Update: Former CCI International Team member Ruki Fernando and Fr Praveen Mahesan OMI have both been released following their detention by Sri Lankan authorities under anti-terrorism legislation which allows them to be held for up to 18 months without trial and can lead to prison sentences of up to 20 years.
“I’m back home, was released few hours ago, thanks to all who worked so hard and to ensure my and Fr Praveen’s release,” Ruki posted on Facebook.” I’m convinced our safety and release was because of all the support and concerns expressed by so many in SL and across thr world.mLets try to help others who also need similar support.”
In an interview following his release with CNN, Ruki said: “I think it’s a deliberate attempt to intimidate and suppress any form of dissent, criticism or challenge, and clearly not allow people outside Sri Lanka to know what’s happening inside the country.”
“I anticipate that I will be subject to greater scrutiny and I am extremely worried about the safety and wellbeing of my colleagues and people I’ve spoken to in the past.”
Ruki Fernando of the Inform Human Rights Documentation Center and Oblate Father Praveen Mahesan, director of the Center for Peace and Reconciliation, were detained separately for questioning, ucanews.com reports.
The two men were visiting the area investigating the arrest of Tamil human rights defender Balendran Jayakumari on March 13.
Fernando informed his colleagues via text message that he and Fr Mahesan were being detained and questioned, according to Groundsview, a citizens’ journalism Web site based in Sri Lanka.
The arrests of the activists provided further proof that human rights workers were being targeted and harassed by government authorities, the National Peace Council of Sri Lanka said in a statement.
“The arrest and detention of Balendran Jayakumari under controversial circumstances raises the question whether those who persevere to openly advocate on behalf of the victims of the war are being targeted for punitive action,” the council said.
The council also said that Jayakumari’s 13-year-old daughter has been placed in the custody of the government’s probation service, “as other families are afraid to take her in”.
Bishop Rayappu Joseph of Mannar said that the detention of Fernando and Fr Mahesan was undemocratic and unwarranted.
“Ruki and Fr Praveen are human rights defenders, who always come to the forefront when there is a human rights problem,” the bishop told ucanews.com.
The bishop said the two men traveled to Kilinochchi to check on the status of Jayakumari.
“Where is democracy and the rule of law in the country? We need to live in peace with protection of our peoples’ rights,” he told ucanews.com.
Brito Fernando, convener of the Families of the Disappeared and co-convener of the Platform for Freedom, said that the arrests represented an escalation of a campaign to intimidate into silence families of those still missing after the country’s civil war.
“A number of human rights activists have been arrested, detained, and are being interrogated,” Brito Fernando told ucanews.com.
Amnesty International, Asian Center for Progress of Peoples, OMCT World Organisation Against Torture have all launched campaigns for the release of Ruki Fernando, Fr Praveen and Ms Jayakumari.
CCI Secretary-General Ruben Joseph has written to Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa seeking the immediate release of the detainees.
CCI Convenor Stefan Gigacz has called upon CCI members and groups to express their concern to President Rajapaksa and to Sri Lankan embassies in various countries.
“Many of us have known Ruki Fernando for many years as a YCS (Young Christian Students) leader in Asia, as a Caritas Sri Lanka development and more recently as a human rights defender and as a member of the CCI International Team from 2009-2011,” Stefan Gigacz said. “Ruki was also a keynote speaker on working for peace at our 2009 conference in Kuala Lumpur.
“The allegations made have no credibility and we condemn the arrests,” he concluded.
This post will be updated as fresh information comes to hand.
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