned with the promotion and protection of human rights in accordance with the right of association and expression guaranteed in the Constitution.

The campaign to call for the Government of Sri Lanka to comply with its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and a host of other international agreements that Sri Lanka has ratified has been an ongoing one by CPA and other organizations working to ensure human rights accountability in Sri Lanka. The engagement of these groups with the discussions on the extension of the GSP+ facility to Sri Lanka is part of this wider process. As reiterated by the CPA, its position is that GSP Plus benefits MUST be renewed, and that Sri Lanka should use the opportunity to also strengthen its human rights protection framework by complying with international and national law.

We deplore the intimidation levelled at Dr. Saravanamuttu and call upon the state to take all necessary measures to investigate and bring to justice those responsible for making these threats. We also extend our solidarity and support to Dr. Saravanamuttu and to all at the Centre for Policy Alternatives at this time, and call on the authorities to ensure that all steps necessary are taken to guarantee the safety and security of Dr. Saravanamuttu, his family and his staff.

27 August 2009

(Signed by 133 persons)

The letter containing the death threat:

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-196-2009
Countries : Sri Lanka,