Shortlybefore their disappearance Mr. Weeraraj and Mr. Muruganandan had beenorganizing a press conference to be held in Jaffna on 10th December,international human rights day. On 10th December, a group of HRDsfrom the South who were travelling to Jaffna to attend a peaceful protest tomark human rights day were stopped for several hours by the police andprevented from attending the protest. (Detailed report available at http://groundviews.org/2011/12/14/42-political-activists-and-hrds-detained-and-prevented-from-participating-in-peaceful-protest-in-jaffna-town-on-human-rights-day/)
Backgroundof the Two HRDs
Mr.Lalith Kumar Weeraraj is a political activist and human rights defender who hasworked extensively in the North and East of Sri Lanka. He is the JaffnaCoordinator of the Movement for People’s Struggle (MPS) (Jana AragalaWiyapaaraya) launched by a dissident faction of the Peoples LiberationFront (JVP), a mainstream opposition party in Sri Lanka represented inParliament. The movement aims at mobilizing people against state repression,human rights violations against the Tamil minority and the problems faced byIDPs in the North. MPS launched their campaign at a meeting at the Hyde Parkgrounds in Colombo on 13th December 2011, where they also held aprotest calling for the immediate release of the missing activists.
Mr.Weeraraj is also an Executive Committee member of ‘We Are SriLankans’ (WESL), a university student based organization aimed promotingand protecting the rights of the Tamil people in order to build nationalharmony and reconciliation in Sri Lanka. Mr. Weeraraj has campaigned for therelease of Tamil political prisoners and detainees and against human rightsviolations and repression of HRDs and civilians in the North. He also workedclosely with IDPs calling for better infrastructure and livelihoodopportunities for resettled or relocated IDPs in the North.
Mr.Weeraraj has worked extensively on the issue of disappearences in the North andEast. He helped set up committees of Families of the Disappeared in theTrincomalee, Mannar, Vavuniya, Killinochchi and Jaffna Districts. He was themain organizer of the protest campaigns with families of the disappeared inTrincomalee, Vavuniya, Killinochchi, Colombo and Jaffna between May andNovember 2011. The last protest in Jaffna was held on 29th November2011. Mr. Weeraraja has recently visited several places of detention includingthe Bossa Detention Center in the South and the Terrorist InvestigationDepartment (TID) Head Quarters in Colombo, the Welikada Prison in the Colombodistrict and military camps in search of disappeared persons. Through hisefforts he was able to locate two persons who were being held at the BoossaDetention Center and the TID Head Quarters.
Mr. Muruganandan is a close associate ofMr. Weeraraj and has been involved in organizing several protests and campaignsagainst human rights violations including events with the families of thedisappeared. Mr. Muruganandan assisted Mr. Weeraraj in his work for theMovement for People’s Struggle and the WESL. He assisted in their workon disappearances and against unlawful detentions and contributed through hisown resources and local contacts towards the movements activities in Jaffna.Both men were organizing a press conference on 10th December 2011 topublicize the protest by the Movement for People’s Struggle in Colombo on13th December 2011, when they disappeared.
Previous Threats and Attacks
Mr. Weeraraj has faced repeated threats,intimidation and attacks by the military and police in the North due to hishuman rights work and campaigns. He has been warned on several occasions tostop doing human rights work in the North, particularly work on enforceddisappearences and arbitrary detention, which the military considered to beanti-government or political activities.
On 25th March 2011, Mr.Weeraraj was putting up posters in Mannar town, calling on the Government toprovide information on disappeared persons, when he was abducted by a group ofmen who claimed to be army officers. Mr. Weeraraj was blindfolded and heldovernight, believed to be in an army barrack. The men threatened Mr. Weerarajand questioned him about his work. The following morning, Mr. Weeraraj wasblindfolded and brought back to Pesalai Junction in Mannar and released.Although he tried to lodge a complaint with the Mannar police regarding theabduction, the police refused to record his complaint on the ground he wasunable to identify the persons responsible.
On around 10th April 2011,Mr. Weeraraj and a friend were arrested by the Vavuniya Police while they wereputting up posters in Vavuniya about disappearences in the North. The policetore the posters and threatened to shoot Mr. Weeraraj if he tried to put upposters in Vavuniya again.
On 23rd June 2011, Mr. Weerarajhad travelled to Killinochchi to organize a protest for WESL when he and afriend were abducted by officers from the Killinochchi (Depo Junction) ArmyCamp and held in an abandoned ice-cream factory, behind the army camp, andinterrogated for around 6 hours before being released. The military forciblytook a photograph of Mr. Weeraraj before releasing him.
On 14th November 2011, Mr.Weeraraj, along with other activists, was severely beaten by a group ofunidentified thugs at a protest with families of the disappeared in Jaffna,opposite the Jaffna town bus stand at around 11.00 am. The attack took place infull view of the police and the army who failed to intervene and stop theviolence. Mr. Weeraj and several others ran into the house of former parliamentarianMs. Padmini Sithambaranadan for their safety. The gang followed them into thehouse and locked Mr. Weeraraj in a room and beat him severely. Mr. Weeraja wasbadly injured in the attack. A complaint regarding the incident was filed withthe Jaffna Police Station the same day. However no action has been taken todate.
