SRI LANKA: Police arbitrarily detain activist without reason


Urgent Appeal Case: AHRC-UAC-031-2009
ISSUES: Arbitrary arrest & detention, Human rights defenders, Threats and intimidation,

Dear friends, 

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information that officers allegedly attached to the Special Task Force (STF) and the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) arbitrarily arrested and detained an activist on 12 February 2009. He has allegedly been targeted for his activities in documenting cases of child abuse in Jaffna. Even though he was brought before a magistrate, he was bound over again for further investigation, while still being detained in the Kollupitiya Police Station. No reason for his arrest was made known. 

CASE DETAILS(Based on the information received by Arulwadana, wife of the victim) 

According to information received, Mr. Sinnavan Stephen Sunthararaj on coming out of his office at 4pm on 12 February 2009, was apprehended by a group of Special Task Force (STF) officers who tried to force him into a white van. However this was prevented because of the presence of a police constable and another person who worked with him in his office. 

The STF soldiers then requested the police constable to take Sundara Raj Stephen by jeep to the Kollupitiya police station. He was then taken there where he is being detained with no explanation given for his detention. 

Ms. Arulwadana, Sinnavan Stephen Sunthararaj’s wife, alleges that her husband was arrested for his activities working as a coordinator in the field of child protection in Jaffna. She further says that there had been several calls demanding money before his detention and one call after his detention asking for one million Rupees for his release. The person speaking identified himself as being from the CID. However, his real identity has not been verified. Recently, even after his illegal detention by the STF, persons identifying themselves as being from the forces came and searched his house. 

At the Kollupitiya Police Station, Stephen was questioned on February 13, 14 and 15. His wife and children were allowed to visit him but not allowed to talk freely. He was brought to the Magistrates Court in Colombo on March 6 and further detained in the police station because the STF said that the investigation is still on-going. He will be produced again on April 2. 

His wife further stated that before his arrest, her husband’s Swiss Preson Video Centre in his home town, Mannipay, Jaffna, was ransacked by unknown gunmen. While threatening the staff, equipment worth approximately one million Rupees was forcefully removed illegally. Some of the video tapes and CDs contained information and documentation of cases of child abuse. 

She reported the arrest and illegal detention of her husband together with other details to the National Human Rights Commission as well as the protection department of the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) office in Colombo. 


Mr. Sinnavan Stephen Sunthararaj lived in Colombo from 1996 -1997. He and his family then stayed in Jaffna and returned to Colombo in 2007. He was employed as programme manager at the Center for Human Rights Development situated on Aloe Avenue in Colombo. His wife Arulwadana is a house wife. His children studied at International Schools. He hoped to migrate to London soon as he has some family members there. 

He worked as programme coordinator of child protection at World Vision Lanka from April 2006 to April 2007, coordinator of Child Protection Committee in Jaffna from September 2002 to 2006, Child Rights Promotion officer Jaffna at the department of probation and child care service from 2003 to 2004, and project director for child care services in the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India. He also taught as an assistant lecturer in Sociology in universities in Jaffna and Colombo from 2000 to 2002. 

He has been the victim of constant threats posed by both security forces and armed groups due to his previous employment as District Child Protection Coordinator of the Child Protection Committee. For instance, giving evidence against a Jaffna University lecturer in a child abuse case had aroused the anger of a militant group and similarly, highlighting involvement of security forces in the Allaipiddy killing incident further increased scrutiny of his activities by the forces. 

This compelled him to leave Jaffna with his family and move to Colombo, where he took up employment at the Centre for Human Rights and Development as Programme Manager. 

However, even in Colombo his house was frequently searched by police officers, thus resulting in the need to move house very often. 


The AHRC has documented several cases relating to torture and ill treatment by the police. It is common practice for the police to assault a person at the time of arrest, without due process, as well as on the way and inside the police station during interrogation. 

