Solidarity

ප්‍රගීත් එක්නැළිගොඩ පැහැර ගෙන දස වසරකි: සත්‍යය සහ යුක්තිය සෙවූ ගමනක පිය සටහන්

First published on 24th January 2020 at https://sinhala.srilankabrief.org/2020/01/%e0%b6%b4%e0%b7%8a%e2%80%8d%e0%b6%bb%e0%b6%9c%e0%b7%93%e0%b6%ad%e0%b7%8a-%e0%b6%91%e0%b6%9a%e0%b7%8a%e0%b6%b1%e0%b7%90%e0%b7%85%e0%b7%92%e0%b6%9c%e0%b7%9c%e0%b6%a9-%e0%b6%b4%e0%b7%90%e0%b7%84%e0%b7%90/

අද 2020 ජනවාරි 24 දින මාධ්‍යවේදී සහ කාටූන් ශිල්පී ප්‍රගීත් එක්නැළිගොඩ අතුරුදහන් වී වසර 10 කි. ඔහුගේ බිරිඳ වන සන්ධ්‍යා එක්නැළිගොඩ සහ තරුණ පුතුන් දෙදෙනාගේ සත්‍යය සහ යුක්තිය උදෙසා වසර 10 ක අරගලය ද අද දින සනිටුහන් කරයි.

අපරාධ විමර්ශන දෙපාර්තමේන්තුව (සීඅයිඩී) හෝාගම මහේස්ත්‍රාත් අධිකරණයට කළ විමර්ශන වාර්තාවල දැක්වෙන්නේ එක්නැළිගොඩ කොළඹ දිස්ත්‍රික්කයේ රාජගිරියේ සිට හමුදා බුද්ධි අංශ නිලධාරීන් විසින් පැහැරගෙන ගොස් පොළොන්නරුව දිස්ත්‍රික්කයේ ගිරිතලේ හමුදා බුද්ධි කඳවුරට රැගෙන ගිය බවයි. එහිදී රාජපක්ෂ පවුලට, ජනාධිපති ගෝඨභය සහ හිටපු ජනාධිපති මහින්ද ඇතුළත්, සම්බන්ධ පොතක් ගැන ඔහුගෙන් ප්‍රශ්න කර තිබුණි. යුද හමුදා බුද්ධි අංශ සාමාජිකයින් ගණනාවක් සැකකරුවන් ලෙස අත්අඩංගුවට ගෙන ඇප මත මුදා හැර තිබේ. යුද හමුදාව අධිකරණයට, අසත්‍ය තොරතුරු සපයන බවත්, සාක්ෂි සන්තකයේ තිබෙන බව ප්‍රතික්ෂේප කරන බවත්, සාක්ෂි ඉදිරිපත් කිරීම ප්‍රමාද මින් විමර්ශන සහ අධිකරණ නොමඟ යවන බවත් රහස් පොලීසිය මෙන්ම නීතිපති දෙපාර්තමේන්තුව වෙනුවෙන් නඩුව මෙහෙයවන රජයේ නීතිවරයා දිගින් දිගටම කියා සිටි තිබේ. විමර්ශන සඳහා හමුදාවේ සහයෝගීතාවයේ අඩුවත් සහ සාක්ෂිකරුවන් බිය ගැන්වීම ද ඔවුන් විසින් වාර්තා කර තිබුණි. 2010 ජනවාරි 25 වන දින ගිරිතලේ කඳවුරේදී එක්නැළිගොඩව දැක ප්‍රශ්න කළ ප්‍රධාන සාක්ෂිකරුවෙක්, ගිරිතලේ කඳවුරෙන් තම ජීවිතයට හානි කිරීමේ කුමන්ත්‍රණයක් ඇතැයි පොීසියට පැමිණිලි කර තිබේ.

නඩු විභාගය

2010 ජනවාරි සිදු වූ පැහැරගෙන යාම පිළිබඳ නඩු විභාගය 2019 නොවැම්බරයේදී කොළඹ ත්‍රීපුද්ගල විශේෂ මහාධිකරණකදී ආරම්භ විය. විත්තිකරුවන් නව දෙනෙකුට එරෙහිව නඩු විාගය කෙරීගෙන යයි. ඊට ස්වාධීනව, 2009 දී ප්‍රගීත් පැහැරගෙන යාම සම්බන්ධයෙන් 2019 දෙසැම්බර් මාසයේදී හෝමගම මහාධිකරණයේ නඩු විභාගයක් ද ආරම්භ විය.

සුගීර්දරාජන්

ප්‍රගීත් පැහැර ගැනීමට වසර හතරකට පෙර, 2006 දී, ජනවාරි 24 වන දින, එස්එස්ආර් ලෙස ජනප්‍රිය ව සිටි දෙමළ භාෂා දිනපතා සුදර් ඔලී පුවත් පත වෙනුවෙන් සේවය කළ අර්ධකාලීන ප්‍රාදේශීය මාධ්‍යවේදියෙකු වූ සුගර්රාජන්, ඝාතනය කරන ලදී. ප්‍රගීත් මෙන් ඔහු දරුවන් දෙදෙනෙකුගේ පියෙකි. ඔහුට වෙඩි තබන ලද්දේ නැගෙනහිර ආණ්ඩුකාර කාර්යාලයේ සිට මීටර් 100 කට වඩා අඩු දුරකින් සහ ඔහුගේ නිවසේ සිට මීටර් 200 ක් පමණ දුරක දී ය. ඝාතනයට පෙර, එස්එස්ආර්ට අනාරක්ෂිත බවක් දැනී ඇති අතර වෙනත් ස්ථානයක ආරක්ෂිත නිවසක් සොයා ගැනීමට අවශ්‍ය වී තිබුණි.

එවැනි නිවසක් හදුනාගෙන තිබුණත් ඔහු පදිංචියට යාමට පෙර ඔහු මරා දමන ලදී. ඊට හේතුව, 2006 ජනවාරි 2 වන දින ත්‍රිකුණාමලය මුහුදු වෙරළේ දී ඝාතනය කරන ලද තරුණයන් 5 දෙනෙකුගේ ඡායාරූපයන් ය. එම ඝාතන දැන් “ත්‍රිකුණාමළයේ 5 දෙනාගේ නඩුව” ලෙස හැඳින්වේ. ඝාතනයෙන් පසු කිසිවෙකු, තරුණයින්ගේ පවුල් පවා මෘත ශරීරාගාරය වෙත යාම වැළැක්වීමට හමුදාව උත්සාහ කළ නමුත් එස්එස්ආර් ජනමාධ්‍යවේදියකු ලෙස එම අයිතිය ලබා ගත්තේ ය. ඔහු ගත් ඡායාරූප 2006 ජනවාරි 4 වන දින “සුදර් ඔලි” පුවත්පතෙහි පළ විය. ඒවායේ පැහැදිලිව හිසට තබන ලද වෙඩි පහරවල් දක්නට තිබුණි. එම නිසා තරුනයින්ට වෙඩි තබා ඝාතනය කර නොමැති බවට බලධාරීන් කළ ප්‍රකාශ බිඳ වැටුණි.

ඔහුගේ ඝාතනයට පෙර දින, ත්‍රිකුණාමල කලාපයේ ඊපීඩීපී ඇතුළු දෙමළ පැරාමිලිටරි කන්ඩායම් විසින් සිදුකරන ලද අපයෝජනයන් පිළිබඳව ද එස්එස්ආර් දීර් වශයෙන් වාර්තා කර තිබූ බව බව “දේශසීමා නැති වාර්තාකරුවන්” (ආර්එස්එෆ්) සංවිධානය සඳහන් කර තිබේ. ත්‍රිකුණාමලයේ එස්එස්ආර්ගේ මිතුරු මාධ්‍යවේදියෙකු පැවසුවේ ප්‍රවෘත්තිය ඇසූ විට තමා ද වහාම ඝාතනය සිදු වූ ස්ථානයට පැමිණ ගිය නමුත් පසුව, දේහයන් බැලීමට රෝහලට හෝ අවමංගල්‍ය කටයුතු සඳහා පවා යාමට බියක් ඇති වූ බවය.

දින දෙකකට පසු, ඔහුට “සතුරා විනාශ කරන බලවේගය” නම් කණ්ඩායමකින් ලිපියක් ලැබුණි. “න්නි කොටින්ටසහාය ලබා දීමට තැත් කරන බවට එම ලිපියෙන් ඔහුට චෝදනා කරමින් කියා තිබුණේ, එවැනි පුද්ගලයින් තිදෙනෙකු හඳුනාගෙන ඇති බවත්, ඉන් එක් පුද්ගලයෙකු වූ සුගර්රාජන් තීන්දුව ලබා දී ක්‍රියාත්මක කර ඇති බවත් . තව ද ඔහු දෙවැන්නා වනු ඇති බැවින් ඔහු දින ගණන් කරමිින් ජීවත් වන ලෙසත් අනතුරු හඟවා තිබුණි.

මරණ තර්ජන

2020 ජනවාරි 23 වන දින, මඩකලපුවේ නැගෙනහිර දිස්ත්‍රික්කයේ දෙමළ මාධ්‍යවේදින් හත් දෙනෙකුට මාර තර්ජනයක් එල්ල විය. ඔවුහු වහාම පොලිස් පැමිණිල්ලක් ඉදිරිපත් කළ නමුත් පොලිසිය කිසිදු ආරක්ෂාවක් ලබා දුන්නේ නැත. අදහස් ප්‍රකාශ කිරීමේ නිදහසට තර්ජනයක් වන සිදුවීම් 30 ක් පමණ 2019 දී මෙරමාධ්‍යයන්හි වාර්තා වී ඇත. ඒ අතර මාධ්‍යවේදීන් හා වේදිනියන්, මාධ්‍ය සේවකයින්, ලේඛකයින්, කලාකරුවන් අත්අඩංගුවට ගැනීම, ප්‍රශ්න කිරීම, පහරදීම්, තර්ජන, බිය ගැන්වීම් සහ සීමා කිරීම් සහ සහ මාධ්‍ය කාර්යාල වැටලීම් ද වෙයි.

එසේම 2019 දී හිටපු ජනාධිපතිවරයාගේ පාලන සමයේදී රජය සතු රූපවාහිනි නාලිකාව වන “රූපවහිනි” ආරක්ෂක අමාත්‍යාංශය යටතට ගත් බව වාර්තා වූ අතර අයිසීසීපීආර් පනත ලේඛකයින්ට එරෙහිව භාවිත කරමින් ඉදිරියටත් එසේ කරන බවට තර්ජනයන් ද කෙරුණි. ජනාධිපතිවරණයෙන් පසු දැන් ස්වයං වාරණය නැවත මතුව තිබේ.

නව අභියෝග

ප්‍රගීත්ට යුක්තිය සොයා යාමේහි යම් ප්‍රගතියක් සිදුවී ඇතත්, මේ වන විට ආරම්භ වී ඇති නඩු විභාග දෙක තුළින් ලබා ඇති ප්‍රගතිය නොනැසී පවතිනු ඇත්දැයි අවිනිශ්චිතතාවයක් සහ බියක්ඇති වී තිබේ. නඩු විභාගය ආරම්භ කිරීමට හැකිවන පරිදි හෝමගම උසාවි වෙත විමර්ශන සහ වාර්තා ඉදිරිපත් කළ රහස් පොලිසියෙහි 2019 නොවැම්බරයේ පැවති ජනාධිපතිවරණයෙන් පසුව, විශාල වෙනස්කම් සිදු කර තිබේ. රහස් පොලසියේ ඉහළ පෙළේ විමර්ශකයෙකු රටින් පලා ගොස් ඇති අතර රහස් පොලසියේ අධ්‍යක්ෂකවරයා මාරු කර යවන ලදී. ජනාධිපතිවරණ ප්‍රචාරක ව්‍යාපාරය තුළ දී වත්මන් ජනාධිපතිවරයා සියලු රණවිරුවන් නිදහස් කරන බවට ප්‍රතිඥා දී තිබුණි.

එක්නැළිගොඩ හා සසඳන විට, එක්නැළිගොඩ අතුරුදහන් වීමට වසර හතරකට පෙර ඝාතනය කරන ලද සුගර්රාජන් පිළිබඳ ජාතික හා ජාත්‍යන්තර උනන්දුවක් ඇත්තේ අල්ප වශයෙන් බව කිව යුතු ය. ඉදින්, විමර්ශනයන්හි ප්‍රගතියක් සහ අත්අඩංගුවට ගැනීමක් නොමැති වීම පුදුමයට කරුණක් නොවේ. වෙනත් මාධ්‍යවේදීන් ඝාතනය කිරීම් සහ දස දහස් ගණනක් ශ්‍රී ලාංකිකයන් අතුරුදහන් වීම සම්බන්ධයෙන් මෙන්ම සුගර්රාජන් වෙනුවෙන් යුක්තිය ඉටුවනු වනු ඇතියි සිතීම උගහට .

ගෝටාභය ප්‍රකාශය

2020 ජනවාරි 17 වන දින, නව ජනාධිපතිවරයා, හිටපු අගමැති රනිල් වික්‍රමසිංහගේ අඩිපාරේ යමින්, අතුරුදහන් වූ ශ්‍රී ලාංකිකයන් මියගොස් ඇති බවට අනියම්, සංවේදී හා වගකීම් විරහිත ප්‍රකාශක් ළේ ය. එමගින් පවුල්වලට එම අතුරුදහන් වූ අය මිය ගියේ කෙසේ ද, කොහි දී , කවදා ද සහ කාගේ අතින් ද යන්න පිළිබඳ විස්තර සැපයෙන්නේ නැත. ඔහු, නව ජනාධිපති ගෝඨාභය රාජපක්ෂ, අතුරුදහන් වූවන්ගේ පවුල්වල උත්සාහයන් නොසලකා හරින බවක් පෙනේ. සමහර දෙමළ පවුල් වසර තුනකට ආසන්න කාලයක් තිස්සේ උතුරේ වීදි දෙපස උද්ඝෝෂනයන්හි යෙදී සිටිති, තවත් සමහරු උතුරේ සහ දකුණේ අධිකරණ ක්‍රියාමාර්ගයන්ට එළඹ ඇත. අයෙක් හිටපු ජනාධිපති ඇතුළු දේශපාලන නායකයන් සමඟ සාකච්ඡා පැවැත්වූහ. මේ ජනයා අතුරුදහන් වූ ඔවුන්ගේ පුතුන්, දියණියන්, සහෝදරයන්, සහෝදරියන්, ස්වාමිපුරුෂයන් සහ මුනුබුරු මිනිබිරියන් ගැන සත්‍යය දැන ගැනීම සඳහා විවිධ මුල පිරීම්වල නිරත වූහ.

ජනාධිපතිවරයා තොරාගෙන ඇත්තේ මේ බව අතුරුදහන්වූවන්ගේ පවුල් වලට නොව එක්සත් ජාතීන්ගේ මෙරට නේවාසික සම්බන්ධීකාරකවරියට පැවසීමට . “ඔවුන්ගෙන් වැඩි දෙනෙක් එල්ටීටීඊය විසින් බලහත්කාරයෙන් අල්ලාගෙන හෝ බලහත්කාරයෙන් බඳවාගෙන තිබෙනවා” යනුවෙන් ද ජනාධිපතිවරයා පවසයි. එල්ටීටීඊය බොහෝ දෙනෙකු රැගෙන ගොස් ඇති බව සත්‍යයකි, නමුත් අතුරුදහන් වූ බොහෝ අයගේ පවුල් සිය පවුලේ සාමාජිකයන් සහ ඔවුන් දන්නා අනෙක් අය යුද්ධය අවසානයේ යටත් වීමෙන් පසු හමුදාව විසින් රැගෙන නු පෞද්ගලිකව දැක ඇත. මෙළෙස ගෙන ගිය අය අතරට ළමයින් සහ කතෝලික පූජකවරයෙක් ද ඇතුළත් ය. ඔවුන් මේ බව ප්‍රකාශ කර ඇත්තේ ගෝඨාභයගේ සහෝදරයා වන මහින්ද රාජපක්ෂ විසින් පත් කරන ලද ජනාධිපති විමර්ශන කොමිෂන් සභාවලට සහ ශ්‍රී ලංකා අධිකරණවල දී. ‍

මරණ සහතික නිකුත් කරන බවට ජනාධිපතිවරයාගේ ප්‍රකාශය ද කණස්සල්ලට හේතු වෙයි. මන්ද යත්, පවුල්වලට මරණ සහතික ලබා ගැනීමට අවශ්‍ය වන්නේ, තම පවුලේ සාමාජිකයා මියගොස් ඇති බව ස්ථිරවම දැන ගැනීමෙන් පසුව නාසා ය. එනම් සිරුර දැකීමෙන්, දේහයේ ඉතිරි කොටස් හි අනන්‍යතාවය තහවුරු කර ගැනීමෙන් හෝ මිය ගියේ කෙසේ දැයි දැන ගැනීමෙන් පසුව ය. නාධිපතිවරයාගේ එකී ප්‍රකාශය, 2010, අංක 19 දරන මරණ ලියා පදිංචි කිරීමේ ( තාවකාලික විධි විධාන) පනත, අතුරුදහන්වූවන්ගේ ඉරණම සම්බන්ධයෙන් කරුණූ තහවුරුවන තුරු නොපැමිණීමේ සහතික (“certificates of absence”) ලබා දීමට හැකිවන සේ 2016 දී කරන ලද සංසෝධනය ආපසු හැරවීමකි.

බලාපොරොත්තුවේ ලකුණූ

මෙම අඳුරු වාතාවරණය තුළ, බලාපොරොත්තුවේ සංඥා ද තිබේ. ජනමාධ්‍යවේදීහු සහ වෙනත් අය අසීරු සත්‍යයන් හෙළිදරව් කරති. අසීරු ප්‍රශ්න අසීමින් බලවත් හා ධනවතුන්ට අභියෝග කිරීනඅතරම සහ දූෂණය, හමුදාකරණය, පාරිසරික ගැටලු, ආගමික මර්දනය සහ අතීත සහ අඛණ්ඩව සිදුවන අපයෝජනයන් දිගටම හෙළිදරව් කරති. ජනමාධ්‍ය නිදහස් සංවිධාන විසින් ජනවාරි 28 වන දින වාර්ෂිකව පැවැත්වෙන “කළු ජනවාරි” සැමරුම මෙවර ද සංවිධානය කර තිබේ. භීතීන් නොතකා, අභියෝග කිරීමත් සහ විරුද්ධකම් පෑමත් ජීවමාන . එය පෝෂණය කළ යුතුය.

ප්‍රගීත් එක්නෙලිගොඩගේ බිරිඳ, සන්ධ්‍යා එක්නැළිගොඩ යනු ප්‍රතික්ෂේප කිරීම, විරුද්ධකම් දැක්වීම සහ යුක්තිය පිළිබඳ අපේක්ෂාවන්ගේ නිරූපකයකි. බල රහිතයන්ගේ දුර්වලතා ජය ගන්නා, අවදානමට ලක් වූවන්ගේ බලයේ සංකේතයකි.

ඇය තමාට හා දරුවන්ට එල්ල වූ මරණීය තර්ජන, බිය ගැන්වීම්, සත්‍යය සහ යුක්තිය ලබා ගැනීමට දරණ ප්‍රයත්නයන් අපකීර්තියට පතකිරීම යනාදිය නෙබා නැගී සිටී. ඇයට එරෙහිව පොදු ස්ථානවල සතුරු පෝස්ටර් අලවා තිබුණි. අඇය අන්තර්ජාලයෙහි දරුණු ප්‍රහාරයන්ට ලක් ව ඇත. 2012 දී පමණ නීතිපති දෙපාර්තමේන්තුවේ නියෝජ්‍ය සොලිසිටර් ජෙනරාල්වරියකු විසින් උසාවියේදී ඇය තම සැමියා වෙනුවෙන් සත්‍යය සහ යුක්තිය සෙවීම රට අපකීර්තියට පත් කරන බව අඟවමින් දැඩි ප්‍රශ්න කිරීම් වලට ලක් කරනු ලැබුවාය.

වධහිංසාවට එරෙහි එක්සත් ජාතීන්ගේ කමිටුවේ එවකට රජයේ නියෝජිත කණ්ඩායමේ ප්‍රධානියා වූ මොහාන් පීරිස් මහතා ප්‍රගීත් විදේශගතව සිටින බව ප්‍රකාශ කළ විට, සන්ධ්‍යා කමිටුවට ලිපියක් යවමින් ඒ බව වැඩිදුර පරීක්ෂා කිරීම සඳහා ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේදී පීරිස් මහතා උසාවියේදී සාක්ෂි දීමට කැවිය යුත බවට බල කළා ය. යුද හමුදා බුද්ධි අංශවල (සහ ඔවුන්ගේ ආධාරකරුවන්ගේ) සැකකරුවන්ගේ සහ චූදිතයන්ගේ සතුරුකම් නොතකා ඇය 100 වතාවකට වඩා සමහර විට තනිවම, උසාවියේ පෙනී සිට ඇත. බෞද්ධ භික්ෂුවක් වන බොදු බාල සේනා නායක ගලබොඩ අත්තෙ ඥණසාර හිමි විසින් ඇයට උසාවිය තුළදී තර්ජනය කළ විට ඇය පොලසියට පැමිණිලි කළ අතර පසුව නඩුව “සමථයකට” පත් කිරීමට ගත් උත්සාහයන්ට විරුද්ධ විය. එවකට සිටි මහේස්ත්‍රාත්වරයා ද එදින උසාවියේ දී භික්ෂුවගේ හැසිරීම ගැන පැමිණිලි කළ අතර භික්ෂුව නඩු දෙකම සම්බන්ධයෙන් වරදකරු කරනු ලැබීය. හිටපු ජනාධිපතිවරයා එකී භික්ෂුවට සමාව දුන් නමුත් සන්ධ්‍යා දැන් එම සමාව දීම අධිකරණය හමුවෙහි අභියෝගය කර තිබේ.

සන්ධ්‍යා නම් උදා තරුව

මවක් සහ බිරිඳක් ලෙස සන්ධ්‍යා එවකට ජනාධිපති මහින්ද රාජපක්ෂගේ බිරිඳට ලිපියක් යවමින් ප්‍රගීත් සොයා ගැනීමට ජනාධිපති ආර්යාවගේ මැදිහත්වීම ඉල්ලා සිටියේය. ඇය තම යෞවන පුතා සමඟ පාර්ලිමේන්තුවෙන් පිටත සිටගෙන පාර්ලිමේන්තු මන්ත්‍රීවරුන්ට අභියාචනා බෙදා දුන්නාය. ඇය සහ ඇගේ පුතා ගාලු සාහිත්‍ය උළෙලට ගොස් ලේඛකයින්ට ආයාචනා කළහ. ඇය කොළඹ බොහෝ විරෝධතා හා සුපරීක්ෂාකාරී සංවිධාන සංවිධානය කිරීමට මූලිකත්වය ගත්තාය. විමර්ශකයින්, නීතිපති දෙපාර්තමේන්තුව සහ උසාවි සමඟ හමුදාව සහයෝගය නොදක්වන බව පැහැදිලි වූ විට, සන්ධ්‍යා එවකට යුධ හමුදාපතිවරයා හමුවී උපකාර ඉල්ලා සිටියේය.

සත්‍යය සහ යුක්තිය සෙවීම සඳහා ජාත්‍යන්තර සහයෝගය ජනනය කිරීම සඳහා ඇය රාජ්‍ය තාන්ත්‍රිකයින්, එක්සත් ජාතීන්ගේ නිලධාරීන්, ජාත්‍යන්තර සංවිධාන සහ විදේශීය මාධ්‍යවේදීන් හමුවූවා ය. ඇය ඔහුගේ ලිපි සහ කාටූන් සමඟ පොත් ප්‍රකාශයට පත් කිරීමට ප්‍රගීත්ගේ මිතුරන් හා අදාළ පුද්ගලයින් සමඟ වැඩ කළාය. ඇයගේ අරගලවලදී අතුරුදහන් වූ දෙමළ පවුල්වලට සහයෝගය දැක්වූ ඇය, උතුරේ විරෝධතාවලට පැමිණ ඔවුන් හා එක්වීම සහ ඇයගේම වැඩ වලදී ඔවුන්ගේ අරගල ගැන කතා කළා ය. මේ සියල්ල සමඟම, අතුරුදහන් වූ පියාගේ හිඩැස පිරවීමට උත්සාහ කරමින් ඇගේ යෞවන පුතුන් දෙදෙනා, දැන් තරුණ වැඩිහිටියන් බවට ඇති දැඩි කිරීමට ද ඇයට සිදු විය.

මම කවදාවත් ප්‍රගීත්ව පෞද්ගලිකව දැන නොසිටියෙමි. එසේ වතුදු පසුගිය අවුරුදු දහය තුළ මම සන්ධ්‍යා සමඟ සැලකිය යුතු කාලයක් ගත කර ඇත්තෙමි. බොහෝ විට මම ඇය සමඟ වීදි පහන් පූජා, විරෝධතා, ආගමික උත්සව කොළඹ දී පමණක් නොව උතුරේ ද අතුරුදහන් වූ දෙමළ පවුල් සමඟ උසාවිවල දී , සම්මන්ත්‍රණවල දී , රැස්වීම්වල දී එක්සත් ජාතීන්ගේ සංවිධානයේ සහ රාජ්‍ය තාන්ත්‍රිකයන් සමඟ විදේශීය මාධ්‍යවේදීන් සමඟ ද සම්බන්ධ වී ඇත්තෙමි. සමහර විට ඇය වෙනුවෙන් පරිවර්ථනයන්ළෙමි. ඒ වගේම ඇගේ ගෙදර දී.

