Ruki Fernando, a Sri Lankan human rights defender who spent last year on the Protective Fellowship Scheme at the University of York’s Centre for Applied Human Rights, was arrested by the Terrorist Investigation Unit of Sri Lanka police last night.
Friends and colleagues are fearful for the human rights defender’s safety after Ruki and a Catholic priest, Father Praveen, were detained at the Kilinochchi police station under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. The United States Government has said it is concerned about the arrests and detention of several well-known Sri Lankan human rights defenders and activists over the past week.
Fred Carver, Campaign Director at the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice, told Nouse: “Ruki and Fr. Praveen have worked tirelessly to combat extremism and build a more tolerant Sri Lanka. It is bitterly unfair that they should be charged with promoting ethnic discord.
“Ruki, as one of the Sinhalese activists most ready to take up the cause of Tamil victims, and Fr. Praveen, a half-Sinhalese, half-Tamil activist for intercultural understanding, do the exact opposite. And the idea that they, renowned campaigners for peace, could have any links to terrorism is patently absurd.”
Ruki Fernando and Father Praveen were transferred to Vavuniya and brought to Colombo for questioning. The two activists are reportedly being charged with attempting to create ethnic discord among communities and to promote separatism.
Ruki is a vocal human rights activist and Father Praveen is the former Director of the Centre for Peace and Reconciliation in Jaffna, Sri Lanka.
Manori Kalugampitiya, a friend of Ruki’s and a human rights defender currently studying at the University of York, said: “This is one of the most popular ways out for Sri Lanka government. The Sri Lankan police department has a history of torture and murder of detainees kept under their supervision – this same police are involved greatly in extra judicial killings.
“We can’t trust the Sri Lankan police and especially on Prevention of Terrorism Act. Based on this recent development as a prominent human rights defender, Ruki is in a very vulnerable situation right now.”
On 13th March, one of the leading Kilinochchi activists and her daughter were arrested and charged under Sri Lanka’s terrorism laws. Their crime was protesting and demanding to know the whereabouts of Sri Lanka’s thousands of those disappeared.
Professor Paul Gready, Director of the Centre for Applied Human Rights, said: “The attention that Ruki Fernando’s arrest has received internationally is testimony to his integrity and standing as a human rights defender.
“We join the chorus of people calling for information about his whereabouts and treatment, and for his unconditional release.”
A third year English Literature student said: “I met Ruki first in 2012 and we’ve been in contact ever since. He is an inspiring, humble individual, who, despite his tireless drive and commitment to human rights in Sri Lanka, always wears a smile. I am naturally very concerned for his safety.”
On the University’s website, Ruki had written: “Like most human rights defenders in Sri Lanka, my work had put me at risk, particularly due to the work in war affected north and east of Sri Lanka, sensitive individual cases I was dealing with, reports and articles I wrote, interviews I gave and international advocacy I was engaged in.”
Sri Lanka was appointed as head of the Commonwealth, after hosting the Heads of Government Meeting last November.