For example, Anil Chandana,19 had to undergo surgery on his leg when he was in prison due to being tortured. (AHRC-UAC-021-2009) Police seldom start an investigation and when they do, it is hard to see it as a thorough or transparent investigation. They rather threaten the complainant to withdraw his case (AHRC-UAC-019-2009). Arbitrariness of arrest and detention is common and during this time, police assault the arrestees or detainees. (AHRC-UAC-012-2009

Another young man, Mr. Abesinhage Don Janaka had to undergo treatment at the prison hospital due to injuries allegedly caused by police torture. (AHRC-UAC-024-2009) Sunil Shantha was accused of theft without any evidence and severely tortured, necessitating hospitalization. (AHRC-UAC-026-2009) The SI in this particular case was also involved in the case of assault and ill treatment of Loku Naramgodage Shantha. (AHRC-UAC-028-2009

Police held both parents hostage until their son surrendered himself to the police. While in custody the father was allegedly tortured and the mother prevented from leaving the station. When the son was handed over to the police some days later, he was also allegedly tortured and one of his legs was broken. The police threatened the son not reveal this to the court. (AHRC-UAC-030-2009

Please write letters to the relevant authorities to investigate this illegal detention and to provide security for the victim and his family. 

Please be informed that the AHRC is writing a separate letter to the UN Working Group on arbitrary detention,human rights defenders and question of torture calling for intervention in this case.

To support this case, please click here: SEND APPEAL LETTER


Dear __________, 

SRI LANKA: Police arbitrarily detain activist without reason 

Name of victim: Mr. Sinnavan Stephen Sunthararaj (40) married, three children; resident of 28/4 Hotel Road, Mount Lavenia; programme manager at the Center for Human Rights Development at Aloe Avenue Colombo 3; currently detained in Kollupitiya Police Station 
Name of alleged perpetrators: Officers from Special Task Force soldiers and Criminal Investigation Division attached to Kollupitiya Police Station, Colombo South Dist. II, Colombo South Division, Colombo Range 
Date of incident: 12 February 2009 

I am writing to voice my deep concern regarding the alleged arbitrary detention of a man by officers of the Special Task Force and Criminal Investigation Division on 12 February 2009. The man is detained at present in the Kollupitiya Police Station. 

According to information received, at 4pm on February 12, the Special Task Force soldiers initially tried to abduct him in a white van. They were prevented from doing so by the presence of a police officer. Thereafter they asked the police officer to bring him to the Kollupitiya Police Station. As in other similar cases, no reason has been given for the detention of this person who has worked for human rights for many years. 

I am also informed that there had been several phone calls made asking for money for his release. These calls were received before and after he was detained. These calls were made by a person allegedly identifying himself to be from the Criminal Investigation Division. In addition, the victim’s house had been subjected to a search by people claiming to be from the police, CID or the STF forces. 

I am aware that Stephen has been involved in the field of human rights for many years. His arrest indicates the seriousness of the attacks made on human rights defenders. It highlights as well the failure of the authorities to use due process in arresting and detaining persons. 

I therefore urge you to take immediate action and inquire into the detention of this man so that those responsible officers are prosecuted and punished in accordance with the law. Noting that the victim is currently at the Kollupitiya Police Station even after being brought before a magistrate, I also urge protection for him from ill treatment or torture. Finally, I urge you to stop searches of the victim’s house without a court order. 

I trust you will take all appropriate action in this case. 

Yours sincerely, 



1. Mr. Mahinda Rajapakse 
C/- Office of the President 
Temple Trees 150, Galle Road 
Colombo 3 
Fax: +94 11 2472100 / 2446657 

2. Secretary 
Ministry of Defence, Public Security, Law and Order 
15/5, Baladaksha Mawatha, 
Colombo 3, 
Fax: 94 11 2 446300 or 421529 
Tel: +94 11 2 430860-9, 430878-9 or 435879 (for the secretary) 

3. Mr. Jayantha Wickramaratne 
Inspector General of Police 
New Secretariat 
Colombo 1 

4. Mr. Priyasath Dep 
Attorney General 
Attorney General’s Department 
Colombo 12 
Fax: +94 11 2 436421 

5. Secretary 
Human Rights Commission 
No. 36, Kynsey Road 
Colombo 8 
Tel: +94 11 2 694 925 / 673 806 
Fax: +94 11 2 694 924 / 696 470 

6. Secretary 
National Police Commission 
3rd Floor, Rotunda Towers, 
109 Galle Road 
Colombo 03 
Tel: +94 11 2 395310 
Fax: +94 11 2 395867 
E-mail: or 

Thank you. 

Urgent Appeals Programme 
Asian Human Rights Commission (

Document Type : Urgent Appeal Case
Document ID : AHRC-UAC-031-2009
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Issues : Arbitrary arrest & detention, Human rights defenders, Threats and intimidation,