සන්ධ්‍යා සමඟ වසර දහයක් තිස්සේ ඇසුරු කිරීම ඉතා අභියෝගාත්මක ය. ඇගේ ශක්තිය, ක්‍රියාශීලීත්වය හා නිතය ලෙස කැරෙන මුලපිරීම්, ධෛර්යය, අධිෂ්ඨානය ගමන් කිරීම දුෂ්කර තරම් . එසේ වෙතත් මේ වනාහී ක්‍රියාකාරිකයෙකු ලෙස මා ලද වඩාත්ම තෘප්තිය ලබා දෙන සහ ප්‍රබෝධමත් අත්දැකීමක් විය.

(ඉංග්‍රිසියෙන් ලියන ලද ලිපියක සිංහලානුවාදය ශ්‍රී ලංකා බ්‍රීෆ් වෙතිනි)

எக்னலிகொட, சுகிர்தராஜன், ஜனவரி 24

First published on 28th January 2020 at https://maatram.org/?p=8309

பல வருடங்களாக இலங்கையில் சுதந்திர ஊடக இயக்கம் மற்றும் சுதந்திரமாக கருத்துகளை வெளிப்படுத்துபவர்கள் ஜனவரி மாதத்தை “கறுப்பு ஜனவரி” என்று பெயரிட்டுள்ளனர். ஜனவரி மாதத்தில் பல்வேறு ஊடகவியலாளர்கள் கொல்லப்பட்டமை, காணாமல் ஆக்கப்பட்டமை, துன்புறுத்தல்கள் மட்டுமன்றி ஊடக நிறுவனங்களுக்கு தாக்குதல்கள் நடாத்தப்பட்டமை அதிக அளவில் இடம்பெற்றதாலேயே கறுப்பு ஜனவரி என்று குறிப்பிடுகிறார்கள்.

ஜனவரி 24ஆம் திகதி அத்தகையதொரு கறுப்பு நாளாகும். திருகோணமலையை வதிவிடமாக கொண்ட தமிழ் ஊடகவியலாளராகிய சுப்ரமணியம் சுகிர்தராஜன் 2006ஆம் ஆண்டு ஜனவரிள மாதம் 24ஆம் திகதியன்று சுட்டுக் கொல்லப்பட்டார். கொழும்பை வதிவிடமாக கொண்ட சிங்கள கேலிச்சித்திர (கார்டூன்) கலைஞரும் ஊடகவியலாளருமான பிரகீத் எக்னலிகொட 2010ஆம் ஆண்டு ஜனவரி மாதம் 24ஆம் திகதி காணாமலாக்கப்பட்டார்.

நினைவிலிருந்து மங்கிவிடும் பத்திரிகையாளரின் கொலை: சுப்ரமணியம் சுகிர்தராஜன்

SSR என்று அழைக்கப்படும் பிரபலமான ஊடகவியலாளரான சுகிர்தராஜன் தமிழ் மொழி தினசரி சுடர் ஒளி பத்திரிகையின் பகுதி நேர மாகாண மட்டத்திலான பத்திரகையாளராக பணிபுரிந்தார். இவர் இரண்டு குழந்தைகளின் தந்தையாவார். SSR இன் நண்பரும் ஊடகவியலாளருமான ஒருவர் SSR சுட்டுக் கொலை செய்யப்பட்ட இடத்திற்கு என்னை அழைத்துச்சென்றார். அது கிழக்கு மாகாண ஆளுநர் அலுவலகத்திலிருந்து 100 மீற்றர் தொலைவிலும், ஆளுநர் வீட்டிலிருந்து 200 மீற்றர் தொலைவிலும் இருந்தது. கடந்த சில தினங்களாக தான் பாதுகாப்பற்ற தன்மையை உணர்வதாகவும், அதனால்தான் தனக்கு பாதுகாப்பான வீடொன்றை தேடிக்கொண்டிருப்பதாகவும் ஒரு ஊடகவியலாளரான என்னுடைய நண்பர் ஒருவர் கூறினார். உண்மையில் வீடொன்று கிடைக்கப்பெற்றபோதிலும் அங்கு செல்வதற்கு முன்பே சுகிர்தராஜன் கொலை செய்யப்பட்டுவிட்டார். நான் பேசிய அனைவரும் தெரிவித்தது யாதெனில் அவரது படுகொலைக்கு முக்கிய காரணம் “திருக்கோணமலை 5 வழக்கு” எனப்படும் பிரசித்தமான 2006ஆம் ஆண்டு ஜனவரி 2ஆம் திகதி திருக்கோணமலை கடற்கரையில் கொலை செய்யப்பட்ட 5 இளைஞர்களின் புகைப்படத்தை எடுத்ததாலாகும். எனக்குத் தெரிந்த SSR இன் இன்னுமொரு நண்பர், ஜனவரி மாதம் 2ஆம் திகதி அதிகாலை SSR தமக்கு சவக்கிடங்கில் வைக்கப்பட்டுள்ள திருக்கோணமலை கடற்கரையில் கொலை செய்யப்பட்ட 5 இளைஞர்களின் புகைப்படங்களை எடுக்க விரும்புவதாகக் கூறியுள்ளார்.

எனக்குத் தெரிந்த அந்த நண்பர் SSR ஐ புகைப்பட கருவியுடன் வைத்தியசாலையில் கொண்டுசேர்த்துள்ளார். அவரைப் பொறுத்தவரையில் இராணுவம் எவரையும் குறிப்பாக, குடும்ப அங்கத்தவர்களை கூட சவக்கிடங்கிற்கு சென்று சடலங்களை பார்ப்பதற்கு அனுமதி வழங்கவில்லை. ஆனால், SSR பிடிவாதமாக சென்று படம் பிடித்துள்ளார். அவர் எடுத்த புகைப்படங்கள் 2006ஆம் ஆண்டு ஜனவரி 4ஆம் திகதி சுடர் ஒளி பத்திரிகையில் வெளியாகியுள்ளது. இளைஞர்கள் சுட்டுக்கொலை செய்யப்படாத வகையில் வெளியாகியிருந்த புகைப்படங்களை கேள்விக்குட்படுத்தும் வண்ணம் அவர்களின் உடலில் துப்பாக்கி சூட்டு அடையாளங்கள் காணப்படும் புகைப்படங்களை SSR எடுத்திருந்தார். இதன் மூலம் இளைஞர்கள் சுட்டு கொலை செய்யப்படவில்லை என்ற கருத்தை மறுத்தனர். எல்லைகளற்ற ஊடகவியலாளர் அமைப்பு குறிப்பிட்டுள்ளதன் படி, அவர் கொலை செய்யப்படுவதற்கு முதல் நாள் திருகோணமலை பிராந்தியத்தின் ஈ.பி.டி.பி. உட்பட நாடாளுமன்ற உறுப்பினர்களின் துன்புறுத்தல்கள், சித்திரவதைகள் நடவடிக்கைகள் தொடர்பாக அறிக்கையிட்டுள்ளார்.

திருகோணமலையை வதிவிடமாக கொண்ட SSR இன் ஊடகவியலாளர் நண்பர் ஒருவர் தனக்கும் SSRக்கும் இடையிலான தொடர்பு பற்றியும் அவர் கொலை செய்யப்பட்டதற்கு பின்னர் உள்ள சூழ்நிலை பற்றியும் என்னுடன் பேசினார். SSR அவர்களின் கொலை சம்பவம் தெரிந்த உடனேயே தன்னிச்சையாக அவர் கொலை செய்யப்பட்ட இடத்திற்குச் சென்றதாகக் கூறினார். ஆனாலும், பின்னர் அவரின் உடலைப் பார்க்கவோ, இறுதி சடங்கில் கலந்துக்கொள்வதற்கோ, வைத்தியசாலைக்குச் செல்வதற்கோ தமக்குப் பயமாக இருந்ததாகக் கூறினார். இரண்டு நாட்களுக்குப் பிறகு “எதிரிகளை அழிக்கும் படை” என்ற குழுவிடமிருந்து தனக்கும் ஒரு கடிதம் வந்ததாகக் கூறினார். அந்தக் கடிதத்தில் வன்னி புலிப் பயங்கரவாதிகளுக்காக தான் பிரச்சார நடவடிக்கைகளில் ஈடுபடுவதாக குற்றம் சாட்டப்பட்டிருந்தது என்றும், அவ்வாறான 3 நபர்கள் இனங்காணப்பட்டுள்ளனர் என்றும், அதில் ஒரு நபராகிய சுகிர்தராஜனுக்கான தீர்ப்பை நடைமுறைப்படுத்தியுள்ளதாகவும் குறிப்பிட்டு, அடுத்து தனக்கும் இதே தீர்ப்பு வழங்கப்படும் என்றும், அதற்கான நாட்களை கணித்துக்கொண்டிருப்பதாகவும் அக்கடிதத்தில் அச்சுறுத்தப்பட்டிருந்தது என்று கூறினார்.

ஊடகவியலாளர் காணாமல் ஆக்கப்படுதல்: பிரகீத் எக்நெலிகொட

SSR போன்றே பிரகீத் எக்னலிகொடவும் தனது கார்ட்டூன் சித்திரங்கள் மற்றும் கடிதங்கள் மூலமும் பல்வேறு விவகாரங்கள் மற்றும் வெளிப்படுத்தல்களை செய்தமைக்காக அதனோடு தொடர்புடைய நபர்களின் விமர்சனங்களுக்கு உள்ளாக்கப்பட்ட நபராவார். எக்னலிகொட இரு மகன்களின் தந்தையாவார். குற்றவியல் விசாரணை திணைக்களம் ஊடாக நீதிமன்றத்திற்கு சமர்ப்பிக்கப்பட்ட அறிக்கைகளுக்கு அமைய எக்னலிகொட கொழும்பு மாவட்ட ராஜகிரிய பிரதேசத்தில் வைத்து இராணுவ புலனாய்வு பிரிவால் கடத்தப்பட்டு கிரிதல புலனாய்வு பிரிவுக்குக் கொண்டுசெல்லப்பட்டார். அவர் அப்போதைய ஜனாதிபதி மஹிந்த ராஜபக்‌ஷவின் குடும்பம் தொடர்பாக எழுதிய புத்தகம் தொடர்பாகவே அவரிடம் விசாரணை நடாத்தப்பட்டது. குற்றவியல் விசாரணை திணைக்களத்தின் ஊடாக நடாத்தப்பட்ட விசாரணை அறிக்கைகளுக்கமைய, கடத்தல் சம்பவத்தில் ஈடுபட்ட நபர்கள் எந்தவொரு குறிப்புக்களையும், பதிவுகளையும் மேற்கொள்ளாமல் பிரகீத் எக்னலிகொடவை 25ஆம் திகதி தொடக்கம் 27ஆம் திகதி மாலை வரை அக்கரைப்பற்று பிரதேசத்தில் இருந்து கிரிதல வரை கொண்டுசென்றிருக்கிறார்கள்.

சட்டமா அதிபர் திணைக்களத்திற்காக இந்த வழக்கைத் தாக்கல் செய்த குற்றவியல் விசாரணை திணைக்களம் மற்றும் அரச சட்டத்தரணிகளால் மீண்டும் மீண்டும் நீதிமன்றத்தில் தெரிவிக்கப்பட்டது யாதெனில், இராணுவம் தவறான தகவல்களை வழங்குவதாகவும், சாட்சிகள் இருப்பதை மறுதலிப்பதாகவும், சாட்சி வழங்குவதை காலம் கடத்துவதாகவும், விசாரணை நடவடிக்கைகள் அனைத்தும் நீதித் துறையை தவறாக வழிநடத்துகிறது என்பதாகும். விசாரணை நடவடிக்கைகளுக்கு இராணுவம் குறைந்தபட்ச ஒத்துழைப்பை வழங்குவதோடு தடைகளை ஏற்படுத்துவது மற்றும் சாட்சியாளர்களுக்கு அச்சுறுத்தல் விடுப்பதாகவும் அவர்கள் கூறுகிறார்கள். 2010.01.25 அன்று எக்னலிகொடவை கிரிதல இராணுவ முகாமில் தான் கண்டார் என சாட்சியமளித்த நபர் பின்னர் கிரிதல இராணுவ முகாமிலிருந்து தனக்கு உயிர் அச்சுறுத்தல் ஏற்படுத்துவதற்கு சதித் திட்டம் தீட்டப்படுவதாக பொலிஸில் முறைப்பாடு செய்திருந்தார்.

எக்னலிகொட காணாமல் ஆக்கப்பட்ட சம்பவத்துக்கு நீதிகோரி போராடிவரும் அவரின் மனைவி திருமதி. எக்னெலிகொடவுக்கு எதிராக சுவரொட்டி மற்றும் துண்டுப்பிரசுரம் ஆகியன பிரசித்தமான இடங்களில் காட்சிப்படுத்தப்பட்டிருந்தன. சந்தேகத்தின் பேரில் கைது செய்யப்பட்டு பிணையில் விடுதலைசெய்யப்பட்ட அதிகாரிகளின் எதிர்ப்பையும் பொருட்படுத்தாது, அந்தப் பெண் நீதிமன்றத்தின் மேல் முழு நம்பிக்கை வைத்து தனியாக நீதிமன்றத்திற்கு 100 தடவைக்கு அதிகமாகவும் சென்றுள்ளார். எக்னலிகொட காணாமலாக்கப்பட்ட சம்பவத்துடன் தொடர்புடைய சந்தேகநபர்களுக்கு ஆதரவாக இருப்பவர்கள் மூலமாகவும் அந்தப் பெண்ணுக்கு எதிர்ப்புகள் ஏற்பட்டபோது அது தொடர்பாக அவர் பொலிஸ் நிலையத்தில் முறைப்பாடு செய்திருந்தார். இதில் ஒரு முறைப்பாடு பொதுபலசேனா அமைப்பின் தலைவர் கலபொட அத்தே ஞானசார தேரருக்கு எதிரானதாகும்.

கருத்துச் சுதந்திரம்

நான் உணர்ந்த விதத்தில் இலங்கையில் தற்போதைய காலகட்டத்தில் இடம்பெறுவனவற்றைக் குறிப்பிடாமல் இந்த கட்டுரை முழுமை அடையாது போய்விடும். நான் 2017ஆம் ஆண்டு கேள்வி எழுப்பிய சில சம்பவங்களை இதன் ஊடாக குறிப்பிடுவதற்கு முயல்கின்றேன். கொழும்பில் மற்றும் அதனை அண்மித்த சிறைச்சாலைகளில் நடாத்தப்பட்ட கூட்டுப் படுகொலைகளுக்கு எதிராக செயற்படுத்தி வந்த அமைப்பைச் சேர்ந்த ஒருவரின் வீட்டின் மீது துப்பாக்கிச்சூடு நடாத்தப்பட்டமை, இனம்தெரியாத நபர்களினால் மனித உரிமைகள் தொடர்பான சட்டத்தரணி ஒருவருக்கு தொலைபேசி அழைப்பு ஏற்படுத்தி கொலை மிரட்டல் விடுத்தமை மற்றும் சிறுபான்மையினரின் மதங்களுக்கு எதிராக மேற்கொள்ளப்படுகின்ற இன்னல்களுக்கு எதிராக செயற்பட்டு வந்த சடத்தரணி ஒருவரை நீதித்துறை அமைச்சர் மிரட்டல் விடுதல், பல மாதங்களாக தொழிற்சங்க வேலை நிறுத்த நடவடிக்கையில் ஈடுபட்டிருந்த தொழிற்சங்கத் தலைவரை ஒருவரைக் கடத்திசென்றமை, முன்பு நடந்த யுத்தத்தினால் வட மாகாணம் அழிவுக்கு உட்படுத்தபடுத்தப்பட்டமை, போராட்டத்தில் ஈடுபட்டு வந்த காணாமல் ஆக்கப்பட்டவரின் மனைவியொருவருக்கு அழுத்தங்கள் பிரயோகித்தமை, யுத்தத்தின் காரணமாக இறந்தவர்களின் நினைவேந்தல் செய்வதை நிறுத்துதல் மற்றும் ஏற்பாட்டாளர்களை தொந்தரவுக்கு உள்ளாக்குதல் மற்றும் விசாரணைக்கு உட்படுத்தல் மற்றும் அரச நிறுவனமொன்றை புகைப்படம் எடுத்தமை தொடர்பாக இளைஞர்களை அழைத்து விசாரணை செய்து மிரட்டியமை,  ஊடக வியலாளர்களை விசாரணைகளுக்காக அழைத்தல் மற்றும் காணாமலாக்கப்பட்டவர்கள் தொடர்பாகவும் இராணுவமயமாக்கல் தொடர்பாகவும் எழுதுவதை தடுத்துநிறுத்த முற்பட்டமை போன்ற பல சம்பவங்கள் உள்ளன. தன்னிச்சையாக இணையதளங்களை முடக்கி வைத்தல் இவ்வாறான பல விடயங்களை என்னால் பட்டியலிட முடியும். எந்த ஒரு ஊடகவியலாளரும் 2017ஆம் ஆண்டு கொலைசெய்யவோ, காணாமலாக்கப்படவோ இல்லாவிட்டாலும் தெளிவாகவே அந்த வருடமும் கருத்துச் சுதந்திரத்திற்கு தடைகளை ஏற்படுத்திய வருடமாகவே அமைந்தது.

எக்னெலிகொட சுகர்தராஜன் மற்றும் ஏனைய பாதிக்கப்பட்டவர்களின் நீதிக்கான எதிர்பார்ப்புகள்

திருமதி எக்னெலிகொட அம்மையாரின் தைரியமான, உறுதியான போராட்டம், குறிப்பிடத்தக்க தேசிய மற்றும் சர்வதேசத்தின் கவனம், குற்ற விசாரணை திணைக்களத்தின் விசாரணைகள் காரணமாக 2016-2017ஆம் ஆண்டுகளில் எக்னெலிகொட காணாமலாக்கப்பட்ட சம்பவம் தொடர்பாக பலவிதமான தகவல்களை வெளிப்படுத்தக்கூடியதாக இருந்தது. ஆனாலும் இராணுவத்தினரின் குறைந்த பட்ச ஒத்துழைப்பு மற்றும் பொதுவெளியில் சந்தேக நபர்கள் சிறைவைக்கப்பட்டமை தொடர்பாக ஜனாதிபதி கேள்விக்கு உட்படுத்தியமையை அடுத்து பிரதான சந்தேக நபர்களை பிணை வழங்கி விடுவித்தல் போன்ற காரணங்களை அடிப்படையாக கொண்டு வழக்கின் நகர்வு படிப்படியாக பின்னடைவுக்கு கொண்டுசெல்லப்பட்டது. எக்னெலிகொடவின் காணாமல் ஆக்கப்பட்ட சம்பவத்தோடு ஒப்பிட்டுப் பார்க்கும்போது, பிரகீத் காணாமலாக்கப்படுவதற்கு 4 வருடங்களுக்கு முன் சுகிர்தராஜன் கொலைசெய்யப்பட்ட சம்பவத்திற்கு கிடைத்த தேசிய மற்றும் சர்வதேச கவனம் குறைவாகவே இருந்தது. அது தொடர்பாக தொடுக்கப்பட்ட வழக்கு விசாரணை நடவடிக்கைகள் முன்னேற்றம் அடையவில்லை. அது தொடர்பாக எந்த ஒரு நபரும் சந்தேகத்தின் பேரில் கைது செய்யப்படவில்லை என்பது ஆச்சரியத்தை ஏற்படுத்தக்கூடிய விடயமல்ல.

சுகர்தராஜன் கொலை செய்யப்பட்டு 14 வருடங்கள் கடந்து போயுள்ளன. எக்னெலிகொட கானாமலாக்கப்பட்டு 10 வருடங்கள் கடந்துள்ளன. சுகர்தராஜன் மற்றும் எக்னெலிகொட போன்றவர்களுக்கு இழைக்கப்பட்ட துன்புறுத்தல் மற்றும் அநீதிகளுக்கு பொறுப்பு கூறுவதாக உறுதியளித்த  நல்லாட்சி அரசாங்கம் 5 வருடங்கள் கழிந்து ஆட்சியில் இருந்தும் இறங்கியுள்ளது. ஆனாலும், அவர்கள் இருவருக்கும் போலவே, கருத்துக்களை வெளிப்படுத்தும் சுதந்திரத்தை மீறியதற்காக கறுப்பு ஜனவரியில் இரையாக்கப்பட்டவர்களுக்கு எதிராக வழக்குத் தாக்கல் செய்வதாலோ அல்லது குற்றத்தை ஒப்புக்கொள்வதன் மூலமோ ​உண்மை மற்றும் நீதியை ஏற்படுத்துவார்கள் என்ற எதிர்பார்ப்பு ஒரு தொலைதூர கனவாகவே இருக்கிறது

 

ஆசிரியர் குறிப்பு: மனித உரிமை செயற்பாட்டாளரான ருக்கி பெர்ணான்டோ எழுதி 2018 ஜனவரி 24ஆம் திகதி கிரவுண்விவ்ஸ் தளத்தில் Ekneligoda, Sugirtharajan and 24th January என்ற தலைப்பில் வெளிவந்த கட்டுரையின் தமிழாக்கம். கட்டுரையின் ஒரு சில பகுதிகள் காலத்திற்கேற்ப அப்டேட் செய்யப்பட்டுள்ளதென்பதை குறிப்பிட விரும்புகிறோம்.

එක්නැලිගොඩ, සුගීර්තරාජන් සහ ජනවාරි 24

First published on 24th January 2020 at https://www.vikalpa.org/?p=36686

වර්ෂ ගණනාවක් පුරා ශ්‍රී ලංකා නිදහස් මාධ්‍ය ව්‍යාපාරය සහ නිදහස් අදහස් ප්‍රකාශ කරන්නන් විසින් ජනවාරි මාසය “කළු ජනවාරිය” ලෙස නම් කර  ඇත. මෙය විවිධ මාධ්‍යවේදීන්ගේ ඝාතන , අතුරුදහන් වීම්, හිංසා කිරීම් මෙන්ම මාධ්‍ය ආයතන වලට පහර දීම් සියල්ල ජනවාරි මස සිදුවීම සන්දර්භයෙහි ලා සලකනු ලැබීය.

ජනවාරි මස 24 වැනිදා එවැනි අඳුරු දිනයකි. ත්‍රිකුණාමලයෙහි පදිංචි දමිළ මාධ්‍යවේදී සුබ්‍රමනියම් සුගීර්තරාජන්ගේ මහතා 2006 ජනවාරි මස 24 වන දින වෙඩි තබා ඝාතනය කරන ලදී. කොළඹ පදිංචි සිංහල කාටූන් ශිල්පී සහ මාධ්‍යවේදී ප්‍රගීත්  එක්නැලිගොඩ මහතා ද 2010 ජනවාරි මස 24 වන දින අතුරුදහන් විය.

මතකයෙන් ගිලිහී ගිය  මාධ්‍යවේදීයෙකුගේ ඝාතනය : සුබ්‍රමනියම් සුගීර්තරාජන්

SSR ලෙස වඩා ප්‍රකට සුගීර්තරාජන් මහතා දිනපතා පළවන දමිළ පුවත්පතක් වන සුදර් ඔලි හි අර්ධකාලීන ප්‍රාදේශීය  මාධ්‍යවේදීයෙකු ලෙස ක්‍රියා කළේය. ඔහු දෙදරු පියෙකි. තවත් මාධ්‍යවේදියෙකු සහ SSR මහතා ගේ සමීප මිත්‍රයෙකු මා SSR මහතා ට වෙඩි තබා ඇති ස්ථානය ට රැගෙන යන ලදි. එය ආසන්න වශයෙන් ආණ්ඩුකාරවරයා ගේ කාර්යාලයට මීටර් 100ක දුරින් සහ ඔහුගේ ම නිවසට මීටර් 200 ක දුරිනි. SSR මහතා ගේ තවත් මිතුරෙකු වන මාධ්‍යවේදීයෙකු පවසා සිටියේ SSR මහතා මෑතක සිට අනාරක්ෂිත භාවයෙන් පෙළෙමින් සිටි බවත් එම නිසා වෙනත් ස්ථානයක ඇති ආරක්ෂිත නිවසක් සොයමින් සිටි බවය. ඇත්තෙන්ම නිවසක් සොයා ගෙන තිබුණ ද ඔහු එයට පිටත් ව යාමට ප්‍රථමයෙන් ඝාතනය ට ලක් විය. මා කතා කළ සියලුම දෙනා ප්‍රකාශ කර සිටියේ ඔහුගේ ඝාතනය ට ආසන්නතම හේතුව විය හැක්කේ “Trinco 5 Case” ලෙස ප්‍රසිද්ධ වූ 2006 ජනවාරි මස දෙවන දින ත්‍රිකුණාමලය වෙරළේ දී ඝාතනය කරන ලද තරුණයින් පස් දෙනාගේ ඡායාරූප ගැනීම යි. මා හඳුනන SSR මහතා ගේ තවත් මිතුරෙකු ප්‍රකාශ කර සිටියේ ජනවාරි මස දෙවන දින උදෑසන SSR මහතා තමාට මෘතශරීරාගාරයේ තැම්පත් කර ඇති ත්‍රිකුණාමලය වෙරළේ දී ඝාතනය කරන ලද තරුණයින් ගේ මෘත ශරීරවල ඡායාරූප ගැනීම ට අවශ්‍ය බව තමාට පවසා සිටි බවයි. අප පොදු මිතුරා SSR මහතා කැමරාවක් ද සහිතව රෝහලට ඇරලවා ඇත. ඔහුට අනුව හමුදාව විසින් මියගිය තරුණයින් ගේ පවුලේ ඥාතීන් ට තබා කිසිවෙකුටත් මෘත ශරීරාගාරයේ ඇති සිරුරු බැලීමට ඉඩ සලසා නොමැත. නමුත් SSR මහතා විසින් බල කර ඇති අතර ඔහු විසින් ලබා ගනු ලැබූ ඡායාරූප ජනවාරි මස 4වන දින සුදර් ඔලි පුවත්පතෙහි පළ විය. තරුණයින් වෙඩි තබා ඝාතනය නොවූ ලෙස පෙන්නුම් කර තිබූ ඡායාරූප මතභේදයට ලක් කරමින් ඔවුන්ගේ සිරුරුවල තිබූ වෙඩි සලකුණු SSR මහතා ගේ ඡායාරූප වලින් මොනවට පිළිබිඹු වී තිබිණි.  Reporters sans Frontieres (RSF)  විසින්  ප්‍රකාශ කර සිටියේ SSR මහතා ගේ ඝාතනය ට පෙර දින ද ඔහු විසින් ත්‍රිකුණාමලය ප්‍රදේශයේ EPDP ඇතුලු දමිළ පාර්ලිමේන්තු කණ්ඩායම් මඟින් සිදු කරන ලබන විවිධ හිංසා පීඩා කිරීම් සම්බන්ධයෙන් විස්තර කරන ලද බවයි.

