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Sri Lanka: Smear campaign and threats against Ms. Nimalka Fernando

Dr. Nimalka Fernando

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Sri Lanka.

Description of the information:
The Observatory has received with great concern information from reliable sources about the smear campaign and threats suffered by Ms. Nimalka Fernando, attorney-at-law, women’s rights activist and President of the International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR) in Sri Lanka. Ms. Fernando was also a convener of the alternative summit to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), which is taking place in Sri Lanka from November 10 to 17, 2013 amid strong criticism of the country’s human rights abuses.
According to the information received, on November 4, 2013, Ms. Nimalka Fernando was defamed on a radio programme called Rata Yana Atha (“the way the country is forging ahead”) on the Commercial Channel of the State-owned Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC).
On that day, the radio show, entitled “Stoning the Sinner Woman”, was presented by Mr. Hudson Samarasinghe, Chairman of the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation, who broadcast fragments of an interview Ms. Fernando had previously granted to HIRU TV on November 3. Ms. Fernando was described as a 59-year old divorced woman who had served 30 different organisations, and “since 1989 carried tales”.
A number of listeners subsequently phoned the radio to react, and some of them threatened Ms. Nimalka Fernando in those terms: We cannot allow persons like Nimalka Fernando to live in this society”; If we do something to them the government will be blamed by the human rights people. We should use a lorry and cause an accident”, “There is something call cleaning in the army. […] We should hand her over to the cleaning system” or “We use insecticides to eliminate the spread of mosquitoes. Some mosquitoes develop a resistance to such spray. These people are like that. We have to find a method to destroy them”. Ms. Fernando was also called a prostitute.
Reportedly, most of the callers were men, and some of them identified themselves as having served the armed forces and retired. Mr. Samarasinghe did not stop the callers in their offensive and violent statements against Ms. Fernando, and even seemed to encourage them.
Subsequently, Ms. Nimalka Fernando lodged a complaint to the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRC-SL) and the Inspector General of Police (IGP), requesting an investigation for criminal offence and violation of her fundamental rights, and also demanding that the tapes be secured for proof together with information of the callers and their telephone numbers.
This is not the first time Ms. Nimalka Fernando has been subjected to a smear campaign in a State media. For instance, in March 2012, Ms. Fernando, along with three other human rights defenders, was accused of being a traitor and working against the interests of the country to obtain “dollars”. In addition, the Minister of Public Relations threatened Ms. Fernando and the other defenders involved to “break their limbs” in public if they were to dare to set foot in the country[1].
The Observatory firmly condemns the death threats and smear campaign against Ms. Nimalka Fernando, and considers it as an attempt to delegitimise her efforts to defend human rights in the country. The Observatory urges the Sri Lankan authorities to guarantee in all circumstances her physical and psychological integrity.
LKA 002 / 1113 / OBS 089
Death threats / Smear campaign
Sri Lanka

November 14, 2013

Background information:
On October 25, 2013, Ms. Maheesha Mudugamuwa of the Island newspaper asked Ms. Nimalka Fernando to comment on three questions: the report of the Health Ministry that indicated that there are over 40,000 sex workers, her views related to abortion and the increase of AIDs patients in Sri Lanka. Among others, Ms. Fernando called for the abolition of abortion laws in Sri Lanka, for safe sex and for promoting a more protective reproductive health approach in Sri Lanka. She also requested the journalist not to use the word prostitution. On October 27, 2013, the journalist wrote her article with the caption “Call for Legalising Prostitution”[2]. Following this article another reporter from the Mawbima (the Nation) asked for a clarification and he too wrote an article with the caption “Legalise Prostitution”. These two newspaper articles became the centrepiece of debates in few newspapers while those for and against initiated a public debate. Several FM channels got Ms. Fernando to clarify her statement and she also had an opportunity to engage in a public debate over one of the FM channels with the Secretary of the JHU (Buddhist monk lead political party in Sri Lanka) since they issued a press statement related to her position, accusing her of destroying culture and traditional norms of Sri Lanka[3]. Several days later, the TV channel Hiru also requested her to give few comments under their segment titled “Hard Talk”.
Action requested:
Please write to the authorities in Sri Lanka, urging them to:
i.        Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Ms. Nimalka Fernando as well as of all human rights defenders in Sri Lanka;
ii.      Order an immediate, thorough, transparent investigation into the facts denounced above in order to identify all those responsible, bring them before an independent tribunal, and apply them the sanctions provided by the law;
iii.     Put an end to any kind of harassment against Ms. Nimalka Fernando and more generally against all human rights defenders in Sri Lanka;
iv.     Conform with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, especially regarding the following Articles:
        Article 1: everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels;
        Article 12.2: the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of his or her rights […];
v.       Ensure in all circumstances the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Sri Lanka.
  •  President Mahinda Rajapakse, Presidential Secretariat, C/ Office of the President, Temple Trees 150, Galle Road, Colombo 3, Sri Lanka, Fax: (+94) 11 472100 / (+94) 11 2446657 / (+94) 11 243 0590, Email: [email protected] / [email protected]
  •  D.M. Jayaratne, Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, No. 58, Sir Ernest De Silva Mawatha, Colombo 07, Sri Lanka. Fax no: (+94) 112 575454. Email: [email protected]
  •  Mr. Keheliya Rambukwella, Minister of Mass Media and Information, 63, Kirulappona Mawatha, Polhengoda, Colombo 05, Sri Lanka. Fax no: +94 11 251 4352. Email: [email protected] 
  • Mr. Sarath Palitha Fernando, Attorney General, Attorney General’s Department. Colombo 12, Sri Lanka. Fax: (+94) 11 2 436421. E-mail: [email protected] 
  •   Inspector General of Police, Police Headquarters, Colombo 01, Sri Lanka. Fax: 00 94 11 2440440. Email: [email protected]
  •   Justice Priyantha R.P. Perera, Chairman, Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka. No: 165 Kynsey Road, Borella, Colombo 8, Sri Lanka. Tel.: (+94) 11 2 696470 Fax: (+94) 11 2 694924. Email: [email protected]
  •  H.E. Mr. Ravinatha P. Aryasinha, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations. 56, rue de Moillebeau, PO Box 436,1211 Geneva 19. Switzerland. Tel.: (+41) (0) 22 91 91 251, (0) 22 91 91 250. Fax: (+41) (0) 2273 49 084. E-mail: [email protected] 
Please also write to the diplomatic missions or embassies of Sri Lanka in your respective country.
Geneva-Paris, November 14, 2013
Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.
The Observatory, an OMCT and FIDH venture, is dedicated to the protection of Human Rights Defenders and aims to offer them concrete support in their time of need.
To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
·       Tel and fax OMCT + 41 (0) 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 29
·       Tel and fax FIDH + 33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80

[1]See Observatory Urgent Appeal LKA 002 / 0312 / OBS 028, issued on March 27, 2012.

[3] For instance, see http://www.ceylontoday.lk/59-46646-news-detail-protecting-the-sex-workers.html


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