Press release / 23.03.2014
The Free Media Movement deplores the Magistrate order issued on Human Rights Defenders ( HRDs) Ruki Fernando and Fr, Praveen Mahesan restricting their right to speak. The freedom of expression is a fundamental right recognized by the constitution of Sri Lanka and enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It can only be restricted under specific situations.
Ruki Fernando and Fr, Praveen Mahesan, were arrested at 10.30 pm (Sri Lanka time) on 16th March 2014 in Kilinochchi, they were subjected to lengthy interrogations by the Terrorist Investigative Division (TID) of the Sri Lanka Police and released without any charges on 18th March at 1.30 pm (Sri Lanka time). 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 HRDs were kept in TID custody for 52 hours.
The order issued by the Colombo Magistrate on Riki Fernando and Fr. Praveen Mahesan 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.” (This is not a legal translation. Original text is in Sinhala language)
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. There are no Emergency Regulations declared in Sri Lanka today.
On the other hand the government officials are freely making false and unsubstantiated statements regarding the arrest and release of HRDs Ruki Fernando and Fr. Praveen Mahesan. On 19th March Foreign Ministry of Sri Lanka issuing a statement said: “Mr. Ruki Fernando and Father Praveen Mahesan who had been taken into Police custody on 16th March 2014, due to their presence in the crime scene where investigations have been ongoing, into attempts to revive the LTTE in Sri Lanka by certain operatives, were produced before the Colombo Magistrate Court on 18th March and released on bail.” The statement is factually wrong. Ruki Fernando and Fr. Praveen were released without charges and not given bail.
This judicial order in fact has prevented them form speaking about not only their arrest but also all most all human rights violations taking place in the North of Sri Lanka. As reported by media and human rights organisations both HRDs were on a fact finding mission in Darmapuram, Kilinochchi district on the arrest of female HRD Jayakumari Balendran and her 13 year old daughter Vibushika Balendran.
The definition of phrase of ‘the investigation being conducted by the TID related to you‘ in the judicial order could include any human rights situation. In practice, given the suppressive political situation prevails in Sri Lanka today, this order has completely silenced both HRDs.
This order was taken after Ruki Fernando was interviewed by the CNN and the BBC Sinhala service. In both interviews Ruki Fernando rejected the charges levelled by authorities linking them to revival of terrorism. It is clear the authorities want to censor both HRDs in order to suppress the other side of the story.
The FMM calls on the authorities to lift the ban imposed on HRDs Ruki Fernando and Fr. Praveen Mahesan. At the same time the FMM warns that imposing such restrictions could be a bad precedence, which will become another weapon in the arsenal for further suppressing already chained freedom of expression rights in Sri Lanka.