ත්‍රිකුණාමලය ප්‍රදේශයේ පදිංචි SSR මහතාගේ මාධ්‍යවේදී මිතුරෙකු මා හට ඔහුගේ සහ SSR මහතාගේ සම්බන්ධය පිළිබඳ වත් ඔහුගේ මරණයෙන් පසු තත්වය පිළිබඳවත් පවසා සිටියේ ය. ඔහු කියා සිටියේ SSR මහතාගේ ඝාතනය දැන ගත් සැනින් ඝාතනය සිදු වූ ස්ථානය ට තමා ගිය බවත් පසුව සිරුර බැලීමට රෝහලට හෝ අවමංගල්‍යයට වත් සහභාගී වීමට බිය වූ බවයි. දින දෙකකට පසු ඔහුට “සතුරන් නැසීමේ බලවේගය” හෙවත් “Force destroying the Enemy” යනුවෙන් වන කණ්ඩායමකින් ලිපියක් ලැබී තිබේ. එම ලිපිය මඟින් තමාට වන්නි කොටි ත්‍රස්තවාදීන් සඳහා ප්‍රචාරක කටයුතු කරන බව ට චෝදනා එල්ල කර ඇති බවත් එවැන්නන් තිදෙනෙක් හඳුනා ගෙන ඇති බවත්, එක් අයෙකු ට (සුගීර්තරාජන් මහතා) තීන්දුව ක්‍රියාත්මක කර ඇති බවත් ප්‍රකාශ කර ඇති අතර තමාට ද ඊළඟ අවස්ථාව ඇති බැවින් දින ගණන් කරමින් සිටින්න යැයි අනතුරු අඟවා ඇත.

මාධ්‍යවේදීයෙකුගේ අතුරුදහන් වීම: ප්‍රගීත්  එක්නැලිගොඩ

SSR මහතා මෙන්ම ප්‍රගීත් එක්නැලිගොඩ මහතා ද තම කාටූන් චිත්‍ර සහ ලිපි මඟින් විවිධ විචාර සහ හෙළිදරව් කිරීම් සිදු කළ බැවින් අදාළ පුද්ගලයන්ගේ උදහසට ලක් ව සිටි අයෙකි. එක්නැලිගොඩ මහතා ද පුතුන් දෙදෙනකුගේ පියෙකි. අපරාධ විමර්ශන දෙපාර්තමේන්තුව CID මඟින්  අධිකරණයට ඉදිරිපත් කරන ලද වාර්තා වලට අනුව එක්නැලිගොඩ මහතා කොළඹ දිස්ත්‍රික්කයේ  රාජගිරිය ප්‍රදේශයේ දී හමුදා බුද්ධි අංශ සාමාජිකයන් විසින් පැහැර ගෙන ගොස් ගිරිතලේ හමුදා බුද්ධි අංශ කඳවුරේ තබා ඔහු විසින් එවකට ජනපති මහින්ද රාජපක්ෂ මහතාගේ පවුල සම්බන්ධව රචනා කරන ලද ග්‍රන්ථයක් පිළිබඳව ප්‍රශ්න කිරීම් වලට ලක් කර ඇත. අපරාධ විමර්ශන දෙපාර්තමේන්තුව මඟින් සිදු කළ විමර්ශන වාර්තාවලට අනුව පැහැර ගැනීම සිදු කළ පුද්ගලයන් විසින් තම ගමන නිසි වාර්තා තැබීමකින් තොරව හා අදාළ ගමන් ගත් වාහන සම්බන්ධයෙන් තොරතුරු  සටහන්නො නොකොට  විසි පස් වන දින සිට විසිහත් වන දින පස්වරුව දක්වා අක්කරෛපත්තුව සිට ගිරිතලේ දක්වා ඔහු රැගෙන ගොස් තිබේ. නීතිපති දෙපාර්තමේන්තුව වෙනුවෙන් මෙම නඩුව පැවරු අපරාධ විමර්ශන දෙපාර්තමේන්තුව සහ රාජ්‍ය නීතිඥයින් විසින් දිගින් දිගටම අධිකරණය හමුවේ කියා සිටියේ හමුදාව මඟින් සාවද්‍ය තොරතුරු සපයන බවත්, සාක්ෂි ඇති බව ප්‍රතික්‍ෂේප කරන බවත්, සාක්ෂි සැපයීම ප්‍රමාද කරන බවත් සහ විමර්ශන කටයුතු සහ අධිකරණය නොමග යවන බවත්ය. ඔවුන් තවදුරටත් ප්‍රකාශ කර සිටියේ හමුදාව විසින් විමර්ශන කටයුතු කෙරෙහි අවම සහයෝගයක් දක්වමින් බාධා එල්ල කරන බව සහ සාක්ෂිකරුවන්ට ද බලපෑම් එල්ල කරන බවත් ය. 2010 ජනවාරි 25 එක්නැලිගොඩ මහතා ව ගිරිතලේ හමුදා කඳවුරේ දී දුටු  සහ ප්‍රශ්න කරන ලද ප්‍රධාන සාක්ෂිකරුවකු විසින් ගිරිතලේ හමුදා කඳවුර තුළදී ඔහුගේ ජීවිතයට හානි සිදු කිරීමට දැරූ ප්‍රයත්නය පිළිබඳව පොලිසියට පැමිණිලි කර ඇත.

එක්නැලිගොඩ මහතා ගේ අතුරුදහන් වීම සම්බන්ධයෙන් සත්‍ය සහ යුක්තිය ඉල්ලමින් සිදු කරන ව්‍යාපාරයේ ප්‍රධාන ක්‍රියාකාරිනියක වන ඔහුගේ බිරිඳ වන සන්ධ්‍යා එක්නැලිගොඩ මහත්මියට විරුද්ධව පෝස්ටර් පත්‍රිකා එවකට ප්‍රසිද්ධ ස්ථාන වල ප්‍රදර්ශනය කොට තිබිණි.  සැකපිට අත් අඩංගුවට ගෙන ඇප මත නිදහස් කරන ලද නිලධාරීන් ගේ එදිරිවාදිකම් ද නොසලකා හරිමින් එතුමිය විසින් අධිකරණය කෙරෙහි පූර්ණ විශ්වාසය තබමින් තනිවම පවා අධිකරණය හමුවට සිය වරකට වඩා ගොස් ඇත. සැකකරුවන් ට පක්ෂ ව සිටින්නන් විසින් ද එතුමියට එදිරිවාදිකම් කර ඇති අතර මේ නිසා එක්නැලිගොඩ මහත්මිය විසින් එම බලපෑම් පිළිබඳව පොලිසියට වාර ගණනාවකදී  පැමිණිලි කර ඇත.  මින් එක් පැමිණිල්ලක් වුයේ බොදු බල සේනා සංවිධානයේ මහලේකම්  ගලබොඩ අත්තේ ඥානසාර හිමිට විරුද්ධ පැවති නඩු  විභාගයයි. මැදිහත් සමාදානයක් හෝ කරුණු සමථයකට පත් කිරීමක් වෙනුවට අධිකරණ ක්‍රියාවලියක් මඟින් සාධාරණය ඉටු කර ගැනීම සඳහා ඇය විසින් මෙම අධිකරණ ක්‍රියාවලියට ඒ අනුව එළඹිණි.

ප්‍රකාශනයේ නිදහස 

මා හට හැඟී යන අයුරින් ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ මෑතකාලීනව ඇති වූ සිදුවීම්  පිළිබඳව සඳහන් නොකිරීමෙන් මෙම ලිපිය අසම්පූර්ණ විය හැක. 2017 වසරේදී මා හට ඉතා ප්‍රබල සහ සැලකිය යුතු තරමේ හැඟීමක් ඇති කළ සිද්ධි කිහිපයක් හරහා මා මෙය සිදු කිරීමට මම ප්‍රයත්න දරමි. කොළඹ  අවට වෙසෙන  බන්ධනාගාර සමූහ ඝාතනයකට විරුද්ධව හඬ නඟන ව්‍යාපාරයක නිරත වන පුද්ගලයෙකු ගේ නිවසට වෙඩි තැබීම,  මානව හිමිකම් නීතීඥයකු ට නාඳුනන දුරකථන ඇමතුම් වලින්  මරණ තර්ජන කිරීම, තවත් එවැනිම මානව හිමිකම්  නීතීඥයකු ට එවකට අධිකරණ අමාත්‍යවරයාගෙන් අන්‍ය ආගම් කෙරෙහි ඇති පීඩන වලට එරෙහි වීම සම්බන්ධයෙන් තර්ජන එල්ල වීම සහ මාස ගණනක සේවක වර්ජනයක් අතරතුර වෘත්තීය සමිති නායකයෙකු ද පැහැර ගෙන ගොස් තිබීම එයින් කීපයකි. උපවාසයේ නිරතව සිටි අතුරුදහන් වූවකුගේ බිරිඳ පීඩාවට ලක් වීම, යුද්ධය නිසා මියගිය අයගේ සැමරුම නැවත්වීම, එහි සංවිධායකයන්ට හිරිහැර කීරීම සහ විමර්ශනයට භාජනය කිරීම , රාජ්‍ය ආයතනයක් ඡායාරූප ගත කිරීම සම්බන්ධයෙන් පොලිසිය විසින් තරුණයින් පිරිසක් ප්‍රශ්න කර තර්ජනය කිරීම, මාධ්‍යවේදීන් ප්‍රශ්න කිරීම් වලට කැඳවීම,  ඔවුන් විසින් අතුරුදහන් වීම සහ හමුදාකරණය සම්බන්ධයෙන් සිදු කෙරෙන විමර්ශන වාර්තා කිරීමෙන් වැළැක්වීම සහ තවත් කරුණු මේ අතර වේ. අත්තනෝමතික ලෙස වෙබ් අඩවි අවහිර කෙරිණි.    කිසිඳු මාධ්‍යවේදීයෙකු 2017 වසරේදී  ඝාතනය හෝ අතුරුදහන් වූවේ නොමැති වුවත් පැහැදිලිවම එය නිදහස් අදහස් ප්‍රකාශනය අවහිර කළ වසරක් ම විය. (මෙහි මුල් ඉංග්‍රීසි  ලිපිය  2018 දී පළ වූ හෙයින් 2017 සිදුවීම් පමණක්  පාදකකොට ගෙන  ලියුම්කරු විසින් මෙය ලියා ඇති බව සළකන්න).

එක්නැලිගොඩ, සුගිර්දරාජන් සහ අනෙකුත් වින්දිතයන්ගේ යුක්තිය වෙනුවෙන් වනඅපේක්ෂාව 

එක්නැලිගොඩ මහත්මිය ගේ ධෛර්යසම්පන්න, අධිෂ්ඨානගත  ව්‍යාපාරය සහ සැලකිය යුතු ජාතික සහ ජාත්‍යන්තර අවධානය සහ අපරාධ විමර්ශන දෙපාර්තමේන්තුවේ  විමර්ශන කටයුතු හේතුවෙන් 2015-2016 වසර තුළදී  එක්නැලිගොඩ මහතා ගේ අතුරුදහන් වීම සම්බන්ධයෙන් විවිධ කරුණු අනාවරණය කර ගැනීමට හැකි විය.  නමුත් හමුදාවෙන් ලද හීන සහයෝගය සහ එවකට ජනපති ප්‍රසිද්ධියේ සැකකරුවන් සිර භාරයේ රඳවා ගැනීම ප්‍රශ්න කිරීමෙන් අනතුරුව මූලික සැකකරුවන් ඇපමත නිදහස් වීම යන කරුණු පදනම් කරහෙන නඩුවේ  වර්ධනය ක්‍රමයෙන් හීන වීමටත් පසුබට වීමටත් ලක් විය. එක්නැලිගොඩ මහතාගේ අතුරුදහන් වීමට සාපේක්ෂ ව ඊට වසර 4කට පෙර සිදු කරන ලද සුගර්තරාජන් මහතා ගේ ඝාතනය ට ලැබුණු ජාතික හා ජාත්‍යන්තර අවධානය අඩුය. ඒ සම්බන්ධයෙන් ඇති නඩුව සහ විමර්ශන කටයුතු වර්ධනයක් නොපෙන්වුවා සේම  ඒ සම්බන්ධයෙන් කිසිඳු සැකපිට අත් අඩංගුවට ගැනීමක් ද නොමැති වීම පුදුමයට කරුණක් නොවේ.

සුගීර්තරාජන් මහතා ඝාතනයට ලක්වී වසර 14 ක් ගත වී ඇත.  එක්නැලිගොඩ  අතුරුදහන් වී වසර 10 ක් ගත වී ඇත. සුගර්තරාජන් සහ එක්නැලිගොඩ  හට සිදු වූ හිංසනයන් වැනි අසාධාරණකම් වලට වගකීමක් පොරොන්දු වූ “යහපාලන” වරම ලද ආණ්ඩුව දැන් තම පාලන කාලය හමාර කොට තිබේ.නමුත් දැන්, ඔවුන් දෙදෙනාට මෙන්ම, කළු ජනවාරියේ සිදුවූ  තවත් බොහෝ අදහස් ප්‍රකාශ කිරීමේ නිදහස උල්ලංඝනය කිරීම් වෙනුවෙන් , නඩු පැවරීමෙනුත්, වරද පිළිගැනීම සිදුවීම හරහාත්  සත්‍යය සහ යුක්තිය උදෙසා ඇති අපේක්ෂාවන් ඉටු වේ යයි සිතීම අඳුරු සහ දුරස්ථ සිහිනයක්ව තිබේ.

සංස්කාරක සටහන:  මානව හිමිකම්රු ක්‍රියාධරයෙකු වන රුකී  ප්‍රනාන්දු විසින් 2018 ජනවාරි 24 දින අප සහෝදර GroundViews  වෙබ් අඩවියට යන ලද Ekneligoda, Sugirtharajan and 24th January   නම් ඉංග්‍රීසි ලිපියෙහි පරිවර්තනයකි. සංස්කාරක මණ්ඩලය විසින් මුල් ඉංග්‍රීසි ලිපියේ සඳහන්  ඇතැම් කරුණු  යාවත්කාලින කොට තිබෙන බව සලකන්න.

Ekneligoda disappearance – 10 years struggle for truth and justice

First published on 24th January 2020 at https://groundviews.org/2020/01/24/ekneligoda-disappearance-10-years-struggle-for-truth-and-justice/

Today, 10th January 2020, is 10 years since the disappearance of journalist and cartoonist Prageeth Ekneligoda. It also marks 10 years of struggle for truth and justice by his wife, Sandya Ekneligoda and two young sons.

Investigative reports by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) to the Homagama Magistrate Courts indicate that Ekneligoda was abducted from Rajagiriya in the Colombo district by Army Intelligence personnel, and taken to Giritale Army Intelligence camp in Polonnaruwa district. There he had been questioned about a book related to Rajapaksha family – which includes present President Gotabhaya and former President Mahinda. Army Intelligence personnel have been arrested as suspects and released on bail. Both the CID and State Counsel leading the case on behalf of the Attorney General’s (AG) department, had repeatedly told courts of the Army providing false information, denying possession of evidence, delaying production of evidence and misleading investigations and courts. They had also reported a lack of cooperation and obstructions towards investigations from the Army, and intimidation of witnesses. A key witness, who had seen and questioned Ekneligoda in the Giritale camp on 25th January 2010, has complained to the Police about a conspiracy to harm his life from the Giritale camp.

The trial for the 2010 January abduction began in November 2019, at a three judge special high court trial at bar, in Colombo. Nine accused are being prosecuted. Separately, in December 2019, trial began in Homagama High Court in relation to abduction of Prageeth in 2009.

Sugirtharajan – killing of Tamil jourmalist on 24th January 2006

Four years before Prageeth’s abduction, in 2006, on the same day, 24th January, Sugirtharajan, popularly known as SSR, a part-time provincial journalist working for the Tamil language daily Sudar Oli, was killed. Like Prageeth, he was a father of two children. He was shot less than 100 meters from the Eastern Governor’s office and about 200 meters from his own house. Before the killing, SSR had been feeling insecure and wanted to find a safer house in a different location. A house had been identified, but he was killed before he could actually move. The reason appears to be the photos he took of 5 youth murdered on the beach of Trincomalee on 2nd January 2006, popularly known now as the “Trinco 5 case”. The military was trying to prevent anyone, even the families of the youth, access to the mortuary to see the bodies, but SSR had persisted. The photos he took were published on “Sudar Oli” newspaper on 4th January 2006. They had shown clear gunshot wounds, thus, disputing the version that the youth had not been shot dead. Reporters sans frontières (RSF) had noted that SSR had also detailed the abuses committed by Tamil paramilitary groups including the EPDP in the Trincomalee region, the day before his murder. One journalist friend of SSR in Trincomalee said he had spontaneously rushed to the spot of the killing when he heard the news, but later, was too scared to go to the hospital to see the body or even for the funeral. Two days later, he had got a letter, from group called “Force destroying the Enemy”. The letter had accused him of canvassing for Vanni Tigers, that 3 such persons had been identified, verdict had been delivered and implemented on one person (Sugirtharajan) and that he should count his days, as he was going to be the 2nd.

Death threats to journalists and continuing violations of free expression

Yesterday, 23rd January 2020, seven Tamil journalists in Eastern district of Batticaloa were threatened with death, through a leaflet left at the Batticaloa Press Club. A police complaint was lodged, but no protection was offered by the police. About 30 incidents threatening freedom of expression had been reported in local media in 2019, including arrests, questioning, assaults, threats, intimidations, and restrictions of journalists, media personnel, writers, artists and raids on media offices. Also in 2019, during the time of the former president, the state owned TV “Rupavahini” was reported to have been brought under Ministry of Defense and the ICCPR Act was used and threatened to be used against writers. Self-censorship has re-emerged after the presidential elections.

New challenges for truth and justice

There has been some progress in perusing justice for Prageeth, but there is also uncertainties and fears that the progress achieved may not be sustained through the two trials which have just began. After the November 2019 presidential elections, there has been dramatic changes in the CID whose investigations and reports to Homagama courts had enable the trial to commence. A top investigator in the CID had fled the country and the Director of the CID was transferred. During the presidential election campaign, the present President had pledge to release all war heroes.

Compared to Ekneligoda, there has been very little national and international interest about Sugirtharajan, murdered four years before Ekneligoda disappeared. Not surprisingly, there is no progress in investigations and no arrests. Justice for Sugirtharajan is unlikely, as it is for killing numerous other journalists and disappearances of tens of thousands of Sri Lankans.

On 17th January 2020, the new President followed in the footsteps of former Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe in making casual, insensitive and irresponsible statements that disappeared Sri Lankans are dead, without providing details of how, where, when and at whose hands they died to families. He seems to be ignoring the efforts of families of disappeared – some Tamil families have been at continuous roadside protests in the North for nearly three years, others have perused court actions in North and South, held discussions with the political leaders including former President, and involved in variety of initiatives to know the truth – about their disappeared sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, husbands and even grandchildren. The President had also chosen to refer to them as “missing” and tell this to the UN Resident Coordinator instead of to the families of disappeared. The President also says “Most of them had been taken by the LTTE or forcefully conscripted”. It is true that LTTE had taken away many, but many families of disappeared have personally seen their family members and others they knew been taken away by the Army after surrendering at the end of the war – this includes children and a Catholic Priest. They have stated this to Presidential Commissions of Inquiry appointed by Gotabaya’s brother Mahinda Rajapakse and also in Sri Lankan courts. President’s statement saying that death certificates will be issued is also very much concerning, as families only want to have death certificates after knowing for sure their family member are dead, such as by seeing the body, ascertaining identity of remains and / or knowing circumstances of the death. It is also a step backwards from the 2016 amending of the registration of deaths (temporarily provisions) Act no. 19 of 2010 to facilitate issuance of temporary “certificates of absence” till fate and whereabouts of disappeared persons are confirmed.

Signs of hope

In this bleak scenario, there are signs of hope – journalists and others who continue to reveal uncomfortable truths, ask difficult questions, challenge the powerful and the rich and expose past and ongoing abuses such as corruption, militarization, environmental problems, repression of religious and ethnic minorities etc. Many survivors, victim’s families and affected communities continue to pursue truth and justice. On 28th January, media freedom organizations have organized the annual “Black January” commemoration. Despite fears, defiance and resistance is alive and must be nurtured.

Prageeth Ekneligoda’s wife, Sandya Ekneligoda is an icon of defiance, resistance and hopes for justice. A symbol of the power of the vulnerable, overcoming the vulnerabilities of the powerless.  She had braved death threats to her and children, intimidations, discrediting to pursue truth and justice. Hostile posters had appeared in public places against her and there has been online vilifications. Around 2012, she was subjected to harsh questioning in courts by a Deputy Solicitor General at the Attorney General’s Department, implying her search for truth and justice for her husband was bringing the country into disrepute. When Mr. Mohan Peiris, the head of the then Government’s delegation to the UN Committee Against Torture claimed that Prageeth was living abroad, Sandya wrote to the Committee to make further inquiries and in Sri Lanka, persisted in getting Mr. Peiris to testify in courts. She has been in courts more than 100 times, sometimes alone, despite the hostility of suspects and accused from Army Intelligence (and their supporters). When she was threatened inside court premises by Buddhist Monk Galaboda Ethhe Gnanasara, leader of the Bodu Bala Sena, she complained to the police, and later resisted attempts to “settle” the case through mediation. The Magistrate at that time, also complained about the Monk’s behavior in courts on that day and the Monk was convicted for both cases. The former President pardoned the monk, but Sandya is now challenging that pardon in courts. As a mother and a wife, Sandya wrote to the then President Mahinda Rajapakha’s wife, appealing for the first lady’s interventions to help find Prageeth. She stood outside the parliament with her teenaged son and distributed appeals to parliamentarians. She and her son went to the Galle Literary Festival and distributed appeals to the writers and others gathered there. She took the initiative in organizing numerous protests and vigils in Colombo. When it became obvious that Army was not cooperating with the investigators, Attorney General’s Department and courts, Sandya met the then Army Commander personally to appeal for help. She also met with diplomats, UN officials, international organizations and foreign journalists to generate international support to seek truth and justice. She worked with Prageeth’s friends and concerned people to publish books with his articles and cartoons. She also supported Tamil families of disappeared in their struggles, visiting and joining them in protests in the North and talking about their struggles in her own work. And alongside all of this, she also had to struggle to bring up her two teenaged sons, now young adults, trying to fill the void of the disappeared father.

Although I never knew Prageeth personally, in the last ten years, I had spent some significant amount of time with Sandya. Often on the streets at vigils, protests, religious events – in Colombo, but also in North with Tamil families of disappeared. Also in courts, at seminars, meetings. At the UN and with diplomats, foreign journalists. Sometimes interpreting for her. And at her house. This ten year long association with Sandya has been very challenging – her energy, proactive and regular initiatives, courage, determination is difficult to keep up with. But it’s also been one of the most rewarding and inspiring experiences for me as an activist.

