29 September 2011
Sunanda Deshapriya is a Sri Lankan human rights defender who has been living in exile in Geneva since 2009. He has worked as a press freedom campaigner and journalist and currently writes a column which often focuses on human rights issues for the Sinhalese newspaper Ravaya. He also edits a website known as the Sri Lanka Brief and maintains an online blog which gathers information about human rights violations with a particular focus on freedom of expression. While in Sri Lanka, Sunanda Deshapriya was the head of the Free Media Movement.
On 12 September 2011, Sunanda Deshapriya attended a side event to the 18th session of the UN Human Rights Council organised by the Sri Lankan Government. The event was attended by a number of Sri Lankan ministers and Government officials, as well as representatives from a number of diplomatic missions and H.E. Mohamed Nasheed, the President of the Maldives. There were also some representatives from human rights organisations as well as some other Sri Lankan human rights defenders in attendance.
In the days following the event, various sections of the Sri Lankan media including the Sri Lanka Mirror, and the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation among others, published articles which claimed that the President of the Maldives made negative comments about Sri Lankan human rights defenders who attended the Human Rights Council including a former leader of the Free Media Movement,.
It is reported by those who attended the side event, that the President of the Maldives did not make statements as published in the Sri Lankan media. The President engaged in conversation with Sunanda Deshapriya and other human rights defenders after the side event.
Since May 2009, Sunanda Deshapriya has been living in exile in Geneva as a result of threats issued against him following his participation and oral intervention in the 10th session of the Human Rights Council in March 2009 and 11th Special Session on Sri Lanka in May 2009. He has been repeatedly targeted by smear campaigns against him in the Sri Lankan media. Numerous calls have been made to have him killed as a result of his human rights work.
Front Line believes that Sunanda Deshapriya has been targeted solely as a result of his work as a human rights defender. Although Sunanda Deshapriya is no longer living in Sri Lanka, Front Line is deeply concerned that calls have been made to have him killed. In this connection, deep concern is expressed for the physical and psychological integrity of his family who remain in Sri Lanka as concern grows that they may be targeted.
Front Line is also deeply concerned this incident may serve to deter other human rights defenders from engaging with UN mechanisms and therefore hinder them from carrying out their legitimate human rights work.
Front Line urges the authorities in Sri Lanka to:
- Conduct a full, thorough, and independent inquiry, into the publication of inaccurate and misleading articles by State controlled media sections in Sri Lanka, and issue statements which accurately convey the sequence of events which took place at the side event in Geneva;
- Conduct a full inquiry into allegations that calls have been made to have Sunanda Deshapriya killed, with a view to publishing the findings and bringing those responsible to justice as enshrined in international law.
- Take all necessary measures to guarantee the physical and psychological integrity and security of all human rights defenders working on Sri Lanka and their families;
- Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Sri Lanka are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities, including through the engagement with the UN human rights mechanisms, without fear of reprisals and free of all undue restrictions.
Front Line Defenders - The International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
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