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After global outcry, Sri Lanka frees activists

Arrests linked to government abuses during Sri Lanka conflict

After global outcry, Sri Lanka frees activists

Civil society leaders condemn the arrest of two rights activists at a press conference in Colombo yesterday reporter, Colombo
Sri Lanka

March 19, 2014

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Two human rights activists arrested by police in Sri Lanka on anti-terrorism laws have been released after international outcry.

Ruki Fernando, of the Inform Human Rights Documentation Center, and Oblate Father Praveen Mahesan, director of the Center for Peace and Reconciliation, were detained on March 16 in Kilinochchi, and the following day brought to Colombo.

The two activists had been in the Kilinochchi area collecting information on the arrest of Tamil human rights defender Balendran Jayakumari, who had been collecting testimonies from families who lost relatives during the Tamil separatist conflict.

Police spokesman SSP Ajith Rohana said that while the two had been freed after questioning by the Terrorist Investigations Department (TID), police would conduct further investigations.

The arrests had sparked fears that security officials were launching a crackdown on activists probing the Sri Lankan military’s hugely controversial conduct during the war against the Tamil Tigers separatist group.

Ruki Fernando told that the misdemeanors he was accused of, including, he said, “causing discomfort to the government and earning money by sharing information with foreign countries”, were in fact legal, and that the international criticism of their arrest greatly aided their release.

"I was questioned very harshly immediately after my arrest, but after that, I was treated with respect, and given basic food, water and toilet facilities,” he said. “My parents were allowed to visit me and talk to me in the presence of a TID officer."

He added however that his lawyers were barred from meeting him, and that “police had even denied that they had arrested me when my lawyers had called to inquire about me".

Several countries and human rights organizations including the UK, US, the UN, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch had earlier expressed their concern over the arrest.

At a press conference in Colombo, Father M. Sathyavelu, a Christian priest, said: "The international community should press the government to make a healthy environment for human rights activists to work without fear.”

The United States has sponsored a third UN resolution calling for an international probe into alleged war crimes by the Sri Lankan army during the conflict.

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