දින 900 ක් පුරා විරෝධතා: තවමත් සත්‍යය සහ යුක්තිය සොයා යමින්

First published on 9th Sept. 2019 at https://www.vikalpa.org/?p=35684

බලහත්කාරයෙන් අතුරුදන් කිරීමේ වින්දිතයන්ගේ අන්තර්ජාතික දිනය අගෝස්තු 30 වැනි දින ට යෙදී තිබිණි. රජයේ සංඛ්‍යාලේඛනවල ට අනුව ශ්‍රී ලංකාවෙන් වාර්තා වී ඇති අතුරුදන් වීම් පිළිබඳ ව 65,000ක ට වැඩි පැමිණිලි සංඛ්‍යාවක් ගොනු වී තිබුන ද, බහුතරයක් ශ්‍රී ලාංකිකයන්ට, බහුතරයක් මාධ්‍යයන්ට සහ ආණ්ඩුවට එය තවත් එක දවසක් පමණක්ම විය.

අතුරුදන් වූවන් ට සිදු වූයේ කුමක්ද යන්න සහ ඔවුන් සිටින්නේ කොහේද යන්න විමසීම සඳහා ක්‍රියාත්මක වන රාජ්‍ය ආයතනය වන ‘අතුරුදන් වූවන් පිළිබඳ කාර්යාලය’ විසින් කොළඹ දී සාකච්ඡාවක් සංවිධානය කර තිබුණි. එම අවස්ථාවට සහභාගී වූ අතුරුදන් වූවන්ගේ පවුල්වල සාමාජිකයන් විසින් සංවේදී මතකයන් අකුරු කොට තිබූ අතර, ඔවුන්ගේ ආදරණීයයන්ගේ ඡායාරූප ද එහි ප්‍රදර්ශනය කර තිබුණි.

කෙසේ වුවද, උතුරේ සහ නැගෙනහිර මේ තත්ත්වය වෙනස් ව පැවති අතර, දමිළ ජාතික අතුරුදන් වූවන්ගේ පවුල් මහපාරේ විරෝධතා පැවැත්වූහ. ඔවුන්ගෙන් බහුතර දෙනා දින 900ක ට අධික කාලයක් මහපාර අද්දර විරෝධතාවේ යෙදෙන අතරතුර, අතුරුදන් වූවන් පිළිබඳ කාර්යාලය, ජනාධිපතිවරයා, ඇමතිවරු, වෙනත් දේශපාලකයන් සහ නිලධාරීන් සමග සාකච්ඡා ද පැවැත්වූහ. නැගෙනහිර පළාතේ විරෝධතාව කල්මුණේ හි දී පැවති අතර, උතුරු පළාතේ විරෝධතාව ඕමන්තෙයි හි දී පැවැත්විණි. ඕමන්තෙයි හි පැවති විරෝධතාව ට කොළඹින් මා හා තවත් මිතුරන් කිහිපදෙනෙක් සහභාගී වූ අතර, ඒ අතර සිය සැමියා හා පුතුන් අතුරුදන් වූ මුස්ලිම් හා සිංහල ජාතික කාන්තාවන් දෙදෙනෙක් ද විය. එහි සිටි පවුල් මා හා පැවසුවේ ඔවුන් විරෝධතාව සඳහා ඕමන්තෙයි තෝරාගැනීම ට විශේෂ හේතුවක් ඇති බව යි.

ඔවුන්ට අනුව, ඔවුන්ගේ ඥාතීන් යුද්ධයේ අවසාන කාලයේ හමුදාව විසින් කැඳවාගෙන යාමෙන් පසු අතුරුදන් වූ අය වූහ. අතුරුදන් වූවන්ගේ කාර්යාලයේ සාමාජිකයන් අතුරින් පවුලේ සාමාජිකයෙක් අතුරුදන් වීමට ලක් වූ එකම සාමාජිකාව වන, මඩකලපුවෙන් පැමිණි ජෙයදීපා පුණ්‍යමූර්ති නම් දමිළ ජාතික කාන්තාව විසින් කොළඹ පැවැත්වුණු අතුරුදන් වූවන්ගේ කාර්යාලය මගින් සංවිධානය කළ උත්සවයේ දී ඉස්මතු කළ කරුණක් වූයේ අතුරුදන් වූවන්ගේ පවුල්වලට අවශ්‍ය වන්නේ කුමක්ද යන්න පිළිබඳව රජයේ ආයතනවලට කිසිදු අවබෝධයක් නොමැති බව යි. එමෙන්ම අතුරුදන් වූවන්ගේ පවුල්වලට අවශ්‍ය අනුකම්පාව නොව ඔවුන්ගේ ප්‍රශ්නවලට පිළිතුරු බව ද ඇය වැඩිදුරටත් පවසා සිටියා ය.

වසර ගණනක් පුරාවට හැකි පමණින් සිය දායකත්වය ලබා දී තිබියදීත්, පිළිතුරු නොලැබීම පිළිබඳව අතුරුදන් වූවන් පිළිබඳ කාර්යාලය ඇතුළු රාජ්‍ය ආයතන ගැන වූ කලකිරීම සහ විශ්වාසය කඩවීම ඕමන්තෙයි විරෝධතාවේ දී පැහැදිලිව පෙනුනි. මේ නිසා ජාත්‍යන්තර මැදිහත්වීම් අත්‍යවශ්‍ය බව ට වූ අඛණ්ඩ ඉල්ලීම් සඳහා මඟපෑදුවේය. එහෙත්, අතුරුදන් වූවන්ගේ පවුල් ඔවුන් වෙනුවෙන් පිහිටුවන ලද නවතම රාජ්‍ය ආයතනය ට එක් අවස්ථාවක් ලබා දීම සඳහා උත්සුක විය. ඔවුන් විශේෂයෙන් සඳහන් කර සිටියේ තමන් සිද්ධීන් 5ක් පිළිබඳව පසුගිය මාසයේ දී අතුරුදන් වූවන් පිළිබඳ කාර්යාලය ට තොරතුරු ලබා දුන් බවත්, තමන් ඔවුන් ගැන විශ්වාසය තබන්නේ අතුරුදන් වූවන් පිළිබඳ කාර්යාලය ඒවා ගැන සත්‍යය විමර්ශනය කරන ආකාරය මත පදනම් ව විනා ඔවුන් විසින් විවෘත කරන කාර්යාල ගණන හෝ ඔවුන් විසින් ප්‍රදානය කරන හානිපූර්ණය කොපමණද යන්න මත පදනම්ව නොවන බවයි. කෙසේ වුවද, සමහර පවුල් තවමත් පවසා සිටින්නේ තමන්ට අතුරුදන් වූවන් පිළිබඳ කාර්යාලය ගැන කිසිදු විශ්වාසයක්, හැඟීමක් නොමැති බවයි.

වසරකට පෙර, අතුරුදන් වූවන් පිළිබඳ කාර්යාලය විසින් වැදගත් නිර්දේශ කිහිපයක් නිකුත් කරන ලදී. කෙසේ වුවද, ඒවා ක්‍රියාත්මක කිරීමේ ප්‍රගතිය ඉතා සුළු බව එහි සභාපතිවරයා මේ වසරේ පිළිගත්තේය. ඔවුන් විසින් නිර්දේශ කරන ලද අන්තර්කාලීන සහන ලබාදීමවත් අවම වශයෙන් සිදු වූයේ නැත. මෙය අතුරුදන් වූවන් පිළිබඳ කාර්යාලය ට පමණක් නොව හානිපූර්ණය පිණිස වන කාර්යාලය ට ද කළු පැල්ලමකි. වින්දිතයන්ගේ අයිතීන් සුරැකීම සඳහා අවශ්‍ය පියවර ගැනීමට බලතල ලද ව්‍යවස්ථාපිත ආයතනයක් ලෙස අතුරුදන් වූවන් පිළිබඳ කාර්යාලය තම නිර්දේශ ක්‍රියාත්මක කිරීම සඳහා මීටත් වඩා ක්‍රියාකාරී ප්‍රවේශයක් ගත යුතු අතර, අතුරුදන් වූවන්ගේ පවුල් විසින් ගන්නා අධිකරණ ක්‍රියාමාර්ග, අනුස්මරණ, ලේඛනගත කිරීම් සහ වෙනත් දුක්ගැනවිලි සඳහා සෘජුවම මැදිහත් වෙමින් සහයෝගය ලබාදිය හැකි ආකාර මොනවාද යන්න සලකා බැලිය යුතු ය.

ඕමන්තෙයි විරෝධතාවේ දී මෙන්ම ඊට පෙරත්, සමහර පවුල්වල සාමාජිකයන් පවසා සිටියේ සත්‍යය සහ යුක්තිය වසන්කිරීම සඳහා හානිපූර්ණය යොදාගැනීමේ අවදානමක් ඇති බවත්, ඔවුන්ට අවශ්‍ය යුක්තිය විනා හානිපූර්ණය නොවන බවත් ය. කෙසේ වුවද, අතුරුදන් වූවන්ගේ පවුල් බහුතරයකට එවැනි අන්තර්කාලීන සහන සහ හානිපූර්ණ අත්‍යවශ්‍ය වන අතර, ඒවා ප්‍රතික්ෂේප කිරීම ඔවුන්ට අවාසිදායක විය හැක. නමුත් එක් අයිතියක් තවත් අයිතියක් සඳහා හුවමාරු කරගැනීම පිළිබඳව අපි අවධානයෙන් සිටිය යුතු ය. අතුරුදන් වූවන් පිළිබඳ කාර්යාලයේ සාමාජිකා ජෙයදීපා අවධාරණය කර ඇත්තේ නිර්දේශිත අන්තර්කාලීන සහනාධාරය (මසකට රු. 6000 බැගින්) යනු අතුරුදන් වූවන්ගේ පවුල් විසින් සත්‍යය සොයායාම වළකාලන ආකාරයේ යමක් නොවන බවයි. මගේ අත්දැකීම්වලට අනුව නම්, එවැනි සහායන් හරහා විරෝධතා, අධිකරණ නඩු සහ අන්තර්ජාතික උද්දේශනවල නියැලීම පිණිස අදාළ පවුල් ශක්තිමත් කරන අතර, ඔවුන් දානපතියන්, රාජ්‍ය නොවන සංවිධාන, කතෝලික දේවස්ථාන, විදෙස් ඩයස්පෝරාවන් ආදීන් මත යැපීම ද අවම කරයි.

අතුරුදන් වීම් පිළිබඳව ගැනෙන උත්සාහයන් ආවරණය කරමින් ආරක්ෂක හමුදාවේ අඳුරු සෙවනැල්ල පැතිර ගොස් තිබේ. මාධ්‍යවේදියෙකුගේ සහ තරුණයන් කිහිපදෙනකුගේ අතුරුදන් වීම සම්බන්ධයෙන් පසුගිය වසර කිහිපය තුළ දී හමුදා සහ නාවික හමුදා නිලධාරීන් කිහිපදෙනෙකු අත්අඩංගුවට පත්ව ඇත. එමෙන්ම පසුගිය කාලයේ ශ්‍රී ලංකා අධිකරණය විසින් හමුදාව අතුරුදන් කිරීම් සඳහා වගකිවයුතු බවට තීන්දු කර ඇති අතර, සමහර විටෙක ඒ සඳහා වරදකරුවන් කර ඇති අවස්ථාවන් ද දක්නට ලැබේ. මානව හිමිකම් කොමිසම විසින් පත්කළ විශේෂ කමිටුවක් මගින් අතුරුදන් වූ බවට සැලකෙන පුද්ගලයන් හමුදාව විසින් සිය භාරයට ගත් බව සාක්ෂි සහිතව සොයාගෙන ඇතිමුත් ඔවුන්ව නිදහස් කළ බවට හෝ වෙනත් යම් තැනක රඳවාගෙන ඇති බවට හෝ ඔවුන් ජීවතුන් අතර සිටින බවට කිසිදු සාක්ෂියක් මෙතෙක් සොයාගෙන නොමැති වග ද ද මෙහිදී විශේෂයෙන් සඳහන් කළ යුතුය. ඔවුන්ගේ ආදරණීයයන් හමුදාව විසින් රැගෙන ගිය පසුව නැවත නොදුටු බවට හෝ ඔවුන්ව අවසාන වරට දුටුවේ හමුදා කඳවුරුවල බවට අතුරුදන් වූවන්ගේ පවුල්වල අය කඳුළුබර දෙනෙතින් යුතුව හඬමින් කියා සිටින විශ්වාස කටයුතු කතා මම ද අනන්තවත් අසා ඇත්තෙමි. එහෙත් දැන්, අතුරුදන්වීම්වලට වගකිවයුතු බවට විශ්වාස කෙරෙන, හිටපු හමුදා සොල්දාදුවෙක් සහ ආරක්ෂක ලේකම්වරයෙක් ජනාධිපති අපේක්ෂකයෙක් ලෙසින් අප හමුවේ සිටී. අපරාධ සැකකරුවෙකුට ආරක්ෂාව ලබාදුන් බවට සහ අතුරුදන් වීම් පිළිබඳ ව විභාග වෙමින් පවතින අධිකරණ නඩුවක සාක්ෂිකරුවෙකුට තර්ජනය කළ බව ට චෝදනා ලබා අත්තඩංගුවට පත් වූ පුද්ගලයෙක් අප රටේ ආරක්ෂක මාණ්ඩලික ප්‍රධානියා ලෙස කටයුතු කරමින් සිටී. එමෙන්ම අපේ නවතම හමුදාපති, යටත් වූ පුද්ගලයන් සියගණනක් යටත් වීමෙන් පසු අතුරුදන් වීම සම්බන්ධව වගකිවයුතු බවට චෝදනා ලද්දෙකි.

ඕමන්තෙයි හි පැවති විරෝධතාවේ ප්‍රදර්ශනය කර තිබූ තවත් බැනරයක, සිය අතුරුදන් වූ ඥාතීන් පිළිබඳ සත්‍යය විමසන අතරතුර මරණයට පත් වූ අතුරුදන් වූවන්ගේ පවුල්වල සාමාජිකයන් 52 දෙනෙකුගේ ඡායාරූප මුද්‍රණය කර තිබිණි. යුද්ධයෙන් යන්තමින් දිවි ගලවාගත් ඔවුනට මහාපාර අද්දර විරෝධතාවේ යෙදෙමින්, බියගැන්වීම් සහ තර්ජනවලට නිර්භීතව මුහුණදෙමින්, අව්-වැසි, දුහුවිල්ල නොතකා, අවම පහසුකම් සහිතව සහ ඉතා සුළු ආහාර සලාක මත යැපෙමින් දරාගැනීමට සිදුව තිබුනේ සුළුපටු ශාරීරික සහ මානසික පීඩාවක් නොවේ.

තව බොහොමයක් දෙනා දුක්විඳිමින් සිටිති. ඔවුන්ගෙන් කීදෙනෙක් අතුරුදන් වූ තම ආදරණීය ඥාතීන්ට සිදු වූයේ කුමක්ද යන්න නොදැනම මරණය වැළඳගනීවී ද? අතුරුදන් වීම් සම්බන්ධ දැඩි නීතිමය තහනම් සහ ඒ පිළිබඳ වන අතිශය දේශපාලනික ස්වභාවයක් තිබුන ද, අතුරුදන් කිරීම් පිළිබඳ කතිකාවේ වැදගත්ම ස්ථානයක් ලැබිය යුත්තේ එම දුක්ඛාන්තයේ ඇති අතිශය පුද්ගලික ස්වභාවය සහ එහි අර්බුදකාරී තත්ත්වය සඳහා ය. මරණයට පත් වූ 52 දෙනාගේ සහ අනෙක් අයගේ නොනවතින අරගලය නිෂ්ඵල ව්‍යායාමයක් බවට පත්නොවිය යුතු අතර, ඒ සඳහා ඔවුන් ට ශ්‍රී ලාංකිකයන්ගේ සහ අනෙකුත් යහපත් ප්‍රාර්ථනාවන් ඇති මිනිසුන්ගේ සහයෝගය වැඩි වැඩියෙන් අත්‍යවශ්‍ය වේ.

(2019 සැප්තැම්බර් මස 01 වැනි දා ද සන්ඩේ ඔබ්සර්වර් පුවත්පතේ පළ වූ රුකී ප්‍රනාන්දු විසින් රචිත ලිපියක සිංහල පරිවර්තනයකි.)

900 days of protests: Still searching for truth and justice

First published at http://www.sundayobserver.lk/2019/09/01/opinion/900-days-protests-still-searching-truth-and-justice on 1st Sept. 2019

August 30 was the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances. Despite Government figures indicating more than 65,000 complaints of disappearances in Sri Lanka, for most Sri Lankans, most media and the Government, it was just another day.

The Office on Missing Persons (OMP), the state institution responsible for tracing the fate and the whereabouts of disappeared persons organized a discussion in Colombo. Families of the disappeared had written moving memories and placed photos of their loved ones at the event.

In the North and the East, Tamil families of the disappeared took to the streets. Many of them had been at roadside protests for more than 900 days, engaged in discussions with the OMP, the President, Ministers, other politicians and officials. There was one protest in Kalmunai in the East and another in Omanthai in the North. I joined the one in Omanthai with some friends from Colombo, including a Sinhalese and a Muslim, women whose husbands and sons had disappeared. The families told me they chose Omanthai for its significance – according to them, their relatives had disappeared on the last days of the war, after being taken away by the military.

At the OMP event in Colombo, Jeyatheepa Punniyamoorthy, a Tamil woman from Batticaloa and the only member of the OMP who had a family member disappeared, highlighted that state institutions didn’t realize what they (families) wanted, and that families of disappeared didn’t want pity, they just wanted answers.

At the Omanthai protest, frustration and lack of faith in state institutions, including the OMP, were strong, based on a history of engaging and not getting answers. This led to continued demands of international involvement. But the families were still willing to give the latest state institution a chance – they highlighted that they had presented details of five cases to the OMP last month and that their trust in the OMP would be based on how the OMP finds the truth about these, rather than the number of offices opened or reparations awarded. Some families still insist that they don’t feel the OMP is their office.

A year ago, the OMP issued some important recommendations. This year, its Chair admitted that there had been little progress in implementation. Even the disbursement of interim relief that they had recommended had not commenced. This is ominous, not just for the OMP, but also for the Office of Reparations. As a statuary institution mandated to take measures to protect the rights of victims, the OMP may have to adopt a more activist approach to have their recommendations implemented, and consider ways of intervening directly to support the initiatives of families in court cases, memorization, documentation and other agitations.

At the Omanthai protest, and even before, some family members shared their feelings that reparations may be used to sidestep truth and justice, and said they want justice, and not reparations. However, many families of the disappeared desperately need interim relief and reparations and it would be a pity to reject them that. Trading off one right over the other is something we should be careful about. OMP member Jeyatheepa had said the interim relief (Rs. 6,000 per month) recommended by the OMP is not something to deter families from finding the truth. In my experience, such assistance could strengthen the family’s struggles such as protests, court cases, and international advocacy and make them less dependent on donors, NGOs, churches, diaspora, etc.

The dark shadow of the military hangs over the efforts to address disappearances in Sri Lanka. In the last few years, Army and Navy personnel have been arrested in relation to the disappearance of a journalist and some youth. In the more distant past, the Sri Lankan courts have determined the military to be responsible for disappearances and even convicted some. A special committee of the Human Rights Commission has found evidence of disappeared persons having been taken into custody by the army and no evidence of them being released or detained elsewhere or that they are alive. I have also heard crying family members narrate compelling stories of how their loved ones had disappeared after being taken away by the military or were last seen at military camps. And now, we have a former soldier and defence secretary as a presidential candidate who is widely believed to be behind disappearances. We have a Chief of Defence Staff who had been arrested after being accused of harbouring a suspect and threatening a witness in a pending court case related to disappearances. And an Army Commander who is implicated in disappearances of hundreds after surrendering.

The Omanthai protest had a banner with 52 photos of family members that had passed away while searching for truth. The gruelling days at roadside protests, braving intimidation, the sun, the rain and dust, with meagre meals and facilities would have had to bear a heavy physical and emotional cost, who had barely survived the war.

Many others are ailing – how many of them would pass away without knowing what happened to their disappeared family members? Despite the strict legal prohibitions and immensely political nature of disappearances, it’s the deeply personal nature of the tragedy and struggles that must be central to the discourse on disappearances. The struggles of the 52 who had passed away and others continuing must not be in vain and they need more support from all Sri Lankans and people of goodwill.

World Refugee Day and Refugees in Sri Lanka

First published at https://groundviews.org/2019/06/19/world-refugee-day-and-refugees-in-sri-lanka/ on 19th June 2019

June 20 is World Refugee Day, coinciding with a time Sri Lanka faces its most serious refugee crisis since 2014.

Though not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, Sri Lanka is bound by international customary law and human rights treaty obligations – such as the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED), to which Sri Lanka is a party to – to respect principle of non-refoulment, which prohibits the return of persons to a country when there are substantial grounds for believing that the person or persons would be at risk of harm. This includes risks to right to life, death penalty, torture, sexual and gender based violence, female genital mutilation, prolonged solitary confinement, denial of fair trial, degrading living conditions, lack of medical treatment etc.

The Sri Lankan government has an agreement with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) which allows UNHCR to register those seeking refugee status and carry out refugee status determination. According to UNHCR statistics, there are 862 refugees (those who have been granted refugee status) and 829 asylum seekers (those whose refugee applications are pending) in Sri Lanka as of April 30, 2019. Those who have been granted refugee status await permanent resettlement in another country. Between January to April 2019, 26 refugees had departed to Canada and United States of America for permanent resettlement, but I’m also aware of several refugees who have been stuck in Sri Lanka for several years despite being granted refugee status. These refugees come from 15 countries in South Asia, Middle East and Africa. 1,362 were from Pakistan and 200 from Afghanistan. Others were from Bangladesh, Eritrea, India, Iran, Maldives, Myanmar, Nigeria, Palestine, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen.

The majority are Ahmadiyya Muslims, while there are also significant number of Christians and other Muslims. These communities have suffered threats, attacks and killings by extremist groups, with little to no protection from the State against these attacks. A few persecuted human rights activists, journalists, bloggers, atheists and gay persons have also sought refuge in Sri Lanka.

Life as refugees in Sri Lanka

UNHCR provides those recognised as refugees with an allowance of about Rs. 10,000 per person or Rs. 22,000 for family with two or more children, which is not enough to cover even accommodation and food to live in dignity in Sri Lanka. Asylum seekers don’t get any allowance and are left to fend for themselves, with their savings and contributions from relatives, friends and other well-wishers. Among the refugees I have met are medical doctors, journalists, lawyers, government officials, teachers, graphic designers and beauticians. But the Sri Lankan government doesn’t allow refugees to be employed legally, denying them the opportunity to be gainfully occupied and earn an income to cover the costs of their temporary stay in Sri Lanka. In desperation, some refugees had worked in shops and as construction workers, but I have been told several instances where employers had refused to pay them the agreed amounts and they were helpless in claiming what was due to them.  They end up contributing to the Sri Lankan economy by renting our rooms, houses, buying things from our shops, and spending on three-wheelers and buses.

Asylum seekers and refugees are also not absorbed into the government technical education and vocational training systems, which has the potential to help them to learn and develop skills that they could utilise in seeking employment during their stay in Sri Lanka (if allowed to do so) and their countries of resettlement. Government hospitals provide free healthcare, but sometimes refugees have faced hostility in hospitals. There is no psychiatric and psychosocial care made available to them, despite the unfamiliar circumstances they have been compelled to live in, and the trauma they have faced due to the violence and discrimination that had compelled them to leave. Despite the large number of abandoned government buildings across the country, the government doesn’t provide housing. Some landlords have been reluctant to rent rooms and houses to refugees, while others have exploited their vulnerability by charging higher prices. The children are not included in the government’s “free education” policy, and thus, many children are unable to go to school. Refugees are also not included in government programs for food and nutrition security or social security programs such as Samurdhi.

Reprisals and hostility against refugees after Easter Sunday bombings

Along with Sri Lankan Muslims, the small refugee and asylum seeker population, especially around Negombo, bore the brunt of reprisals and hostilities after the Easter Sunday bombings. Some refugees were subjected to physical violence and others faced threats of violence as about two third of the refugee population were evicted from the rooms and houses they were renting. Some house owners were sympathetic towards refugees, but were threatened by mobs and neighbours to evict the refugee families. The majority of those evicted were Pakistani Ahmadiyya Muslims and they sought shelter in two Ahmadi mosques. Others were accommodated in the garage and verandas of the Negombo Police station. Conditions in these three camps during April and May were unbearable, with many including children falling ill, due to severe congestion, lack of shelter in sun and rain, lack of toilets and sanitation facilities. They have been used to cooking for themselves and some found it difficult to adjust to Sri Lankan style food that was provided.

Appeals to the government, Christian churches, Buddhist temples, NGOs and private individuals to find better accommodation didn’t bring positive results. Two facilities run by churches and an NGO respectively were offered in April, but fell apart due to protests by Buddhist monks and others. The Governors of the Southern and Northern provinces offered to renovate facilities in their provinces, and finally, more than a hundred refugees, including children, were moved to a camp in the North in two phases, closing down the camp at the Negombo police station.  The Negombo police must be commended for accommodating, supporting and protecting about 170 refugees, by sharing their minimal facilities.

Many refugees had to leave behind their meagre belongings and basic essentials including clothes, medicine and children’s supplies. Some kind house owners had kept these safely till they could be collected, but I also heard and personally experienced situations where some house owners had acquired some of the properties, sold or disposed them.