Disappearance on 9th December2011
Mr. Weeraraj travelled to Jaffna on 9thDecember to organize a press conference for the MPS in Jaffna the following day(international human rights day). Mr. Weeraraja and Mr. Muruganandan were lastseen by relatives, leaving Mr. Muruganandan’s house at Avarangal Jaffnaon Mr. Muruganandan’ motorbike (license no NP GT 7852) at around 5.00pm(Sri Lankan time) on 9th December. Both men have been missing sincethen and there is no information regarding their fate or whereabouts to date.
At around 11.00 pm on 9thDecember, Mr. Weeraraj’s father received a number of threatening phonecalls on his mobile phone (no.+94711879124). The callers threatened to killMr. Weeraraja and warned that “either you remove your son from Jaffna orwe will do it for you”. Mr. Weeraraj’s father filed a complaintregarding the threatening calls with the Kosgama Police Station (ColomboDistrict) on 11th December 2011 (CIB 94/133).
Complaints/Action by Family and CivilSociety Groups
Mr. Kugan Muruganadan’s familyfiled a complaint with the Achchuweli Police Station (Jaffna District) on 10thDecember 2011. They were not given a complaint number by the police. Mr. Weeraraj’sfather filed a complaint with the Kosgama police station (Colombo District)regarding the disappearance on 11th December 2011 which was recordedunder Complaint no: CIB 94/133. Mr. Weeraraj’s father also filed acomplaint with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) regardingthe disappearance on 13th December 2011, recorded under Complaintno: LKC/432333.
Parliamentarian Mr Ajith Kumara submitted a writtencomplaint regarding the disappearance to the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence,Mr. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa on 10th December 2011. Mr. Ajith Kumaraalso filed a complaint about the disappearance with the Jaffna police stationon 10th December, recorded under Complaint no: CIB 232/79.
A complaint was filed with the NationalHuman Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (NHRC) regarding the missing activists, byMr. Ajith Kumara on 13th December (Complaint no: HRC/ 33852/ 2011).A further complaint was filed by Mr. Weeraraj’s father to the NHRC on 16thDecember 2011 (Complaint no: H.R.C.3934/11)
Local and international organizations including AmnestyInternational (http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/ASA37/018/2011/en/523cd9d9-a12b-4013-a31a-5e368272d22e/asa370182011en.pdf), the Asian Human Rights Commission ,http://www.humanrights.asia/news/ahrc-news/AHRC-STM-200-2011, the Sri Lanka Human Rights Centre and the Campaign forFree and Fair Elections (CAFFE), and the International network of Sri LankanDiaspora http://www.srilankandiaspora.com/blog/?p=2138, have expressed shock and concern regarding thedisappearences and concern over the safety of the two missing activists.
The Jaffna police told Mr. Ajith KumaraMP, on 10th December 2011, that that the two individuals were not intheir custody. However no action appears to have been taken to date toinvestigate their disappearance. On 14th December, Mr. Ajith Kumaramade a statement in parliament about the disappearance of the two activists.
On 15th December, Cabinet Spokesperson,Minister Keheliya Rambukwella told the media at a Cabinet briefing that‘Mr. Weeraraj and Mr. Muruganandan have not been disappeared, they arethere’. He also said that the two activists had not been detainedunlawfully and if they were being held by the police or military they would beproduced before a Magistrate and dealt with according to the law. This newsitem was carried on Sirasa TV News on 15th December at 7pm; http://www.thesundayleader.lk/2011/12/18/parent-seeks-hrc-intervention-to-find-whereabouts/;http://soundcloud.com/lanka-views/keheliya).
On 14th December, Mr.Muruganandans wife found the motorbike license no NP GT7852, in which Mr.Muruganandan and Mr. Weeraraj were last seen, parked inside the AtchchuveliPolice Station. Mr. Muruganadan’s wife had visited the police station tocollect a copy of her complaint regarding the disappearance. When she inquiredabout the motorbike, the police told her that the bike had been found by theKopai Police on 13th December, parked near a Hindu temple in Kopai.
The families of both Mr. Weeraraj andMr. Muruganandan and WESL and PSM, believe that the Sri Lanka Army isresponsible for the disappearance. The Government has so far failed to providethem with any clear information regarding the two missing men and theirwhereabouts. The family has heard through unofficial sources that Mr. Weerarajand Mr. Muruganandan are being held at an unidentified detention center in theJaffna district but there has been no official confirmation of this fact.
Following the statement by MinisterKeheliya Rambukwella to the media, that the two activists ‘have not beendisappeared, they are there’, their family and colleagues believe thatthe two activists are currently in Government custody and home that they willbe produced before a Magistrate. They call on the Government to providecredible information regarding the whereabouts of Mr. Weeraraj and Mr. Muruganand to treat them according to the law.