Corruption watchdog and election monitor Campaign for Free and Fair Elections and the Centre for Human Rights and Research have expressed “deep regret” over the detainment and interrogation of human rights activist Ruki Fernando at the Bandaranaike International Airport last Saturday (1).
Fernando was briefly detained and questioned by officers of the Terrorist Investigation Department (TID) when he arrived at the airport to fly to UK for speaking engagements on human rights and transitional justice at the University of York. He was released after questioning only a few minutes before his flight was scheduled to depart, following interventions by his lawyers.
“I was questioned whether I have a case pending, where I was traveling, purpose of my travel, my work and personal details, including addresses and phone number, details of family members, etc. An officer wrote down my answers, but I was not shown what was written and I was not asked to sign any documents. Photocopies of my travel documents were also made. They also appeared to examine a file they had,” the human rights activist said in a statement following his release.
Issuing a statement on behalf of CaFFE and CHRR, CaFFE Executive Director Rajith Keerthi Tennakoon said the interrogation of Fernando had taken place only minutes after Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had made statements while on an official tour of New Zealand that the Prevention of Terrorism Act would be repealed and replaced with new counter-terrorism laws in keeping with international best practice.
“While the Government continues to communicate to the international community, efforts on their part to expedite processes concerning the guaranteeing of human rights within the country, such however unfortunately does not seem to be implemented at the ground level,” Tennakoon said in his statement.
Ruki Fernando, a prominent human rights activist in Sri Lanka was arrested and detained by the TID in March 2014, while the UN Human Rights Council was in session in Geneva, after he attempted to document the circumstances around the arrest of disappearances activist Balendran Jeyakumari in Kilinochchi. Fernando has been subjected to an ongoing investigation under the PTA since March 2014, following his detention and release by the TID.
“A Court order the TID obtained in March 2014 continues to restrict my freedom of expression,” Fernando said in his statement recently. He added that his lawyers had made several written submissions and oral presentations to the Attorney General’s Department but there was still no update on closing the investigation, returning his confiscated equipment and removing the gag order imposed on him.
“It is a public secret that the TID maintain a dossier about Fernando and that his activities as a human rights activist are all documented. In such a context, detaining him and interrogating him regarding the same can only have been to achieve the intent of intimidating him, harming him and inconveniencing him,” CaFFE said in its statement condemning the incident.
CaFFE said the “Jeyakumari incident” was a case of post-war State oppression that involved labelling rights activists as terrorists. “This farce is being continued on and being dragged on, the same as before, even under the Yahapalanaya Government,” CaFFE said.
The watchdog said it “vehemently condemns” the extension of the long arm of State oppression towards Fernando and demanded that the Government halt the practice of harassing human rights activists in the guise of fighting terror. (DB)