Refugees and asylum seekers were also evicted in Kandy and suburbs of Colombo, through written and verbal notices, largely due to the instigation by police and neighbours. It took huge efforts for them to find new accommodation.

Now, nearly two months since the Easter Sunday bombings, life in the three camps remains difficult despite efforts by UNHCR, some government agencies, NGOs and well-wishers. The population in two Ahmadi mosques have decreased from about 1000 to about 700, with some having returned to their original rooms and houses and some having left for Canada and USA. During a visit to one of the camps earlier this week, I observed that facilities, like temporary accommodation and toilets, have improved compared to late April, but families have been separated for nearly two months now at two of the camps, as there are no facilities for them to stay together. Those in the camp in the North are not allowed to move out or have visitors.  In addition to the three camps, some refugees are also detained in an overcrowded detention facility.

In May, a refugee family with 4 children, who had been evicted from their home in a suburb of Colombo, travelled to Jaffna at the invitation of a host family there. The host family registered them at the police on the day of the arrival, but the next day, senior government officials opposed this. The distraught and exhausted refugee family was compelled to travel back to Colombo. But over the last month, a few Sri Lankan families and one church have come forward to host refugee families and some have started to rent their rooms and houses to refugees again.

Way forward

Supporting and protecting people terrorised in their own countries is a global challenge. Compared to about 28.5 million refugees worldwide, out of which Pakistan is hosting about 1.4 million and Bangladesh is hosting about 900,000, we have a relatively tiny refugee population of about 1700 to care for. About a million Sri Lankans have benefited and still benefit from international protection, though they also face challenges in the countries they are seeking refuge and when they try to return to Sri Lanka.

Sri Lankan politicians, religious leaders, media and civil society must try to raise awareness about refugees in Sri Lanka. That refugees, like citizens and all other foreign visitors coming for tourism, business, studies, sports etc., are subject to the laws of the land. That refugees have rarely been accused of criminal charges. That most refugees coming to Sri Lanka are minorities in their own countries who have been terrorised and had to flee to save their lives. That they are here temporarily till they find permanent resettlement. That they contribute to the Sri Lankan economy and don’t receive even basic assistance like housing, food, education, transport from the Sri Lankan government.

We need to extend maximum support to UNHCR to carry out their mandate and also develop an independent and comprehensive national mechanism to assess well-founded fears of refugees coming to us. We need to consider offering basic needs such as housing, food, employment, education and healthcare to refugees staying with us temporarily and in the long term, consider offering permanent resettlement to at least few refugee families.

We should never stoop so low as to deport, stop or discourage people terrorised in other countries coming to us seeking care, support and protection temporarily. We must welcome them warmly and feel proud that they have chosen to come to us in their time of trouble and desperation. Responding sensitively and humanely to refugees – our brothers and sisters – is a test of our laws, politics, spirituality and conscience.

May 18 and Mullivaikkaal Kanji

First published at http://www.sundayobserver.lk/2019/05/26/news-features/may-18-and-mullivaikkaal-kanji on 26th May 2019

May 18, 2019 marked the 10th anniversary of the end of the Sri Lanka civil war.

This year, perhaps due to tragedy of the Easter bombings and also coincidence with the Vesak festival, (a sacred day for Buddhists), there were no large triumphant victory parades or memorials for dead soldiers in Colombo. But there were military memorial events in the North, after the 18th – such as an event to remember fallen soldiers and policemen, organised by the Northern Governor’s office and the Ranaviru Seva (services for War Heroes) Authority, in coordination with the Security Forces Headquarters – Jaffna, on 20th May.

There had been advance plans made for civilian remembrances by Tamils in the North. But in the days leading upto May 18, organizers expressed fear and uncertainties, triggered by the questioning of some organizers by the armed forces, arrests of Jaffna university student leaders, a large number of checkpoints, and emergency regulations. But several memorial events nevertheless went ahead.

A church

On the 18th morning, I went to the Uruthirapuram Catholic church for the annual service to remember Fr. Sara – the parish priest in 2008, who accompanied his parishioners as they were displaced and cornered in Mullivaikkaal.

He experienced the fears and suffering of the last phase of the war and died on May18. Testimonies in the church both by youths and elderly persons was moving, some breaking down and crying as they recalled how they ran over dead bodies to save their lives. Those killed and injured in war and in the Easter bombings were remembered, along with Muslims and Refugees, who faced reprisal attacks and hostilities after the bombings.

There was no formal memorial event after the church service, but some individuals had brought flowers, and laid them at the two monuments outside the church – one for Fr. Sara and other for all those killed. It was a simple, solemn and local community led memorial. The main organizer, the present parish priest, was part of a small group of committed and courageous Catholic clergy who had opted to remain with the people till the end of the war, for which he was punished with 100 days in detention in horrible conditions.

I then went to Mullivaaikaal beach, where the war came to a bloody end. Locals as well as many others from the North and East were present.

Amongst those present were those whose family members were killed, or disappeared after surrendering to the Army. Community activists who had been campaigning to regain military occupied civilian lands were also there. Tamil politicians were present, but they didn’t play any significant part.

Lamps were lit and “Mullivaikkaal Declaration” was read out, though many present had tears in their eyes and seemed too overcome with emotion to listen and understand.Foreign Tamil media were visible, but mainstream English and Sinhalese media were conspicuously absent.

That night, I stayed with a friend in an in interior farming village in the North. I was invited to join a moving and intimate family memorial in the house, led by my friend’s teenage daughters who told me that they were having this event at home as they couldn’t go to Mullivaikkaal. Their grandparents and parents also joined.

The event involved moments of silence, some music, lighting of lamps. The memorial was around an abandoned empty metal cup that my friend had picked up in his first visit to Mullivaikkaal after the end of the war. It had left a deep impression on him, and he had then installed the empty cup in the living area of the house, covered in a glass case, in a manner similar to religious statues and symbols are present in most Sri Lankan homes. That day, it was draped in fresh white flowers woven together by one of the girls.

A survivor’s memories

One of those I traveled with that day was a young girl of about 20. She was born in a refugee camp and lived a life of displacement. She had no loud cries or strident demands, but had vivid memories of the last phase of the war in 2009, of hiding in bunkers as shells and bombs rained on them and people fell dead and injured around her.

She and her family were first displaced from the North West coast, near Adampan in the Mannar district, and were displaced multiple times in 2007-2009 in places such as Illupakadavai, Mulankavil, Vatakachi, Suthanthirapuram, Valayarmadam and finally in Mullivaikkal. Her akka (elder sister) had registered her and another young sibling as the akka’s own children.

Her brother had been taken away by the LTTE, had managed to escape few times, only to get caught again, and finally, the LTTE had tied him up to await death but he somehow survived. She and her family had tried to escape the war zone, but the LTTE had shot at them as they tried to flee, and her sister had been injured. There were many other horror stories, too many and some too sad to narrate.

A few friends had planned to organize a discussion followed by a public memorial at a busy Colombo roundabout, but we had reluctantly postponed it considering the security context.

However, a memorial was held in a café in Colombo last week. Though the comfortable café seemed a different world to the North I had experienced on 18th May, the interest in knowing what had happened, by some who came, and the commitment of those who organized it, was inspiring.

Mullivaikkaal Kanji

“Mullivaikkaal Kanji (porridge)” was a striking feature of 18th May in the North. This plain and simple food was all the hundreds of thousands in precarious situation in bunkers, tents and on the move could eat in the last few months of the war. Ten years later, there are calls to have “Mullivaikkaal Kanji” for one meal on 18th May, to remember what happened.

Kanji was served along the Northern roads and after the Mullivaikkaal memorial. My friend’s family had only Kanji for lunch that day.

Having Mullivaikkaal Kanji for one meal across the country on May 18 could be one way Sri Lankans can unite, commemorate and express solidarity with the war dead, their families and survivors.

Refugee crisis in Sri Lanka after the Easter Sunday bombings

First published at https://groundviews.org/2019/05/04/refugee-crisis-in-sri-lanka-after-the-east-sunday-bombings/ on 4th May 2019

“Pakistanis a country where suicide bombings happen on a regular basis, mobs gather and kill minorities and people who think differently, houses and settlements are attacked, people are forced to leave their houses. I left my house once before in the state of fear that I could be killed or imprisoned because an allegation of blasphemy was brought against me. I was scared, sleepless, hungry and unable to go back to my home, all was lost in just matter of a few hours. In fear and extreme shock my wife and I left Pakistan, came to Sri Lanka. We left friends family and relatives, jobs and house behind. But now Sri Lanka has become the same, we have been forced out of the house that we lived in, today at noon a mob gathered outside our house and few people were violently kicking at the door. A person pushed me, slapped me and grabbed me by the collar.  There were two policemen behind him, they said ‘you have to go to the police station” Pakistani Refugee, standing outside the Negombo Police Station on 27 April 2019.

A Pakistani man who had been living in a rented house on Sea street in Negombo, told me how a mob had come to the house where he lived with his wife and 2 young children aged 4 and 2 and half years, kicked him and threatened to kill him, following which his house owner had forced him to leave with his family. A Pakistani woman narrated how a mob came to her house on Lewis Place in Negombo and threatened to attack her family unless they left the house immediately. Many left with only the clothes they were wearing, or with meager belongings, leaving behind vital document and basic essentials including clothes, medicine and children’s supplies.

Refugees to Sri Lanka become refugees within Sri Lanka

In the last two weeks, after the Easter Sunday bombings, I have heard many such stories from refugees around Negombo. House owners also told me mobs had threatened to destroy their houses if they hosted refugee families. This led to about 1200 refugees and asylum seekers (asylum seekers are those whose refugee applications are pending) being compelled to live in three make-shift refugee camps (two Ahmadi mosques and the Negombo Police station) in absolutely horrible conditions, with minimum toilet facilities and lack of water. Many are compelled to sleep in sitting positions due to lack of space.

The situation at the two mosques, both of which are not equipped to accommodate overnight stays, are terrible, with rain in the last few days making the situation worse. Both mosques are guarded by the police and army, with some locals, including Buddhist Monks, demanding them to be evicted from the largest refugee camp hosting about 700.

At the Negombo police station, about 175 including about 40 children live in a garage with no walls, on rough floor, sharing a couple of toilets that resident policemen had been using. The police had been helpful, kind and generous to share their meagre facilities, but the situation has become unbearable to the refugees and even the police.

Desperate appeals were made to organizations and churches to accommodate the refugees living at the Negombo police station in a more suitable place with better facilities. Many were scared to open their doors, but a few dared. However successive attempts to relocate them from the police station have failed due to mob violence and threats. When a group was taken to a church centre, local groups led by Buddhist Monks protested, police couldn’t assure security and they were brought back to the Negombo police. When a group of women and children were being taken to another institution, news was received of protests led by a local politician and the bus turned back, bringing them back to Negombo police. On two other occasions, they were loaded into buses to be taken to a pre-booked hostel in Colombo and a school in Negombo, but these two also failed due to lack of security assurances from police.

Re-displacement around Colombo

Negombo is not the only area refugees face hostilities and evictions since the Easter bombings. Four Afghan refugees living in a house near Kandy were evicted by the owner last week, after inquiries by a local gang followed by police raids, despite the raids not finding anything incriminating. Even the guest house they moved to is trying to evict them. An Afghan refugee was evicted from the house he was staying this week in Dehiwela. Another Afghan refugee living in Ratmalana, was called “enemy” by a neighbour, who had threatened to beat him. He and his family lives in fear, mostly holed up inside the house they rent. In Moratuwa, the house owner had asked an Afghan refugee family with children to leave after the police expressed doubts about their refugee documents.

Many guesthouse owners had refused to accept Afghan and Pakistani refugees, despite them having legal documents to reside in Sri Lanka. Muslim house owners are been particularly afraid, especially of inciting further hostilities from local people.

According to an Afghan refugee in Panadura, “previously people used to smile, now they view us with suspicion and hostility. This makes us fearful of travel. When I was looking to rent a room, the guest house owner shouted that ‘all Muslims are terrorists’. I tried to find other guest houses, but no one is willing to accommodate.’

Who are these refugees?

These refugees and asylum seekers have come to Sri Lanka seeking protection due to persecution they faced in their own countries. Some are Ahmadiya and Shia Muslims from the Hazara ethnic community, while others are Christians, all persecuted by Muslim groups. They belong to religious minorities who have suffered threats, attacks and killings by extremist groups, with little or no protection from the State against these attacks. Many refugees here are those persecuted under Pakistani law for blasphemy which is an offence punishable with death. A few persecuted human rights activists, journalists, bloggers, atheists and gay persons have also sought refuge in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and there are no national procedures for the granting of refugee status. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), based on a 2005 agreement with the Government of Sri Lanka, registers asylum seekers and carries out refugee status determination. Successive Sri Lankan governments have welcomed them to stay in the country temporarily, till they find permanent resettlement in other countries. As of 31st March 2019, there were 851 persons who have been accepted as refugees awaiting resettlement in other countries and another 819 whose refugee applications are pending (asylum seekers)[1]. They come from about 15 countries, with majority of 1341 being are from Pakistan and 201 from Afghanistan[2]. There are also several whose applications for permanent resettlement in Canada is being processed. In the first three months of 2019, 20 refugees had departed for permanent resettlement[3]. The long application and review process, with several years intervening between application, interview and decision on refugee status being communicated, results in increasing uncertainty and fear for those seeking asylum. While the current crisis was unforeseen, systemic deficiencies have and continue to heighten vulnerabilities for refugees.

Refugee life in Sri Lanka before the Easter attacks

UNHCR provides those recognized as refugees with an allowance of about Rs. 10,000 per person or Rs. 22,000 for family with two or more children, which is not enough to cover even accommodation and food and live in dignity in Sri Lanka. Asylum seekers don’t get any allowance and are left to fend for themselves. Few Muslim and Church groups and NGOs have been supporting them with education, accommodation, food, healthcare etc. But these have been very minimal and only few have benefited.

The Sri Lankan government doesn’t ensure the right to housing, food, education, healthcare or legal employment for asylum seekers and refugees. No permanent or even transitional shelter is provided by the government. They are not included in government programs for food and nutrition security or social security programs such as Samurdhi, even though this could be done fairly easily and at little extra cost. The treatment and services available to asylum seekers and refugees at public hospitals and clinics is often lacking in terms of care and compassion. In some cases, the provision of treatment is at the discretion of authorities and asylum seekers and refugees who seek medical care are made to feel like they are seeking a privilege, rather than exercising a basic right. Despite being forced to flee having experienced and witnessing atrocities, violence and discrimination, anxieties about family and friends they left behind and finding themselves in an unfamiliar and unwelcoming environment, there is no psychiatric and psychosocial care made available to asylum seekers and refugees.

Although the Sri Lankan Constitution guarantees “assurance to all persons of the right to universal and equal access to education at all levels”, this is not extended to refugee and asylum children. The refugee children between 6 – 10 years have access to schooling through UNHCR’s support, but children of secondary school age, do not have any access to formal schooling. Asylum seekers and refugees are also not absorbed into the many government technical education and vocational training systems, which has the potential to help them to learn and develop vocational skills that they could utilize in seeking employment and living independently in Sri Lanka and their countries of permanent resettlement.

Why fear refugees?

Hopes of temporary respite for the crisis arose when the Governors of the Northern and Southern provinces came forward to host refugees. This has been communicated to the President, UN and other officials and many discussions have been held. But the around 1200 refugees still remain in the three camps, despite the worsening situation. A few Northern Tamil politicians are reported to have opposed hosting refugees in the North, but refreshingly, other Tamil politicians, civil society activists and clergy in North have welcomed refugees. It is now up to the central government to consider these generous offers and finalize interim arrangements to resolve this crisis, respecting rights and dignity, including freedom of movement. It is essential that UNHCR presence is strengthened and the UN takes a proactive role, with space for civil society and religious leaders. In view of new threats to refugees, foreign governments must also come forward to expedite offering permanent resettlement to those who have been granted refugee status by UNHCR.

As stated earlier, much of the fear and anger towards refugees stems from a lack of awareness and understanding. Like all Sri Lankans, tourists and other foreign nationals, refugees are bound by the laws of the land. I’ve heard of foreign tourists being arrested on suspicion of being involved in serious crimes such as drug peddling, but I have not heard such reports about refugees.

Few in Sri Lanka seem aware of religious or ethnic minorities living in countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan and the crimes committed against them, including by Muslims. This ignorance, coupled with hostility and suspicions towards Muslims following the Easter attacks has led to wave of reprisals against refugees in Sri Lanka.

Caring for people terrorized in their own countries fleeing to other countries is a global challenge. Hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankans have sought and received international protection and support in numerous countries. Compared to about 28.5 million refugees worldwide, out of which Pakistan is hosting about 1.4 million and Bangladesh is hosting about 900,000, we have very tiny refugee population of less than 1700 to care for.[4]

We as Sri Lankans should feel proud that refugees terrorized in their own countries, have trusted us and come to us, hoping that we would welcome them, care for them, support them and protect them, during a temporary stay of few years. We must not fail them, we must open our hearts and doors to them.

[1]UNHCR monthly update of 31stMarch 2019

[2]Ibid

[3]Ibid

[4]https://www.unhcr.org/en-lk/figures-at-a-glance.html,https://data2.unhcr.org/en/country/pakand http://reporting.unhcr.org/sites/default/files/UNHCR%20Bangladesh%20Operational%20Update%20-%20March%202019.pdf

Police garage turns into a refugee camp

First published at http://www.sundayobserver.lk/2019/04/28/news-features/police-garage-turns-refugee-camp on 28th April 2019

The Negombo Police was a strange sight last week with children, women and men camped out in the garage, on rough floor with no walls and proper sanitation facilities. They were there as they had no other safe place to go.

These were some of the refugees and asylum seekers, who had fled persecution in their own countries. They are not allowed to work, their children don’t go to school, but they are allowed to live here temporarily, based on an agreement between the Sri Lankan government and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

In the aftermath of Easter Sunday bombings, mobs in Negombo had broken into some of their residences and beaten up some of them. People who had been letting out rooms had also been pressured to ask the refugees to leave immediately. With no place to go, they had to rush to the Negombo Police station.

Appeals were made to various church institutions and other groups to host these refugees. Most were scared and declined. A few dared, but angry local mobs turned up and insisted that the refugees should be evicted. On one occasion, the mob had arrived even before the refugees got there. The police and the armed forces couldn’t assure them safety, so they were displaced yet again.

It was from one such shelter that two buses with tired, scared faces arrived at the Negombo Police station on Friday evening. But the police refused to host them, didn’t allow them to get down from the buses and insisted we take them ‘somewhere else’. A few of us including a Catholic nun and three priests tried to make the police understand that they have no homes to go to and insisted we can only move them with an assurance of safety. Appeals were made on the phone to government officials. Finally, the police agreed to let them stay the night, without a solution as to where they would have to stay in the days, weeks and months to come.

Some of the house owners who had been compelled to evict these refugees, had visited them to see how they were faring and with some bringing food. The police had allowed them to use their washrooms providing them sanitation facilities. A policeman on night duty had given up his fan to provide some comfort to children not falling asleep and another had made milk for crying children. But how long can an already over-streched police host a refugee camp?

It’s the duty of the State with the UNHCR, to protect and support this vulnerable community, who had suffered so much. If Negombo and the sourroundings are not safe, other options should be considered.

As we grieve the lives lost in the bombings, support the injured and their families, we must also stand in solidarity with asylum seekers and refugees. It’s an opportunity to extend social and political hospitality to those in need and most vulnerable. It is not enough to open our hearts, we must open our doors as well.

Christians and Religious Freedom under fire

First published at http://www.sundayobserver.lk/2019/04/21/opinion/christians-and-religious-freedom-under-fire on 21st April 2019

From February 3 to April 14 this year, across Sri Lanka, there has been some sort of disruption against a Christian worship service every Sunday – on 11 successive Sundays to be specific.

Christians in Sri Lanka suffer violations of their right to religion and belief regularly, but most incidents do not make it to the news – or even to the Twittersphere. But the attack on the Methodist Church Centre in Anuradhapura, last Sunday, which was also Palm Sunday, a day of religious significance for Christians, was widely reported because of the forthright personal testimony and determined efforts of the President of the Methodist Conference, Bishop Asiri Perera, who had experienced the attack first hand.

In the past two months, this same church centre had obscenities shouted and stones pelted at it. A Municipal Councillor and villagers had forcibly broken in and threatened the priest and worshippers with assault. The Sunday before the Palm Sunday attack, they had cancelled the service due to intense pressure about the legality of their premises and services.

Types of violations

The violations reported this year against Christians include forcible entry to places of worship while services were ongoing, disrupting services, damaging properties, throwing stones and gathering outside places of worship in a threatening manner. Those leading prayers, hosting prayer services and participants have been threatened and obscene language used against them. Among the more serious violations was an assault of two females in two different incidents, a death threat and a threat to burn a place of worship.

At least 15 police complaints have been filed, some dealing with several violations. In some cases, police had refused or been reluctant to take complaints, sometimes going to the extent of siding with the alleged perpetrators, mocking and admonishing victims. On some occasions, police had refused to take matters to courts, demanded that victims file private plaints, and even refused to offer protection.

The right to Religion or belief cannot be restricted under any circumstances in the Sri Lankan Constitution. But one of the most regular violations have been questioning the legality of Christian prayers and places of worship, by Government officials, police, bhikkus and ordinary persons, often demanding registration, authorisation or approval from an official. Only on a few occasions have the police insisted on the right to freedom of religion or belief of Christians.

Numbers

This year, at least 13 churches and one individual have been affected in nine districts, with about 35 incidents and about 70 violations. Some churches have been affected multiple times, with multiple violations, such as disrupting a service, assault, death threats, shouting obscenities and damage to property.

Such violations against Christians have occurred regularly in Sri Lanka over several years, under successive governments.

A report by Verite Research in 2014 reported that a state institution or public servant was recorded as the key perpetrator of religious violence against Christians in 175 incidents (18%) out of 972 incidents examined between 1994 and 2014. Many of these have been diligently documented for years by the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka. 226 incidents of violence against Christians have been reported between January 2015 – June 2017 and 86 incidents in 2018. Many of the Christians under attack have been small rural Christian communities.

They have had little support from Churches which wield more political-social influence such as the Catholic Church, and various inter-religious bodies operating at local and national level. Though I have focused on the situation of Christians here, Muslims too have been under fire in Sri Lanka, with some of the harshest violence against them being concentrated within a few days in towns such as Aluthgama in 2014 and Digana in 2018. There have also been reports of violations against Hindus.

Way forward

Impunity has served as a licence for continued violence against religious minorities. Despite compelling evidence in some incidents, there has been a reluctance to use the existing legal framework to arrest and prosecute those responsible. Ironically, the ICCPR Act was recently used to imprison a writer and suppress free expression based on complaints by a Buddhist group that the writer has caused pain of mind to Buddhists and insulted Buddhism, but the same Act has not been used to arrest and prosecute those responsible for blatant and serious violations against Christians. Political will and legal action is essential to protect the rights of religious minorities.

Asserting rights sensitively would help, but it is unfair to expect victims to compromise and tolerate violations of their inalienable rights. Rather, the ‘good’ among the majorities, especially, Buddhists, must proactively protect the rights of religious minorities being persecuted and the more influential Christian churches must show support and solidarity to smaller and more vulnerable churches.

Unless and until all persons and communities, especially, the minorities and the vulnerable, can freely practise their religion without fear, religious harmony and co-existence will be a myth.

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Examples of violations against Christians in 2019

1. As a female pastor and worshippers were preparing for a Sunday worship service, a mob of around 200 led by some bhikkus had forcibly entered the church premises, demanded to stop the worship, threatened the worshippers in obscene language, and damaged furniture and roofing sheets. A bhikku had threatened the Christians with death if they refused to stop their worship. The mob had also dragged a female worshipper on to the street, threw her at the feet of the bhikkus, and beaten her, and she had to be hospitalised. Some of the bhikkus had lodged a complaint, claiming the pastor was breaching the peace. At an inquiry, the monks and villagers had demanded the pastor stop conducting her services and only engage in worship in private. The Officer-in Charge (OIC) had told the pastor to comply with the demands of the monks and said the police wouldn’t provide her with further protection.

2. While a Sunday worship service was ongoing, bhikkus and a group of youth had forcibly entered the place of worship, shouting in obscene language and threatened the worshippers. Later, the policemen in civil clothes had tried to compel the pastor to attend an inquiry within 15 minutes, despite the pastor’s request for adequate time to consult his lawyer.

3. While a Sunday worship service was ongoing, a bhikkus had stood outside taking pictures of the premises and later, a group of around 35 villagers had gathered and stoned the premises. They had forcibly entered the place of worship and demanded to stop the worship immediately and threatened to burn the building if they refused to comply. A few days later, the pastor’s residence was stoned by unidentified individuals. The Officer-in-Charge (OIC) of the police had refused the pastor’s request to refer the matter to court and told him to file a private plaint.

4. A pastor had received a copy of a letter addressed by a Divisional Secretary (DS) to the OIC of the local police, instructing the latter to stop Christian religious worship activities, claiming the place of worship was not registered with the DS. A few days later, while the Sunday service was ongoing, around 30 individuals, two police officers and the Grama Niladhari had questioned the pastor and told him to meet with the DS the following day. The DS had demanded the pastor stop his religious worship activities immediately and threatened to confiscate the pastor’s home (received through a tsunami resettlement scheme) if he refused to comply.

