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Sri Lankan Free Speech Activists Muzzled – IFJ

 Photo by Pat Roque/AP,
courtesy The Guardian
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its Sri Lankan affiliate the Free Media Movement (FMM) in deploring the Magistrate order issued on human rights activists Ruki Fernando and Father Praveen Mahesan, restricting their right to speak and calls for an immediate lifting on the ban.
The IFJ said: “This judicial order has prevented the two activists from speaking about not only their arrest but also the human rights violations taking place in the North of Sri Lanka that they had been investigating.”

Fernando and Fr. Praveen, were arrested on March 16 in Kilinochchi. They were subjected to lengthy interrogations by the Terrorist Investigative Division of the Sri Lanka Police.

After two days of global outcry and rallying from international human rights organisations, the two activists were released without any charges on March 18. Sri Lanka law permits suspects to be kept in police custody for 48 hours without producing them before a Court of Law. In this case both human rights campaigners were kept in TID custody for 52 hours.

The order to muzzle Fernando and Fr. Praveen was delivered after Fernando was interviewed by the CNN and the BBC Sinhala service. In both interviews Fernando rejected the terrorism charges levelled by authorities.

The FMM said: “It is clear the authorities want to censor both Ruki and Fr. Praveen in order to suppress the other side of the story.” 

Ruki Fernando said on March 22: “Released – but no freedom from fear, no freedom to travel, no freedom to talk, no freedom to defend myself against lies and false accusations”

As reported by media and human rights organisations, both were on a fact finding mission in Darmapuram, in the Kilinochchi district following the arrest of female activist Jayakumari Balendran and her 13-year-old daughter Vibushika Balendran.

The order issued by the Colombo Magistrate on Fernando and Fr. Praveen read as follows: ”Sharing information regarding the investigation being conducted by the TID related to you with whatever persons either national or international may harm the ongoing investigation; herewith you are ordered not to engage in such activities.” (NB: This is not a legal translation. Original text is in Sinhala language)

Freedom of expression is a fundamental right recognized by the constitution of Sri Lanka and enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As pointed out by the senior human rights lawyer J.C. Weliamuna, an order restricting the fundamental right of freedom of expression and right to information can be enforced only under the Emergency Regulations in Sri Lanka. At the time the order was released there was no Emergency Regulations declared in Sri Lanka.

The IFJ said: “We join the FMM in calling on authorities to lift the ban imposed on Ruki Fernando and Fr. Praveen Mahesan. At the same time we warn that imposing such restrictions stands as a very concerning precedent – another weapon in the arsenal for further suppressing already chained freedom of expression rights in Sri Lanka.”

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