Int’l Bar Association calls for protection of Lankan lawyers after death threats

Saturday, 20 September 2014 00:02 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) has called on the Sri Lankan Government to take immediate measures to protect the independence of the legal profession in Sri Lanka, following concerns at an escalation of intimidation against lawyers and civil society members working on human rights and rule of law issues. In particular, the IBAHRI has urged the relevant authorities to undertake swift and transparent investigations into the reported death threats against Sri Lankan lawyers, Namal Rajapakshe and Manjula Pathiraja. According to reports received by the IBAHRI, on 13 September 2014, two unidentified masked men entered the offices of Rajapakshe and Pathiraja, the international grouping said in a press release. “One of the men was armed and both lawyers were warned not to appear in “unnecessary cases” or they would be killed. The lawyers reported the incident at the Peliyagoda Police Station, in Gampaha District, Sri Lanka,” the group said. IBAHRI Co-Chair Baroness Helena Kennedy QC said: “The IBAHRI is deeply concerned by the reported death threats against Rajapakshe and Pathiraja. The threats follow reports of intimidation and surveillance against the President of the Sri Lankan Bar Association last month, and together, these incidents paint a worrying picture of an escalation in increasingly overt threats against lawyers representing clients in politically sensitive cases, or who speak out on human rights and rule of law issues. “For Sri Lanka’s citizens to have public confidence in the justice system, lawyers must be protected and the Sri Lankan authorities should ensure that there are effective and transparent investigations into reported cases of intimidation or threats.” The IBAHRI’s 2013 fact-finding report on Sri Lanka highlighted a “longstanding official hostility” towards outspoken members of the legal profession. More recently, the IBAHRI has spoken with lawyers in Sri Lanka who have confirmed that regular acts of intimidation, including surveillance and phone tapping, persist for the small number of lawyers still willing to take on politically sensitive or human rights cases. Recently reported threats to lawyers include: On 4 August 2014, Lakshan Dias, Rajapakshe and Pathiraja were intimidated by a group of men at the Maradana Police Station while making representations on behalf of their clients. Despite the incident reportedly taking place in front of the headquarters’ inspector, no action was taken, or has subsequently been taken, by the police. On 15 and 17 July 2014, Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) President Upul Jayasuriya, filed official police complaints regarding two incidents of surveillance which occurred shortly after the BASL issued a public statement criticising a Sri Lankan National Secretariat for Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) communiqué that prohibits NGOs from conducting press conferences, workshops and journalism training, and from disseminating press releases.