5. A group of 30 individuals had arrived at a place of worship and demanded to speak to the pastor, who was not there. Two individuals had then assaulted the female owner of the premises.

6. While a pastor and his wife were visiting a congregant’s home, a group of villagers had damaged the front door of the house and a cross hanging on it. The group had demanded to know about approval to carry out worship activities in the village and threatened the pastor. They had scolded the pastor’s wife in obscene language and attempted to assault the pastor. The police had been reluctant to take down the complaint.

7. Villagers had threatened a Christian not to invite a pastor to conduct bible studies in his home. Later, when he had gone to lodge another complaint to the police about threats to his life, he was arrested, based on a false allegation of assault. After he was released on bail, a government official had told him to stop having bible studies at his house.

Families of the disappeared: Two years of protests, what must they do next?

First published at http://www.sundayobserver.lk/2019/03/03/news-features/families-disappeared-two-years-protests-what-must-they-do-next on 3rd March 2019

The biggest protest I had ever participated in or seen in Kilinochchi took place last week. It was organised by the Tamil families of the disappeared, to mark two years of roadside protests and demanding information about loved ones who had disappeared. It was a gruelling march of more than six km that took over two hours, through the sprawling A9 road in Kilinochchi, braving extreme midday heat.

Perhaps, this pales in the context of the families having braved the sun, rain, dust, fumes, intimidation, threats and assaults for two years. Several elderly mothers collapsed during the march. But more died in the course of continuous protests, not knowing what happened to their loved ones.

Colombo

Colombo seemed indifferent. When one of the women leading the Kilinochchi protest called me, she had a clear request. She asked me to join them on February 25, bringing the Sinhalese and English media, colleagues from Colombo and others from the international community. I did ask many, but predictably, there was not much of a response. The protest coincided with the first year anniversary of the Office of Missing Persons (OMP).

The OMP it had initiated inquiries and made interventions on some cases and referred to its primary mandate as being to ‘Search and trace tens of thousands of missing and disappeared persons’.

But the Office provided no information on the number of persons it had made progress searching for or specific progress made in a single case. Neither did it provide an assessment about progress made in implementing recommendations made in an interim report six months ago. In this context, it was not surprising to hear families of the disappeared protesting in Kilinochchi reiterating that they had no hope or confidence in the OMP.

One woman at the protest was clutching a letter sent by a previous Presidential Commission of Inquiry led by Maxwell Paranagama, which had functioned under President Mahinda Rajapaksa and President Maithripala Sirisena, The letter promised investigations, but the lady had not heard of any progress or results on investigations. Protesters told me that might be what the OMP might end up doing as well.

Geneva

Geneva also seems indifferent. Last week, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) started its 40th session, where it is due to review progress made by the Sri Lankan Government in terms of commitments made on accountability and reconciliation at the UN body three and half years ago. At the Kilinochchi protest, there were many references to the UN, demanding an increased role from it. The protesters recalled that resolution 34/1 of the UNHRC was due to inaction of the Sri Lankan Government on resolution 30/1 and commitments therein.

They demanded the UN to ‘Stop giving Sri Lanka more time’, instead to consider other options of ensuring reconciliation and accountability. But the first draft of a resolution on Sri Lanka to be adopted by the Council dated February 27, two days after the Kilinochchi protest, had no reference to, nor reflected the spirit, grievances, aspirations and efforts made by families of the disappeared on the road continuously for two years.

For me, it seemed that protesting families increased demands from the UN were not based on faith in the UN, but deep frustration and disappointment in the political leadership, and institutions such as the judiciary and the OMP.

Indeed, when I joined the same families at a similar protest on the 100th day of their continuous roadside protest, they blocked the A9 road for about five hours and their primary demand was to meet the President. The families also seem to have very little faith in Tamil politicians and insisted that Tamil politicians with access to the international community, donot represent them.

Hartal

A significant feature of the Kilinochchi protest last week was the hartal across the Northern Province. Shops, eateries, some supermarkets and banks were shuttered. There were no local buses and very few vehicles on the main roads. Hartals usually inconvenience the poor. Those who use public transport end up being stranded, daily wage earners lose their income. But my impression was that many joined the hartal sympathising and supporting the struggle of families of the disappeared. The popular women led eatery in Kilinochchi, Ammachi was closed, which meant loss of income.

I met some of the women at the protest, easily identifiable by their Ammachi t-shirts. After the protest, a shop keeper in Iranaipalei in the Mullaitivu District, about an hour’s drive away from the Kilinochchi protest, told me he could not go for the protest, but closed his shop in support of the protest. A trishaw driver who had stayed home in Mullaitivu expressed similar sentiments. Some of the female community leaders of the Kepapilavu community, themselves at a roadside protest for two years demanding release of military occupied land, also joined the Kilinochchi protest.

So did families of the disappeared, women’s activists, Christian clergy from across the North and the East. Many Tamil journalists from the North were covering the protest. Some Tamil politicians also joined, but played a low profile role, heeding the explicit demands from protest leaders that politicians should not be at the forefront of the demonstrations.

Reprisals

The day of the protest and hartal was also the day three habeas corpus cases in relation disappearances were being taken up in Jaffna courts, where a serving senior military officer is implicated. A female activist involved in the case had allegedly been assaulted and hospitalised last year and lawyers have allegedly been intimidated.

Even on this day, a lawyer was reportedly subject to intimidation as she was leaving courts after appearing in the case, with men on a motorbike trying to crash into her car. Last year had allegedly seen several incidents of reprisals against both Tamil and Sinhalese families of the disappeared.

Importance of solidarity

My visits and interactions with protesting families had led me to write about my experiences and reflections. The last two pieces I wrote to this paper on disappearances was about 366 days and then 500 days of the continued roadside protests. As I contemplated writing about the 730 days of the protests, I wondered what new things I could write. Not much seems to have changed, except continuing reprisals, increasing frustration and desperation.

The same lines with which I finished off my 500 days articles sums up my feelings today.

“As they wait for answers from the Government and institutions such as the OMP and judiciary about their loved ones, families of the disappeared deserve more coverage by mainstream Sinhalese and English media. They need continued solidarity from society – Sri Lankan and international. The struggle of the families must become a struggle of all Sri Lankans”.

The hartal showed that the North is listening and in solidarity with Tamil families of the disappeared. But Colombo (and the rest of Sri Lanka) and Geneva (and the world) doesn’t seem to be listening. What the families can do next remains a big question mark.

புதிய பயங்கரவாத எதிர்ப்புச் சட்டமூலம்: அநீதியை நடைமுறைப்படுத்தும் நவீன அனுமதிப் பத்திரமா?

First published at https://maatram.org/?p=7569 on 19th February 2019

சுமார் 40 வருடங்களுக்கு மேற்பட்ட காலம் சித்திரவதைக்கு உட்படுத்துவதற்கும், பாலியல் துன்புறுத்தல்களுக்கும், வலுக்கட்டாயமாக ஆட்களைக் காணாமல் ஆக்குவதற்கும், நீண்டகாலம் ஆட்களைத்  தடுப்புக் காவலில் வைப்பதற்கும் வழங்கப்படும் ஓர் அனுமதிப்பத்திரமாகப் பயங்கரவாதத் தடைச் சட்டம் (Prevention of Terrorism Act – PTA) பயன்படுத்தப்படுகிறது. பயங்கரவாதம் தொடர்பாக, ஒரு சாதாரண சந்தேக நபர் மாத்திரமல்லாமல் ஊடகவியலாளர்கள், சமூகச் செயற்பாட்டாளர்கள் என்போர் இச்சட்டத்தின் கீழ் கைதுசெய்யப்பட்டதோடு, அரசாங்கத்திற்கு எதிராக முன்வைக்கப்படும், விமர்சன ரீதியான கருத்துக்களை ஒடுக்குவதற்கும், இச்சட்டம் மிக மோசமாக பயன்படுத்தப்பட்டுள்ளது. குறிப்பாக தமிழ் மக்களுக்கு எதிராக, இது அநேகமான சந்தர்ப்பங்களில் தவறான முறையில் பயன்படுத்தப்பட்டுள்ளது.

தற்போதைய அரசு பதவிக்கு வந்த பின்னர், இவ்வொடுக்குமுறை ரீதியான பயங்கரவாதத் தடைச் சட்டத்தை நீக்குவதாகவும், சர்வதேச ரீதியாக சிறந்த நடைமுறைக்கு ஏற்பவும் பயங்கரவாதத்திற்கு எதிராக ஒரு சட்டத்தை சமர்ப்பிப்பதாகவே பல்வேறு சந்தர்ப்பங்களில் உறுதிமொழிகள் வழங்கப்பட்டன. இதன் விளைவாகவே, கடந்த ஆண்டு செப்டெம்பர் மாதத்தில் புதிய பயங்கரவாதத் தடைச் சட்டம் ஒன்று வரையப்பட்டது. இவ்வரைவு ஆங்கிலத்தில் பயங்கரவாதத்திற்கு எதிரான சட்டம் (Counter Terrorism Act – CTA) எனப் பெயரிடப்பட்டது. சிங்கள மொழியில் பழைய பெயரில் பயங்கரவாதத் தடைச் சட்டம் என அறிமுகப்படுத்தப்பட்டு, வர்த்தமானப் பத்திரிகையில் வெளியிடப்பிடப்பட்டுள்ளமை ஒரு வகையில் கேளிக்கூத்தாகும்.

“பயங்கரவாதம் என அறிமுகப்படுத்தப்படும் தவறுகள் சம்பந்தமாக நடவடிக்கை எடுப்பதற்கு சுமார் 14 சட்டங்கள் – தண்டனைச் சட்டக் கோவையின் 6 வாசகங்கள் உட்பட சுமார் 20 சட்டங்கள் இலங்கைச் சட்டத்தில் உள்ளடக்கப்பட்டுள்ளன. அதேசமயம், அவசரகால நிலைமையின் கீழ் செயற்படுவதற்கு ஜனாதிபதிக்கு அவசரகாலச் சட்டத்தை பிரகடனப்படுத்தும் அதிகாரமும் உண்டு. நிலைமை இவ்வாறு இருக்கையில், பயங்கரவாதம் தொடர்பாக தனியான விசேட சட்டத்தின் அவசியம், வெறுமனே சிறுபான்மை சமூகங்கள் அரசுக்கு எதிராக முன்வைக்கும் விமர்சன ரீதியான கருத்துக்களை ஒடுக்குவதாகவே அமையும். ஆகவே, பயங்கரவாதத்தை ஒடுக்குவதற்கு ஏற்கனவே உள்ள சட்டங்கள் போதுமானவை என்பது எமது கருத்தாகும்.”

முன்னைய பயங்கரவாதத் தடைச் சட்டம் பயன்படுத்தப்பட்டது போலவே, இப்புதிய சட்ட மூலமும் சாதாரண மக்களுக்கும், ஊடகவியலாளர்களுக்கும் சமூகச் செயற்பாட்டாளர்களுக்கும் எதிராக தொந்தரவுகளை மேற்கொள்ளக்கூடிய வகையில் பயன்படுத்துவதற்கு அவசியமான வாய்ப்புக்களை முறையே வழங்கியுள்ளன.

இச்சட்டத்தில் பரந்துபட்ட தெளிவின்மை காணப்படுகிறது. பயங்கரவாதம் என்பதற்கு வரைவிலக்கணமாக கருதக்கூடிய தவறுகள் பற்றி சரியான விளக்கம் வழங்கப்படவில்லை. இதன் காரணமாக இச்சட்டத்தைப் பயன்படுத்தி, அரசியலமைப்பின் மூலம் வழங்கப்பட்டுள்ள கருத்துச் சுதந்திரம், ஒன்றுகூடும் சுதந்திரம் மற்றும் ஒரு சங்கத்தை உருவாக்கும் சுதந்திரம் என்பன மட்டுப்படுத்தப்படுவதற்கான வாய்ப்பு உண்டு. அடிப்படை மனித உரிமைகள் கூட நல்லெண்ணத்தோடு அமுல்படுத்தியிருந்தால் மாத்திரமே பயங்கரவாத செயலாகக் கருதப்படமாட்டாது.

இச்சட்டத்தின் கீழ் கைதுசெய்யப்பட்ட நபர் உடல் ரீதியாக பாதிப்புக்கு உள்ளாக்கப்படாத வகையில் பேணப்படுவது கட்டாயப்படுத்தப்படவில்லை. கைது செய்யப்படும் நபர், கைது செய்யப்படுவதற்கான காரணமும் அதற்கு ஏற்புடைய ஏனைய தகவல்களையும் அறிவித்தல் கட்டாயமாக்கப்படவில்லை. பின்னர் இவ்வாறு செய்வதற்கான காலச் சட்டகம் வழங்கப்படவும் இல்லை. குடும்ப உறுப்பினர்கள் கைதுசெய்யப்படும்போது அந்த இடத்தில் பிரசன்னமாக இருந்தாலும் கைது செய்யப்பட்டமைக்கான விவரங்களை அவர்களுக்கு அறிவிப்பதற்குக் கூட 24 மணித்தியாலங்கள் வழங்கப்படவில்லை. குடும்பத்திலுள்ளோர் கைதுசெய்யப்படக்கூடிய வேறு சந்தர்ப்பங்களில் அவ்விடத்தில் இருந்தவர் அல்லது அவர்கள் கைது செய்யப்பட்டமையை அறிவிப்பது கட்டாயப்படுத்தப்படவில்லை. அதே சமயம் பெண் சந்தேக நபர்கள் பெண் பாதுகாப்பு உத்தியோகத்தர்களால் கைது செய்யப்பட வேண்டுமெனவும் அவர்கள் விசாரணைக்கு உட்படுத்தப்படும் போது கட்டாயமாக ஒரு பெண் உத்தியோகத்தர் அவ்விடத்தில்  பிரசன்னமாக இருத்தல் வேண்டுமென்பதும் அத்தியாவசியப்படுத்தப்படவில்லை.

பொலிஸார் தாக்கல் செய்த தடுத்து வைக்கும் கட்டளைக்கு நீதவானின் அங்கீகாரம் பெறல் வேண்டும். அதே சமயம், ஒரு நபர் இரண்டு வாரங்கள் வரை தடுத்து வைப்பதைத் தீர்மானிப்பவர் பொலிஸ் உத்தியோகத்தர் ஆவார். மேலும், இத்தகைய தடுத்துவைக்கும் கட்டளையை, 8 வாரங்கள் வரை நீடிப்பதை  நீதவான் அங்கீகரிக்க முடியும். பொலிஸார் கைதுசெய்தமை தொடர்பாக மனித உரிமைகள் ஆணைக்குழுவிற்கு அறிவிப்பதற்கு 22 மணித்தியாலங்கள் கால அவகாசம் வழங்கப்பட்டுள்ளது. அவருடைய வழக்கு ஒரு வருடத்தை விட அதிக காலகட்டத்திற்கு இழுபட்டுக்கொண்டு போனால் மாத்திரமே சந்தேக நபருக்கு பிணை வழங்கப்படும். தடுத்து வைக்கப்பட்டிருப்பவரின் சட்டத்தரணி மற்றும் குடும்ப அங்கத்தவர்கள் தடுத்து வைக்கப்பட்டிருக்கும் அமைவிடத்திற்கு பிரவேசிப்பதாயின் அந்த நிலையத்திற்குப் பொறுப்பான அரச அதிகாரியின் முன்னங்கீகாரத்தைப் பெறுதல் வேண்டும். அமைச்சர் ஒருவர் தீர்மானிக்கும் அமைவிடத்தில் மற்றும் நிலைமைகளின் கீழேயே முடிவு எடுக்கப்படுகிறது. இத்தகைய தடுத்து வைத்தலுக்கு எதிராக ‘மீளாய்வுக் குழுவிடம்’ மேன்முறையீடு செய்ய முடியும். எனினும் இம்மீளாய்வுக்குழு அமைச்சர், அமைச்சுச் செயலாளர், அமைச்சரினால் நியமிக்கப்படும் மேலும் இருவரை உள்ளடக்கியதாக அமையும். சமூகச் செயற்பாட்டாளர்களுக்கும் ஊடகவியலாளர்களுக்கும் எதிரணி அரசியல்வாதிகளுக்கும் எதிராக ஆட்சி அதிகாரத்தில் உள்ள அரசியல்வாதிகளும் பொலிஸாரும் பயங்கவாதத் தடைச் சட்டத்தைப் பயன்படுத்தும் எமது வரலாற்றைக் பின்னோக்கிப் பார்க்கையில், இச்சட்டத்தின் மூலம் அமைச்சருக்கும் பொலிஸாருக்கும் வழங்கப்பட்டுள்ள அதிகாரம் ஒரு நரியிடம் கோழிக் குஞ்சுகளை ஒப்படைப்பதற்கு ஈடாகும் என்ற கருத்து எமக்கு  மேலும் சந்தேகத்தை ஏற்படுத்துகிறது.

இச்சட்டத்தின் மூலம் தடுத்து வைக்கப்பட்டிருப்போரின் உடலில் ஏதாவது காயங்கள் உண்டா என பரிசீலனை செய்வதற்கு பொலிஸ் நிலையப் பொறுப்பதிகாரியிடம் அதிகாரம் ஒப்படைக்கப்பட்டுள்ளதோடு, அவர் அத்தகைய காயங்களை அவதானித்தாரேயாயின், ஒரு சட்ட வைத்திய அதிகாரியிடம் தடுப்புக் காவலில் வைத்திருப்பவரை ஒப்படைத்து, சட்ட வைத்திய அறிக்கையைப் பெற வேண்டும். நீதவான் அல்லது மனித உரிமைகள் ஆணைக்குழு உத்தியோகத்தர் ஒருவர் தடுத்து வைக்கப்பட்டிருக்கும் இடத்திற்கு வருகை தரும் சந்தர்ப்பத்தில் தடுத்து வைக்கப்பட்டவர் மனிதாபிமானம் அற்ற கவனிப்பின் கீழ் தடுத்து வைக்கப்பட்டிருப்பின், அவர்கள் சிறைச்சாலை கண்காணிப்பு உத்தியோகத்தருக்கு அல்லது பொலிஸ் மா அதிபருக்கு அறிவித்தல் வேண்டும். இது தொடர்பாக உரிய நடவடிக்கைகளை எடுத்து ஏற்புடைய மனிதாபிமான நிலைமைகளை வழங்குமாறு நிர்ப்பந்திக்க முடியாது. சந்தேக நபர்கள் தடுப்புக் காவலில் இருக்கும்போது, துன்புறுத்தல்கள் இடம்பெறுமாயின் அல்லது  பாலியல் வன்முறைகளுக்கு உட்படுத்தப்படுவார்களேயாயின், முன்னைய  பயங்கரவாதத் தடைச்சட்டத்தின் கீழ் அதற்கான ஏற்பாடுகள் இருந்தன. ஆனால்,உத்தேச புதிய சட்டம்  நிலைமைகளை மேலும் மோசமாக்கலாம்.

அமுலில்  உள்ள பயங்கரவாதத் தடைச் சட்டத்தின் கீழ் கைது செய்யப்படுதல், குறிப்பிட்ட அமைவிடங்களுக்குப் பிரவேசித்தல் மற்றும் பொருட்களை கைப்பற்றுதல் ஆகிய  நடவடிக்கைகளை பொலிஸ் உத்தியோகத்தர்கள் மாத்திரமே  மேற்கொள்ள முடியும். ஆனால், புதிய சட்டத்தின் கீழ் முப்படையினருக்கும், கரையோரப் பாதுகாப்பு பிரிவினருக்கும் இவ் அதிகாரங்கள் கிடைக்கின்றன. அதேசமயம் பொலிஸார், பாதிக்கப்பட்ட தரப்பினருக்கு அவர்களது மனக்குறைகளை எடுத்துக்கூற சந்தர்ப்பம் வழங்காமல், ஒரு கூட்டத்தை, ஒரு பேரணியை அல்லது ஒரு செயற்பாட்டை நிறுத்துவதற்கு நீதவானிடம் கோரிக்கை விடுக்கலாம். மறுபுறம் ஏதாவது ஓர் அமைப்பை, பொது அமைவிடத்தை அல்லது வேறு ஓர் இடத்தைத் தடை செய்யப்பட்ட அமைவிடமாக கால வரையறையின்றி பிரகடனப்படுத்தும், கட்டளையை விடுப்பதற்கு முன்னர், அவ்விடயத்தைச் சவாலுக்கு உட்படுத்துவதற்கு பாதிக்கப்பட்ட தரப்பினருக்கு வாய்ப்பு கிடைக்கமாட்டாது. அதேசமயம் அமைப்புக்களின் கூட்டங்கள், நடவடிக்கைகள் மற்றும் நிகழ்ச்சித்திட்டங்களை நடத்துவதைத் தடுத்தல், வங்கிக் கணக்குகள், வேறு நிதி வைப்புக்களை பயன்படுத்துதல் அல்லது அவற்றை ஈடுபடுத்துவதைத் தடை செய்தல், உடன்படிக்கைகளுக்கு வருவதை தடை செய்தல், நிதி சேகரித்தல், நிதி அளித்தல், சொத்துக்களை ஒப்படைப்பதை தடை செய்தல், நிதி அல்லது சொத்துக்களை ஒப்படைப்பதை தடை செய்தல்,  ஓர் அமைப்பின் சார்பில் அழுத்தங்களைப் பிரயோகித்தல், கோரிக்கைகளை முன்வைத்தல் என்பவற்றை தடுப்பதற்கு அமைச்சருக்கு அதிகாரம் உண்டு.

தற்போதைய பயங்கரவாதத் தடைச் சட்டத்தில் வழங்கப்படாத, புதிய சட்டமூலத்தின் மூலம் ஒப்படைக்கப்படும் மேலதிக அதிகாரங்கள் ஜனாதிபதிக்கு உண்டு. உதாரணமாக, ஊரடங்குச் சட்டத்தை பிரகடனப்படுத்துவதற்கும், பொது மக்களின் ஒழுங்கைப் பேணுவதற்கு முப்படையினரை அழைப்பதற்கும் அதிகாரம் ஜனாதிபதிக்கு  வழங்கப்பட்டுள்ளது.

அதே சமயம், புதிய சட்டத்தின் கீழ் பகிரங்கமாக மன்னிப்புக் கோருவதற்கும், புனர்வாழ்வு அளிக்கப்படுவதற்கும், சமூக சேவையில் ஈடுபடுத்துவதற்கும் அதிகாரம் உண்டு. இவற்றின் மூலம் இழைத்த குற்றத்திற்கு நஷ்ட ஈடு செலுத்துவது ஏற்றுக்கொள்ளப்படமாட்டாது. இந்நிலைமையின் கீழ் வழக்கு விசாரணைகளுக்கு நீண்டகாலம் எடுக்கப்படுவதனால், சட்டத்தரணிகளின் கட்டணம் என்பன பாதிக்கப்பட்டோர் தாங்க முடியாத அளவு உயர்ந்து செல்கின்றது. எனவே, பலர் நீதிமன்ற நடவடிக்கைகளின் மூலம் தமது குற்றமற்ற தன்மையை நிரூபிப்பதற்கு கஷ்டப்படுவதற்குப் பதிலாக, குற்ற ஒப்புதலை ஏற்றுக்கொள்வதற்கு இடமுண்டு. இத்தகைய சந்தர்ப்பங்களில் குற்றப்பகர்வு பத்திரத்தின்படி சட்டமா அதிபர் குற்றச் சாட்டுக்களை வாபஸ் பெறும் போது, தண்டனைக்காக நீதிமன்ற அங்கீகாரத்தை கோரும் மேலதிக அதிகாரமும் வழங்கப்பட்டுள்ளது.

புதிய சட்டத்தை வரைந்து வர்த்தமானி அறிவித்தலில் வெளியிட்ட பின்னர், சிவில் சமூகச் செயற்பாட்டாளர்கள் இச்சட்டத்தின் மூலம் அரசியலமைப்பின் அடிப்படை உரிமைகள் மீறப்படுவதாக பிரகடனப்படுத்தி, உயர் நீதிமன்றத்தில் மனுக்களை சமர்ப்பித்ததோடு, உயர் நீதிமன்றம் மனுக்களைப் பொருட்படுத்தாமல் மரண தண்டனையை கொண்டுவருவதன் மூலம் அனைத்தும் ஏற்கனவே இருந்ததை விட மோசமான நிலைக்கு தள்ளப்பட்டுள்ளது.

புதிய பயங்கரவாத எதிர்ப்புச் சட்டமூலம் தொடர்பாக இலங்கையின் பல்வேறு மாகாணங்களிலும் இடம்பெற்ற கலந்துரையாடல்களின்போது மதத் தலைவர்கள், ஊடகவியலாளர்கள் மற்றும் சமூகச் செயற்பாட்டாளர்கள் பலர் வருகை தந்திருந்தனர். பல பெண்களின் குழுக்களினால் இக்கலந்துரையாடல்கள் ஏற்பாடு செய்யப்பட்டன. இவற்றில் உருவாகிய முக்கியமான கருத்துக்களும் கோரிக்கைகளும் பின்வருமாறு: ஏற்கனவே அமுலில் உள்ள பயங்கரவாததத் தடைச் சட்டத்தை நீக்கவேண்டிய அதேவேளை புதியதோர் சட்டம் அவசியம் இல்லை என்பதாகும். மட்டக்களப்பில் இடம்பெற்ற ஒரு கலந்துரையாடலில் பங்குபற்றிய 3 தமிழ் நாடாளுமன்ற உறுப்பினர்கள் கூறியதாவது: இந்த வரைபை அவர்கள் எதிர்ப்பதாகக் குறிப்பிட்டனர். ஆனால், தமிழ் தேசியக் கூட்டமைப்பு இது பற்றி தெளிவான ஒரு நிலைப்பாட்டை வெளியிடவில்லை. பழைய மற்றும் புதிய பயங்கரவாதத் தடைச் சட்டத்திற்கும் தெளிவான எதிர்ப்பை சுட்டிக்காட்டிய ஒரே அரசியற் கட்சி மக்கள் விடுதலை முன்னணி மாத்திரமே என்பதை இங்கு குறிப்பிட்டேயாக வேண்டும்.

கடந்த 6ஆம் திகதி, இச்சட்டம் தொடர்பாக 20 நாடாளுமன்ற உறுப்பினர்களை உள்ளடக்கிய துறைசார் மேற்பார்வைக் குழுவின் கூட்டம் இடம்பெற்றது. இதன்போது சிவில் சமூகச் செயற்பாட்டாளர்கள் மற்றும் சுயாதீன சட்டத்தரணிகளுடன் இது பற்றிய கலந்துரையாடல் இடம்பெற்றது. அடுத்த கூட்டம் பெப்ரவரி மாதம் 20ஆம் திகதி (நாளை) இடம்பெறவுள்ளது. அன்றைய திகதிக்கு முன்னர் இது பற்றிய எழுத்து மூலமான சமர்ப்பணங்களை வழங்குமாறு வருகை தந்தோரிடம் கேட்டுக்கொள்ளப்பட்டது. பெப்ரவரி 11ஆம் திகதி இது தொடர்பாக இடம்பெற்ற கலந்துரையாடலின் போது வெளிவிவகாரஅமைச்சர் பயங்கரவாதத் தடைச் சட்டத்தை அமுல்படுத்தும்போது மனித உரிமை மீறல்கள் இடம்பெற்றதை ஏற்றுக்கொண்டாலும், அத்தகைய ஒரு புதிய சட்டத்தின் தேவையை உறுதியான நிலைப்பாடாக முன்னெடுத்தார். அரச தரப்பினரினதும் சட்டத்தரணிகளினதும் சட்டமா அதிபர் திணைக்களத்தினதும் கருத்து பின்வருமாறு அமைந்துள்ளது, “புதிய சட்டம் அத்தியாவசியமானது – தற்போது சிறு சிறு மாற்றங்களை மாத்திரமே செய்ய முடியும்.”

ஏற்கனவே, அமுலில் உள்ள பயங்கரவாதத் தடைச் சட்டம் மற்றும் புதிய வரைவு ஆகிய இரண்டின் மூலம் தடுத்து வைக்கப்படுவோரின் உயிர்வாழ்வுக்கான பாதுகாப்பு, சுதந்திரம், உடல் உள நலத்திற்கான அச்சுறுத்தல் ஏற்படும் அதேவேளை, அடிப்படை மனித உரிமைகள் மட்டுப்படுத்தப்படுகின்றன. அதேசமயம் பரந்துபட்டதும் தெளிவற்றதுமான வரைவிலக்கணங்களின் மூலம், சட்ட ரீதியாக வேறு கருத்துக்கள் முன்வைக்கப்படுகின்றன. அடிப்படை உரிமைகளை அனுபவிப்பதற்கும் ஜனநாயகப் பிரஜைகள் என்ற வகையில் செயற்படுவதும், பயங்கரவாத நடவடிக்கைகளாக மாறுகின்றன. அதேசமயம், இதன் மூலம் நீதிமன்ற மேற்பார்வையையும் தற்றுணிபையும் குறைக்கும், அமைச்சரினதும் பொலிஸாரினதும் ஆயுதப் படைகளினதும் கரையோரப் பாதுகாவலர்களினதும் தற்றுணிபுக்கு ஏற்ப நடவடிக்கைகளை மேற்கொள்வதற்கு அத்துமீறிய அதிகாரங்கள் அல்லது பாரிய அதிகாரங்கள் வழங்கப்படுகின்றன. அடிப்படையில் பொலிஸாரும் அமைச்சரும் விசாரணையாளர்களும் நீதிபதிகளும உரிய வகிபாகத்தை மேற்கொள்கின்றனர்.

தேசிய பாதுகாப்பு, பயங்கரவாதம் ஆகிய சொற்களைப் பயன்படுத்தி, நீதிமன்றம் மேற்பார்வை செய்யாமல் இருப்பதற்கும் இச்சட்டத்தில் ஏற்பாடுகள் உண்டு. இதனூடாக சிவில் சமூக வாழ்க்கை இராணுவ மயமாக்கப்பட முடியும். அதேவேளை சட்டத்தின் ஆட்சியினூடாக நிர்வகிக்கப்படும் ஜனநாயக சமூகம் அமுலில் உள்ள ஒரு நாட்டிற்குப் பதிலாக தேசிய பாதுகாப்பை முன்னுரிமைப்படுத்தி அதிகாரபூர்வமான ஓர் ஆட்சியாக சமூகம் மாறக்கூடும். இது நல்லிணக்கத்திற்கு பாதகமாகவே அமையும். இதன் மூலம் அதிகாரத்திலுள்ளோருக்கு இனத்துவம், மொழி, மதம் மற்றும் அரசியல் கருத்திற்கு ஏற்ப தம்முடன் உடன்படாத குழுக்களை ஒடுக்குவதற்கு சந்தர்ப்பம் கிடைக்கின்றது. அது எதிர்கால நெருக்கடிக்கு (பயங்கரவாத்தை தடை செய்யும் சட்டத்தின் வரலாற்றை நோக்குகையில் இடம்பெற்றது போலவே) காரணமாக அமையலாம்.

பயங்கரவாத தடைச் சட்டத்தை நீக்கி அதற்கு ஒப்பான மற்றுமோர் சட்டத்துடன் தொடர்புபடுத்துவது எந்த வகையிலும் அவசியமில்லை. நாடாளுமன்றத்தின் மூலம் கட்டாயமாக பயங்கரவாதத் தடைச் சட்டம் நீக்கப்பட வேண்டும். அதனைச் செய்ய முடியும். அமைச்சரவை புதிய சட்ட வரைவை வாபஸ் பெற வேண்டும் அல்லது நாடாளுமன்றத்தினாலேயே அது கட்டாயமாக தோல்விக்குட்படுத்தப்பட வேண்டும். தற்போது அமுலில் உள்ள சட்டங்களின் ஊடாக பயங்கரவாதம் என அடையாளப்படுத்தப்படும் தவறுகள் தொடர்பாக நடவடிக்கை எடுக்க முடியும்.

 தமித் சந்திமால் மற்றும் ருக்கி பெர்னாண்டோ

 


(17.02.2019 அனித்தா’ வாராந்திர சிங்களப் பத்திரிகையில் வெளிவந்த கட்டுரையின் தமிழாக்கம்)

Keppapulavu: Land Struggle Reaches Boiling Point after 700 days of protest

First published at https://groundviews.org/2019/01/22/keppapulavu-land-struggle-reaches-boiling-point-after-700-days-of-protest/ on 22nd January 2019

“We want to sleep, cook, eat in our own house and farm our own land”

700 days is a long time for a day and night protest outside an Army camp. Since March 1, 2017, the people of Keppapulavu, located in the Mullaitheevu district in Northern Sri Lanka, have been doing just that. They have had to brave intimidation and harassment from the Army, Police and intelligence agencies, and also brave the sun, rain, heat, cold and dust. They have faced challenges in continuing their livelihoods, sending children to school and caring for their elderly. It is the longest running community-led day and night continuous protest for land in Sri Lanka. They have also engaged in protests in Colombo and elsewhere, and have participated in meetings with government politicians, local Tamil politicians, government officials, the media, religious clergy, representatives of international community and others.

Last year, President Sirisena promised to return occupied lands in the North and East by December 31, 2018. When this promise was broken, Keppapulavu residents marched to the Army camp and demanded their land. The Army refused to speak to them. In subsequent discussions with government officials, an Assistant Government Agent (AGA) had promised them their land would be released by January 25, 2019.

Soon after, one of the staff officers of the newly appointed Northern Governor had met some members of the Keppalulavu community. Afterwards, on Sunday, (January 20) the Governor also met them. Both had requested more time, but the community members, who had seen so many similar “time-buying” exercises, insisted that January 25 be the final day when all the land would be returned to them. One lady had asked the Governor whether he was going to ensure release of land by January 25, or whether he wished to see the guns of the Army turned on her and other villagers.

“If our lands are not released by 25th January, we will go and reclaim our lands” is what the villagers told me, and what they had told the Army, the Governor of the Northern Province and government officials in meetings they had had the last few days and weeks.

The occupied land sits between the main road between Puthukudiyiruppu and Vattrapalai and borders the Nanthikadal lagoon. It’s very fertile agricultural land and the lagoon has plenty of fish, prawns and crabs. “We can cross our legs and sit in the garden and still have enough food” one man told me. In addition to the houses, most of the community buildings such as the community hall, school, Rural Development Society (RDS) and places with strong emotional attachments such as the church and cemetery remain occupied by the Army. The community life in this village, woven around agriculture and fishing, and the traditional and rich cultural and religious practices, was destroyed first by the war and then by the Army occupation.

“We work hard, fish, farm, and the Army which gets government salaries, enjoys the fruits of trees in our gardens, lives in our houses, and use our community buildings” says Vivekanandan, a villager from Kepapulavu. He goes on, “Why can’t they at least allow us to enjoy the fruits of trees in our gardens?”

His home, as well as the land and homes of other Keppapulavu residents’, now Army-occupied, was visible from across the road, with the beautiful view of Nanthikadal lagoon beyond it. Listening to them was heart breaking as well as making me angry.

“Why are they (the Army) in our houses, our lands, when there is so much forest land around the area?”

“We want to live peacefully with Sinhalese. Why are they (Army) obstructing this by occupying our land? Do they want Prabhakaran (the late leader of the LTTE) to come back?” was another question that was raised.

I recalled similar sentiments heard during my previous visits spanning several years. “Every year our land changes more and more. Some houses have been destroyed. The wells have been closed. Other buildings have been put up. Boundaries have been demarcated differently. But the jak and coconut trees which we planted have started bearing fruit.”

“When I enter my home, it feels as fondly familiar to me as the love of my mother and father…”

I had known some of these community members for around 10 years, when they were being detained in “Menik Farm”. Even then, they always talked about the richness and beauty of their lands and their yearning to return. Even when I met them after they had been compelled to accept alternative lands in a nearby jungle area, they insisted on the right to return to their own land.

The day I visited Keppapulavu was also the day President Sirisena had visited nearby Mulliyawalai, around 10 kilometres away from the protest site. But the long suffering and struggling Keppapulavu people were clearly not of concern to the President who is the son of a farmer, and from an agricultural area.

It is now nearly 10 years since the end of the war. And it is more than 10 years since the Army had forcibly occupied Keppapulavu. For the people of Keppapulavu, justice, peace and reconciliation remain empty words – until and unless they are able to return to their houses, lands, and way of life.

As they said, “We have survived the war but, now we have to die for our lands!”

Iranaitivu: eight months after reclaiming land from the Navy

First published at http://www.sundayobserver.lk/2019/01/13/news-features/iranaitivu-eight-months-after-reclaiming-land-navy on 13th January 2019

Iranaitivu is also a story of resilient community consolidating their claim of the land by reinvigorating their traditional livelihoods and strengthening community institutions. But the missing factor is the Government. At least now, the Government must step in, ensure reparations, and facilitate resettlement.

It was on April 23, 2017 that I joined the Iranaitivu residents in their journey to reclaim their traditional island, which had been denied to them by the Navy for more than 25 years. When I visited last week with some friends and colleagues, I again experienced their love for their land, resilience and determination to strive in their traditional home.

Fighting restrictions on accessing the island

There are no passenger boats between the mainland and the island, hence the fisheries cooperative had arranged a special boat for us. The boat ride was beautiful, but not easy. We had to brave the hot sun, shallow waters in which the engine stalled and rough seas in which we were drenched with sea water. But it was a journey well worth its while.

“I could not help but imagine the precarious journeys these Islanders would have undertaken during the years the war intensified in this region and the natural barrier it would have posed to leaving their valuable belongings when they were suddenly displaced.I had heard that both Sri Lankans and non-Sri Lankans have been stopped from going to the island by the Navy officers and not surprisingly, we were also stopped when we tried boarding the boat from the mainland.

The officers kept insisting on my disclosing my profession and reasons for going to the island, even as I tried to patiently explain constitutional rights of freedom of movement, and asking them based on what laws were they stopping us and demanding some form of special authorisation.

The Human Rights Commission intervened swiftly, and informed us that the North Central Commander for the Navy had clarified that there was no legal restrictions and anyone was free to go to Iranaitivu.

The officers who stopped us became apologetic, and tried to explain their concern was rough seas and dangerous animals on the island, but were helpless to answer when asked why a special authorisation based on profession and purpose was necessary to ward off these new concerns. Refreshingly, the next day, journalists were allowed to travel to Iranaitivu without obstructions, and I hope more people will visit and assert their right to movement.

My previous landings were on the larger island of Periatheevu, but this time, we landed on the smaller island of Sinnatheevu. We met several people who were repairing St. Sebastians Church, a small church on Sinnatheevu, the feast of which they are due to celebrate today, January 13. We were shown wells with drinking water. Some had been cleaned and was the source of water for people living there. Others have been damaged or unusable due to long years of abandonment. A major challenge that needs to be addressed is a system to take the water to the other island where there is less potable water.

The ruins of the brick houses they were forced to leave were visible, often next to the thatched huts they had erected to live since April last year.

There is no motorised transport on the island except for one tiny old roofless mini-lorry. So, from the smaller island, we walked through lush greenery, small lakes and waded through a beautiful strip of sea to the larger island.

The main church in the larger island had been repaired with some assistance from the Navy. But other community buildings suh as the school, cooperative, women’s society, the residences of the priest and nuns, the hospital, the Village Council and the elaborate systems for collecting and storing rain water, both overground and underground, are still in ruins.

An elder told us that they rarely used medicine, showing us some medicinal leaves from a plant he plucked as we were walking.

They residents seemed the happiest about advances they had made in livelihoods after reclaiming the land. We saw dried fish and sea cucumber, which the women said they can harvest just by walking out to the sea in the morning and sometimes evenings as well, leaving the rest of the day free for other activities. We saw tomatoes being grown in a home garden beside a thatched hut. Others we met were repairing by hand nets for lagoon crabs and sea crabs.

There is no electricity on the island. They have received some small solar panels for basic needs from a private well-wisher, which is being used at present.

Reflections and the future

There are still many communities struggling for land around the country, especially in the North and the East. Many are due to Army and Navy occupation, such as in Jaffna, Mullikulam and Pallimunai in the Mannar district, Kepapilavu in the Mullaitheevu district and the Kanagar village and Panama in the Ampara district. I hope Iranaitivu will inspire others struggling to reclaim their lands and fighting for justice.

Iranaitivu is also an inspiring story of a resourceful and beautiful island, unjustly denied to its historical residents by the Navy, but reclaimed by a determined, sustained campaign including a 359-day continuous protest, and finally, by a well-planned, and daring sea journey and landing to reclaim the island, defying the Navy.

Well established community institutions such as the women’s group and fisheries cooperative and the parish priest was instrumental in the community’s survival during decades of displacement and the struggle to reclaim their lands.

Support from other Catholic clergy, activists, media and international community was also important. Iranaitivu is also a story of a resilient community consolidating their claiming of the land by reinvigorating their traditional livelihoods and strengthening community institutions.

But the missing factor is the Government. At least now, the Government must step in, ensure reparations, and facilitate resettlement. Among those who are unable to live on the island are school-going children and some of their family members, which indicates the urgency to rebuild and restart the school on the island as soon as possible.

The hospital also needs to be rebuilt and the school and hospital needs to be adequately staffed. Rebuilding houses, cleaning the wells and installing a water distribution system is urgent. Community buildings too need to be rebuilt.

Government officials must be present on the island. New projects could be initiated, such as for electricity, particularly by exploring the option of solar-power.

Passenger transport boats between the island and the mainland, and at least some minimal transport facilities within the island for emergencies and essential needs need to be established.

 

The Struggle for Justice

First published at http://groundviews.org/2018/10/20/the-struggle-for-justice/ on 20th October 2018

Editor’s Note: The following are excerpts from a speech made at the Human Rights Education Award ceremony at the Law & Human Rights Centre in Jaffna, on 19th Oct. 2018

Dear friends,

I want to congratulate the Law and Human Rights Centre for organising this course. It is difficult but very important to do this in Jaffna, a place that sees continuing rights violations, impunity for serious violations in the past and courageous dissent and resistance, be it through protests, the arts, writing, or filing court cases.

Rights violations and struggles for justice

Today, after this event, I will be going to the Jaffna Press Club – for a commemorative event to remember life and work of Nimalarajan, a Tamil journalist killed on 19th October 2000. He is among many Tamil journalists killed, disappeared, assaulted, threatened, and intimidated during and after the war. No one has been held accountable. For many, justice for Tamil journalists appear to be less important than justice for Sinhalese journalists. Even now, Tamil journalists continue to face threats, intimidation, surveillance, interrogation. Not just them, but also families and friends.

This year and last year has been a year of protests in Sri Lanka – especially in the North and East. This includes continuous protests for more than one and half years by families of disappeared and by communities whose lands are occupied by the military. In addition to long drawn out roadside protests, families of the disappeared in Mannar and Vavuniya have published books documenting their stories. Some have met the President, others have made representations to international community representatives in Sri Lanka and Geneva. Some have filed court cases. Some of the leaders have been assaulted, threatened, intimidated and subjected to interrogation and surveillance. Even those inside prisons have been protesting – such as female detainees and political prisoners engaging in hunger strikes.

There have been a few significant victories emerging from these struggles. For example, last year, month long overnight roadside protests by communities in Pilakudiyiruppu and Puthukudiyiruppu led to the release of Army and Air Force-occupied lands. This year, the people of Iranaitheevu made a daring landing on their Navy-occupied island and reclaimed their traditional lands. Hunger strikes by political prisoners have led to reversal of unjust transfer of cases from Tamil areas to Sinhalese areas, and release on bail of some. Sandya Ekneligoda, whose husband disappeared, was threatened by a rough Buddhist Monk Gnanasara while inside court in 2016 – she refused mediation, insisted and courageously pursed justice in courts and finally, Gnanasara was convicted and put behind bars. These are exceptions to the rule, but it’s good to recall these struggles, and see what we can learn from those that were leading and involved in these.

We also need to be conscious of rights abuses, injustice and repression from non-state parties. Last month, a film looking at Tamil militancy, including the LTTE, in a critical way, was removed from the Jaffna film festival due to pressure from some people in Jaffna. Earlier this week, a photo exhibition, a substantial part of which included photos about rights violations in the North and East including disappearances and land, was not allowed to be held in the Peradeniya University by a student group. Last year, several months long protest was held against caste based oppression in Jaffna.

Protests have been held across the North and East against unjust schemes by microfinancecompanies that pushes people into debt and even suicide. The Catholic Archbishop of Colombo preached that human rights are not so important, that it’s a Western concept, that it’s only for people without religions, despite strong views supporting international human rights framework by successive Popes including Pope Francis. Most Muslim men and clergy resist reform of the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA) which legalises blatant discrimination of women and child marriage of girls. Some Buddhist clergy and their followers have been at forefront of violence against Christians and Muslims. Even as we try hold the state accountable, we must also expose and challenge armed groups, business enterprises, religious groups and in general oppressive social – cultural practices that facilitates, justifies and promotes rights abuses and undermines struggles for justice.

It is also a challenge to critically engage with new laws and institutions that we are faced with. These often fall short of legitimate expectations of survivors, victim families and affected communities. They are often compromised, or seek to whitewash old and existing violations and paint a rosy picture of the present situation. The Office on Missing Persons (OMP) established earlier this year and the Act on Reparations approved in Parliament last month are examples. But they also offer tiny rays of hope for a minimal degree of redress to at least a few survivors, victim families and affected communities and thus, we should be careful about rejecting them totally or boycotting them. The Right to Information Act and the Commission is an example of a recent development that have provided answers to some citizens who proactively sought answers about what’s hidden – such as military occupied land and military run businesses, entitlements in terms of flood relief etc.

I want to spend some time to talk about another draft law that’s before parliament now. The Counter Terrorism Bill. We must all stand for immediate and long overdue repeal of the PTA – the Prevention of Terrorism Act. But we must resist the temptation to compare the Counter Terrorism Act with the draconian PTA, and instead, focus on looking at extremely problematic clauses of the CTA which have the potential to restrict our rights and takes away essential lifesaving checks and balances in face of arrest and detention. It is not even compulsory to have a female officer question a female. It is not compulsory to serve acknowledgement of arrest and detention to family of the detainee. The draft restricts roles of the judiciary and confers extraordinary powers to the police, military, the Minister and the President. But we must also ask the more fundamental question of why we need a CTA, especially when we have a Public Security Ordinance, which gives enormous discretionary powers to the President to declare emergency regulations? Why do we need a CTA when our constitution allows restrictions on fundamental rights in special circumstances including for national security? When we have around 15 other laws, including those dealing with terrorism, hate speech that may cause communal disharmony, and money laundering? Laws such as the PTA, have served as license for enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrest and prolonged periods of detention, torture and sexual violence, and crackdowns on freedom of expression, assembly, association and movement. This is true for Sri Lanka and across the world. In Sri Lanka, it is Tamils who have been disproportionately affected by PTA and it is crucial that the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) which is the major political alliance representing Tamils in parliament, and also the opposition party, stands for the full repeal of the PTA, highlights the problematic clauses of the new counter terror law and oppose it’s enactment. And I believe all of us, especially Tamils in the North and East, must demand this from the TNA.

Human Rights Education and certificates

We cannot talk about human rights education, human rights courses and diplomas isolated from the above context. I would like to mention three elements I consider to be important in human rights education. One is the need to study philosophy, history, laws, institutions, gaining skills to research, theorise, analyse. Secondly, to learn about rights violations and abuses. Thirdly, to learn about struggles for justice. I have not followed any course or diploma in human rights, and learned the first in the process of the being involved in the second and the third. Unlike the first, the last two cannot be studied from the comfort of meeting rooms, or in hotels, classrooms, libraries or research online. We have to learn about violations and struggles against them from survivors of violations, families of victims and affected communities. By meeting them where they are – such as in their homes, in hospitals, prisons, IDP camps, or by joining them in their struggles – at a roadside protest, a hunger strike, an overnight vigil, in court battles, or negotiating with authorities.

I’m aware that some of you in the class, your friends, and your family members may also be survivors of violations. Some of you maybe already be involved in struggles for justice. I was impressed when most of you following the course agreed to visit the families of disappeared at the overnight roadside protest. And I’m happy to hear that some who participated are involved in LHRC work as volunteers.

Today, you will get a certificate. Receiving a certificate can be a nice feeling, give a sense of achievement, and practically, they can help you advance in your education and career. The certificate is a small indicator of you completing the course on human rights. But the real indicator of learning about human rights will be from what you do to prevent violations, fight against them, and support the struggles of survivors, victim families and affected communities. You may not get certificates when you do this, but instead, face persecution and reprisals from state, from your own community, colleagues, friends and families. I have faced and still face such challenges and often ask myself whether it was worth it. I hope you will rise to this challenge. I hope the course will support the emergence of a new generation of activists and strengthen ongoing struggles for justice.

Political prisoners and counter terror laws

First published at http://www.sundayobserver.lk/2018/09/23/news-features/political-prisoners-and-counter-terror-laws on 23rd September 2018

On 14th September, eight Tamil detainees in the Anuradhapura prison, detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) since around 2009 commenced a fast. Their cases are yet to be concluded, with a major reason for delays being the non-attendance of officials from the Attorney General’s department who are prosecuting the cases. One of the cases has not had a hearing for about 5 years. They are demanding to be released or be subjected to short term “rehabilitation” – a form of detention that doesn’t entail a judicial trial and sentence.

The term ‘Political Prisoners’ is used in relation to those detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). The Government rejects the term ‘political prisoner’, insisting that cases need to be resolved through legal than political perspective, though the crimes these detainees are suspected to have committed have a political context involving an armed struggle with political objectives. The Opposition leader, who is also the leader of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has stated in Parliament that “these cases have a certain political dimension and cannot be addressed as purely as a legal issue” and that “circumstances of not addressing the national question reasonably makes it obligatory to address this issue politically”.[1]

Examples of prolonged detention

Prolonged detention has been a hallmark of detention. In the last few years, men and women have been acquitted as not guilty after being detained under the PTA for as long as 15, 10 and 6 years.[2]A 2015 report indicated that as of early 2015, there were persons in detention for 18-19 years under the PTA without having their cases concluded and that it has taken up to 15 years to even file charges in some cases[3]. The National Movement to Release Political Prisoners has indicated there are 107 political prisoners as of now. A July 2018 document provides more details, such as;

* Up to 7 year’s detention without charge being filed

* Up to 13 years detention without completion of trials

* 46 against whom charges have been framed without their cases being concluded – with 16 of them being in detention for 10-13 years

* Another 13 have not even been charged – with 6 being in detention for 5-7 years

They are being held in 10 prisons in Colombo, Negombo, Mahara, Anuradhapura, Kandy, Batticaloa, Polonnaruwa and Moneragala. There are also 37 who have been convicted and 17 who have appeal cases pending. Some have been detained for 15-17 years before being sentenced. The severest sentences range from death sentence, life sentence, 600 years, 200 years and lesser sentences ranging from 1.5 years to 6 years.

Even some who had been released after going through the Government’s rehabilitation for those connected with the LTTE, have been re-arrested. In the case of two such detainees, they were re-arrested in 2010 and charges filed in 2013. After a few months, the Attorney General (AG) had withdrawn the indictment to change the charges. On Feb. 21, 2016, the three suspects had started a hunger strike. They had been brought before courts 36 times by this time. They stopped the hunger strike based on a commitment by the AG to present the amended indictment before courts within 2 weeks. But the amended indictment was only presented to courts in June 2017.

Re-arrests and transfers

Subsequently, the AG had informed them that the case will be transferred to the Anuradhapura High Court, which led to two of them, along with another accused, starting an another hunger strike, demanding the case to be brought back to Vavuniya High Court, insisting they will not be able to get a fair trial in Anuradhapura. The language of the courts in Anuradhpura is Sinhalese, while the language of the Courts in Vavuniya is Tamil. The three Tamil suspects does not understand Sinhalese. It is also very difficult to obtain legal representation for Tamil political prisoners in a Sinhalese majority area like Anuradhapura, and in this particular case, the senior counsel for the three suspects had refused to appear in Anuradhapura.

There is an ethnic bias in transfer of cases of Tamil suspects and accused from Tamil majority North and Eastern provinces to Sinhalese majority areas. When the complainants / victims were Tamils and the accused have been Sinhalese military personnel, cases were transferred on basis of security of accused. In the past, courts in Sinhalese majority areas had accepted confessions made by suspects in detention, whereas Courts in Tamil majority North have rejected such confessions.

Past protests and promises by politicians

In April this year, the “speedy release of all Tamil political prisoners” was one of the ten guarantees the TNA had reportedly sought when they had supported the Prime Minister during No Confidence Motion.[4] In July, TNA leader had promised activists to speedily resolve the problem of political prisoners. According to an activist, a Tamil Minister has not responded for a week to requests for a discussion after the latest fast had commenced. TNA MP and spokesperson Parliamentarian M A Sumanthiran had visited the detainees presently engaged in the fast and taken up the matter with the Prime Minister, but there has been no response yet.

Fasts and protests by political prisoners in Sri Lanka have been common, including in 2015, 2016, 2017 and now 2018. After the 2015 protests, bail was granted to about 40 detainees. Last year, it took a fast of more than a month by three detainees to correct an unjust transfer of cases from Vavuniya to Anuradhapura. When detainees resort to drastic steps such as fasts and protests, there is temporary interest among politicians, media, activists and international community, but momentum and interest had often been lost afterwards, until another fast or protest is initiated by desperate prisoners. The negative impacts on mental and physical health of detainees and their families due to regular fasting is likely to be high, coming on top of the inhumane and degrading treatment and torture they are usually subjected to.

Negative impacts of the PTA

The PTA had resulted in arbitrary arrest, prolonged detention without charges, long drawn out court cases and multiple cases against one suspect. Mental and physical well-being of detainees have been severely affected due to long term detention and as a result of rigorous interrogation, cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment and torture. Many detainees have spent most of their youth behind bars. The stigma attached to having been a “terrorist suspect” lingers even after they are acquitted or released by Courts, with society still considering them guilty.

There have been many cases of forced/coerced confessions where the detainee had not even known she/he was signing a confession as she/he could not understand the language it was written in. The detainees currently on a fast have claimed that the only evidence against them are forced confessions.

A 2018 UN report indicated that 80% of those arrested under the PTA in late 2016 had complained of torture and physical ill-treatment following their arrest, in cases which were later dealt with under ordinary criminal law.[5] The same report quoted the most senior judge responsible for PTA cases as saying that in over 90% of the cases he had dealt with in the first half of 2017, he had been forced to exclude the essential confession evidence because it had been obtained through the use or threat of force. The judge in special High Court in Colombo had been quoted as saying he had only been able to accept one out of eleven confessions as evidence, while in Anuradhapura, out of fourteen cases, twelve were said to have been based solely on unreliable confessions.

The PTA has been used against opposition politicians, journalists and rights activists to suppress dissent. I have also been arrested and detained under the PTA and along with others such as Balendran Jeyakumary, and we are considered terror suspects more than four and half years after our arrests.

Do we need a PTA or any counter-terror laws?

The present Government promised to repeal this law more than three years ago. But it is still being used and there is no date announced for it’s repeal. Instead, the Government had engaged in secret processes to draft laws that would replace the PTA. Media reports earlier this month about a draft counter – terror law approved by Cabinet indicates that problematic clauses such as admission of confessions made to Police and enabling the Defense Ministry to be the authority to implement the provisions of this bill as a piece of legislation dealing with national security will be introduced at the Parliamentary Committee stage, eliminating possibilities of judicial review of such amendments.[6]

However, a more fundamental question is whether we need any counter–terror laws. There is wide-ranging powers available under the Public Security Ordinance, the possibility of including new offences under ordinary law, powers of Magistrates to deny bail in a variety of situations etc. Counter-terror laws provides the executive and security establishment extraordinary powers with minimal checks and balances as well as discretion usually vested with the judiciary, negatively affecting life and liberty, rights and dignity of persons, often serving as a license for enforced disappearances and torture.

Comparisons have also been made to the way detainees were treated in relation to the JVP insurrections, highlighting that Sinhalese political prisoners connected to JVP insurrections were released faster or pardoned than political prisoners connected to the LTTE, the vast majority of whom are Tamil. Protests, including fasts unto death, have been held regularly across the country, including by detainees themselves and their families, and discussions have been held with politicians, but with very little results. Until solutions are found for all political prisoners, both through legal and political processes, and unless we stop resorting to counter-terror laws, reconciliation and democracy will remain distant in Sri Lanka. Most urgent, and immediate, is to respond constructively to the ongoing fast in Anuradhapura. Blurb

The term ‘Political Prisoners’ is used in relation to those detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). The Government rejects the term ‘political prisoner’, insisting that cases need to be resolved through legal than political perspective, though the crimes these detainees are suspected to have committed have a political context involving an armed struggle with political objectives.

[1] http://srilankabrief.org/2017/10/tamil-political-prisoners-in-sri-lanka-…

[2] https://twitter.com/rkguruparan/status/923671056300339200 and http://groundviews.org/2015/10/05/court-acquits-tamil-mother-after-15-ye…

[3] http://groundviews.org/2015/09/05/pta-detainees-ignored-under-yahapalanaya/

[4] http://www.dailymirror.lk/article/TNA-s-key-role-in-defeating-no-confide…

[5] https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Countries/LK/Sri_LankaReportJuly2018.PDF

[6] http://www.dailymirror.lk/article/Cabinet-nod-for-Counter-Terrorism-Bill… Attachments area

MULLIKULAM: A STEP CLOSER TO REGAIN NAVY OCCUPIED LANDS AND HOUSES

First published in the Sunday Observer of 5th August 2018 http://www.sundayobserver.lk/2018/08/05/news-features/mullikulam-step-closer-regain-navy-occupied-lands-and-houses

On 17th July 2018 about 80 families, including children and elderly left behind the brick houses they have been living in, with water, toilets, furniture, kitchen and other household goods, and moved to live in tents in a forest like area. The move was to resettle in their beloved, traditional village, Mullikulam, after nearly 11 years of displacement due to Navy occupation of the village.

Throughout this period, while struggling to survive without the resources Mullikulam provided, the villagers also battled to regain their lands, with many negotiations, meetings, petitions, letters and protests. The responses were mostly betrayals and broken promises, by the present and previous governments.

In 2012, their struggles led to limited access to the school, the church, and some agricultural lands. On April 29, 2017, after a sit-in overnight protest for more than a month outside the entrance to the Navy occupied village, the Navy Commander promised to release 100 acres of land “immediately” and release by end of the year, 27 houses, These were houses in good condition and had been occupied by the Navy. Promises of the Navy were still available on the official website when I was in Mullikulam last week. (http://news.navy.lk/eventnews/2017/04/29/201704291945/)

The 27 houses are yet to be released. This is why people had been compelled to live in tents, in forested and bushy areas of the 77 acres that has been released.

They face dangers from snakes and elephants, as well as dust, sun and rainfall that may come soon. There are electricity lines to the Navy buildings, near to where they live, but they have no electricity and this exacerbates night time dangers. They have to go a couple of kilometres to have a bath and are dependent on minimal toilet facilities at the nearby church and school.

Most painful for some villagers is to see their own houses occupied by the Navy, just a few metres away from their tents. An elderly villager showed me his brick house now occupied by the Navy, just across the gravel road from the tent he is now compelled to live in.

His two sons and a nine month old grandson are among those living in tents. Another grandson born last Sunday and his mother, are unable to come and live in the village in their house, due to Naval occupation of the house.

A rich land broken apart

Mullikulam has been a prosperous and picturesque village in the Mannar District, with a population that’s entirely Roman Catholic and of Tamil origin. It is a traditional fisher and farming village, with forests, tanks, irrigation schemes and open access to the sea enabling food security and steady income. The war resulted in the displacement of villagers in 1990, but many returned after the 2002 Ceasefire Agreement and started to rebuild their lives, livelihoods and restore their destroyed houses and property.

In September 2007, the people of Mullikulam were forcibly removed from their village and the entire village was taken over by the Army. The villagers were assured that they could return within three days. Nearly 11 years after, the people of Mullikulam have yet to be allowed to return home and the status of return remains indefinite and uncertain, due to the Navy having established their Northwestern Command Headquarters and Naval Institute (SLNS Barana) at Mullikulam.

During these 11 years, the approximately 300 families (besides about 100 in South India), have been living on rent, in temporary shelters/camps, or with host families/relatives, in and around Mannar. Some have accepted alternate land and housing. Most want to return to live in Mullikulam.

The future

Despite the nearly 11 year old wait, immense sufferings and broken promises, villagers have still not given up hope of having their village restored to them, which led to the latest move last month.

Civil authorities in the area must step into to provide the most urgent needs for those who moved to Mullikulam, such as electricity, toilets and bathing facilities.

The situation in Mullikulam has also been brought to the attention of the President, who is also the Commander in Chief. He must ensure that the Navy keeps its promise and immediately release the balance 23 acres of land and 27 houses, plus the 300 acres they had “earlier consented to release”.

Although what is needed is nothing less than the release of the Mullikulam village as soon as possible, it would be important to prioritise land that people judge to be most important for traditional livelihoods, public purposes and residencies.

It is also important to establish a regular consultative process about land releases with Mullikulam people, that’s led by civil authorities, respects people’s right to communicate and receive communications in Tamil, maintains transparency with written records of discussions and agreements, provides regular written updates on progress being made and responds to queries.

The Government must also try to provide the displaced people with material and financial assistance to rebuild their lives, including the return of boats, nets and other resources they had left behind when the Army occupied the village, rebuilding or improving village infrastructure including schools, medical centres and other amenities and ensuring equal access to common property and resources.

Note: the writer has been visiting and working with Mullikulam community since their displacement in 2007. Below are two of his previous writings that provides more background information.

Renewed struggle to regain Navy occupied village http://groundviews.org/2017/04/06/mullikulam-renewed-struggle-to-regain-…

The struggle to go home in post war Sri Lanka: The story of Mullikulam

http://groundviews.org/2012/08/01/the-struggle-to-go-home-in-post-war-sr…

DISAPPEARANCES IN SRI LANKA: 500 DAYS OF PROTESTS

First published in the Sunday Observer of 29th July 2018 http://www.sundayobserver.lk/2018/07/29/opinion/disappearances-sri-lanka-500-days-protests

Earlier this month female activists in the North and the East were subject to assault and other intimidation, which allegedly appears to be in relation to their work on disappearances, in courts and at the UN.

The Office of Missing Persons consultation meetings in Jaffna and Kilinochchi also met with fierce resistance by some families of the disappeared. July also saw the first significant solidarity protest in Colombo to mark 500 days of roadside protests by families of the disappeared in the North and the East.

Two weeks ago, I went to Jaffna Hospital to visit an activist I have known for many years. Her head was bandaged, left eye and cheek swollen and bruised. She had been attacked with an iron rod close to the Vaddukottai Police Station in the Jaffna district. The activist had been assisting families of the disappeared and lawyers in habeas corpus cases in Jaffna courts. According to documents filed in court and based on the magisterial inquiry, the military is allegedly implicated in the disappearances.

These disappearances had happened in 1996, when Jaffna was under Army control, under the Presidency of Chandrika Kumaratunga, who is now Chairperson of the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR). The activist was attacked three days after the last hearing of the case.

She had been warned by an unidentified person not to get involved in the case. Others involved in the case have also been subject to intimidation in the past few months.

Two days before, I had met a Tamil activist from the East, whose husband had been a victim of an enforced disappearance. Having had no response from Sri Lankan authorities, she had for the first time, gone to Geneva to seek help from the UN Human Rights Council.

There, an event she was speaking at was disrupted by group of persons she suspects to be linked to the military. After the disruption, she fainted while at the head-table, had to receive immediate medical treatment and was later hospitalised.

Her trauma continued when she returned. She told me that as she was looking for her baggage in the airport, she was questioned by some officials at the airport. After reaching home, she alleged that she was interrogated by people suspected to be from the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) about meetings she had at the UN in Geneva.

A few days later, an iron rod was thrown at her, when she was on a bicycle with her son in her hometown.

The brutal attack on the Jaffna disappearance activist happened while the Office of Missing Persons (OMP) was holding consultations in the town. The next day, OMP held a similar meeting in Kilinochchi. From the Jaffna hospital, I went to the OMP meeting in Kilinochchi, arriving earlier than the scheduled 9.30 a.m. I found the small access road crowded with protesters, mostly Tamil mothers and wives of those disappeared. Some of them had been protesting for more than 500 days continually, had met the Sri Lankan President several times, and complained to various state institutions and Commissions of Inquiries.

Frustrated and fed up, they had no faith in new institutions. They politely and patiently explained this to the equally polite and patient Chairman of the OMP, who had come out to the street to talk to them. The protest leaders agreed with OMP Chair’s appeal not to obstruct families who wanted to attend the OMP meeting, but insisted on their right to communicate their message to families going for the meeting. I observed that some such attempts bordered on physical obstruction, though the road and gate was cleared for anyone to go to the OMP building.

Some families who were keen to go to the OMP meeting, argued with protesters, with one elderly lady telling a protest leader “you deal with your son’s disappearance the way you want, I will deal with disappearance of my son the way I want”.

While I share the frustrations of protesting families, I hope their leaders will find more respectful ways of engaging with families of disappeared who want to engage with the OMP.

In the end, only about 10 families attended the meeting with OMP. During the meeting, one family of the disappeared asked the OMP to deliver justice instead of having meeting-after-meeting. Another shared the belief that a 15 year old child taken away by the LTTE was still alive and another stressed the importance of livelihood assistance. The question of those who had disappeared after surrendering to the Army was also raised.

500 days of day and night protests

From the Kilinochchi OMP meeting, I went to Vavuniya, to spend some time with families of the disappeared who have been protesting day and night at a roadside tent for more than 500 days. They shared difficulties of sustaining such a long protest. Anger and disappointment with the Government, Tamil politicians, media, activists and society in general was visible. I again felt weakening health conditions and resolve of some protesters and a few days after my visit, I heard about the death of the eighth protestor who had died during the 500 days. It was also sad to see escalating tensions between protesting families with activists, politicians and even non-protesting families of the disappeared, inevitable given their hostile, inhospitable, frustrating and traumatic experiences.

Although the families must finally decide about how to protest, it would be insensitive to encourage continued protests in the context of authorities, media and society at large that are not sympathetic to their plight. Elderly and physically and emotionally frail mothers and fathers who are protesting are vulnerable to harsh conditions. I had always hoped protesters will consider forms of continuing protests less harmful to themselves, so, I was relieved to hear last week that some of the protesters had decided to change strategy.

Challenges facing families and the OMP

In my conversations with families of disappeared, food, education, healthcare, housing and livelihoods have emerged as major challenges to families of the disappeared – and especially to those protesting for 500 days. Once, when I arrived at a protest site late morning, the protesters had not had any breakfast. Families at one protest site told me that they get five lunch packets from a local trader and share them.

The latest attacks on Tamil women disappearance activists in North and East comes after the vicious hate campaign including death threats against the brave and determined Sandya Ekneligoda, a Sinhalese from a Colombo suburb and wife of a disappeared journalist. Such attacks may deter activism and increase anger, frustration and suspicion against the judiciary or institutions such as the OMP, and radicalise families and others.

Families of the disappeared confront the OMP with the legacy of broken promises by successive Governments and the failures of past Commissions to provide redress. To their mind, there is no compelling reason to trust that the OMP will deliver. Families who have been deceived and dismissed repeatedly even by the current ruling administration will not be convinced by technical answers about how the OMP is different to other mechanisms.

Discussions between protestors and the OMP Chair and Members in Kilinochchi and their memo to the Office indicate they were open to engage conditionally with the mechanism and should be taken seriously. After five months of operation, the OMP does not appear to have started tracing the disappeared and missing. The challenge for the OMP is to deliver on actions and in months, rather than years.

Solidarity

This note would not be complete without mention of the 30-hour overnight protest vigil in Colombo to show support and solidarity towards the 500 days continuing protests by Tamil families of the disappeared in the North and the East. It was a first such solidarity action in Colombo and a personal initiative of a small group of committed young activists. It was heartening to have few Sinhalese and Muslim families of the disappeared from around Colombo such as Sandya Ekneligoda, Mauri Jayasena and Sithi join us. Some people walking by and the occasional trishaw and motorcycle stopped and asked for details. Both drivers of the two trishaws I got in chatted with me about it. Others in vehicles, including Army officers, opened their windows and accepted our information leaflet.

As they wait for answers from the Government and institutions such as the OMP and judiciary about their loved ones, families of the disappeared deserve more coverage by mainstream Sinhalese and English media. And they need continued solidarity from Sri Lankan society and internationally. The struggle of the families must become a struggle of all Sri Lankans.

(The writer is a human rights activist)

AMPARA: 100 DAYS AFTER THE VIOLENCE AGAINST MUSLIMS

First published at http://www.sundayobserver.lk/2018/06/10/opinion/ampara-100-days-after-violence-against-muslims on 17th June 2018

On the night of February 26 and early hours of February 27, the Jumma Masjid Mosque in Ampara and a few nearby eateries run by Muslims were attacked by Sinhalese mobs. The mobs started by attacking the eatery ‘New Cassim Hotel’ based on a wild allegation that the Muslim owner was putting wanda pethi or sterilisation pills into the food served to customers, in order to wipe out the Sinhalese population in the area. The local mosque was accused of playing the lead role in distributing the pills. However, it appears the violence was premeditated and systematically planned, and the wanda Pethi story was just used as an emotive trigger.

100 days after

One hundred days after the violence, the fear and disappointment felt by the Muslim community in the area is palpable in their voices and in their body language. Fear that sparks off hatred smouldering beneath ashes may be ignited into fires again. Fear when some of those who attacked the Mosque still walk right in front of it, and others who hooted while going past it, despite the presence of policemen and a member of the Civil Defence Force providing 24 hour security at the mosque. Fear of reprisals, if they identify local youth they know were part of the attacks. Fear that prosecution of perpetrators may lead to further reprisals against them. Disappointment that the violence was not prevented despite ample opportunities and early warnings and disappointment that no compensation has been paid yet and no information about how much and when it would be given. And disappointment that the Government is not countering the continuing ideological warfare against Muslims, that violence against Muslims have continued for many years and they are compelled to live as second class citizens, in fear.

The physical damage caused by the attackers is still visible, especially, in the Mosque. The windows remain broken, the ashes from the burnt vehicles and motorcycles are still lying there. The remains of a brand new generator that was burnt is also still there, along with burnt and half burnt documents and furniture. Engineers have warned that the floor of the Mosque, which is an elevated structure, is not safe for worshippers to gather in numbers, due to damage caused by the fire. The broken boundary wall of the premises and gate remain the same, as they were after the night of violence and rioting in February.

New Cassim Hotel is still under construction following the damage. We had breakfast and lunch at the other two eateries which had resumed business, after some repairs and the purchasing of new furniture and fittings. But, both owners said, business was not what it used to be. The events that took place seemed to weigh heavily on their hearts and minds, even as they were trying to work hard and focus on rebuilding.

The lead up to the February violence

Trouble had been brewing for Muslims in the Ampara town long before the attacks. According to a Mosque leader, after the 2004 tsunami that badly affected many coastal towns close to Ampara, many Sinhalese construction workers had arrived in the area and some had remained in Ampara. These men had been hostile towards the Muslims. Muslim clerics who had come to teach religion in Ampara had faced harassment on the main roads. They had been hooted at and in one instance, the traditional cap worn by the moulavi was grabbed. Muslim leaders in the area said they had decided not to complain to the police about these incidents, to prevent the tensions from escalating. Instead, they had advised their clerics to reduce the amount of time spent walking on the roads and to take off their caps to prevent hostile persons from identifying them in public. When police complained that their traditional call to prayers were too loud, the Mosque responded by reducing the volume without arguing their case. Though native Tamil speakers, the Muslim community in the area have made an effort to learn Sinhalese and sent their children to study in the Sinhalese medium, the community leaders say.

In a separate incident, in Manikkamadu, in Irrakkamam, about 8 km south of Ampara town, a Buddhist statue had been placed on lands that the Muslims claim have been their lands, leading to protests and a court case. The statue is still there, but a policeman on duty prevented us from going up to the statue, citing a Prohibition Order from court.

The attack and damages

According to the several eyewitnesses and Mosque leaders we spoke to, the mobs which came to the Mosque had numbered several hundreds, with some estimates as high as 500-800. Two private buses had been used. Most were youth, and a few had been drunk. One eyewitness said he knew several local youth who were part of the mob. The mob had beaten and chased away the persons who were renting residential quarters owned by the Mosque, situated just behind the main Mosque building. A 65-year old Muslim cleric and a staffer in the mosque were also beaten and injured. Money, mobile phones and other valuables had been looted. The fire brigade had come to the Mosque while the fires were raging, but the mob had not allowed the them to douse the flames.

The community believes, only 11 persons had been arrested since the violence. At a subsequent meeting held in the nearby town of Oluvil with the Prime Minister and other high ranking politicians and government officials, the police had asked local Muslims to identify the persons responsible, but a senior Muslim leader had insisted that it was the duty of the police to investigate and identify the suspects. An eyewitness expressed concern about the effect it would have on the families of the mob, if the rioters were to be detained, several of whom they knew personally, who were part of the local Sinhalese community.

The damage to the Mosque is estimated by the Mosque leaders to be around Rs. 45 million. However, the District Secretariat assessment of the damage is around Rs. 24 million. Damage to the shops is estimated to be around Rs. 3.5 million while damage to a vehicle and motorcycles burnt is estimated to be around Rs. 3 million. Compensation is yet to be granted, while people are yet to learn the amounts which they would be entitled to.

Police and STF

One of the eateries attacked is opposite the District Secretariat and a few metres from several police offices in the vicinity, including those of senior officials. The other two eateries that were attacked and the Mosque were also within a five minutes drive from the police. But, it had taken the police a long time to get to the troubled spots and call in adequate reinforcements to deal with the mobs. Several residents said, that when the police had reached the Mosque, they had addressed the mob as “little brother” (Malli) and asked them to stop the destruction. But since no decisive action was taken, the mob had carried on.

Far worse was the fact that the police had not responded in advance, despite the calls to the emergency hotline (119) about 45 minutes before the mob’s arrival at the Mosque. One eyewitness used a landline to call 119 even as the mob was on the rampage, even then, there had been no clear response. Police had been present as tensions were brewing at New Cassim Hotel, well before the attack on the Mosque.

When an eyewitness at the Mosque – who was also beaten – was taken to a jeep parked just outside the boundary wall of the mosque, he had recognised the armed and uniformed men in the jeep as being from the Special Task Force (STF). He claims the STF had abused him in derogatory and obscene language. The STF appeared to have been observing the mobs and not intervened even with ‘minimum force’, the man claimed. There was proof that the STF stood by while the mob rioted, in the fact that the section of the Mosque wall where their jeep was parked had remained intact, while the rest of the wall was destroyed, the residents and religious leaders claimed.

An officer who was part of a team with weapons, that was deployed to an eatery which was being attacked, expressed frustration that he could not deploy minimum force, or even fire into the air to disperse the mobs, as there were as no orders from senior officers.

What’s next?

About a week after the violence in Ampara, more intensive violence was unleashed against Muslims in Digana and around Kandy, leading to the death of at least two people and massive destruction to Mosques, Muslim businesses, houses and properties. Since then, attention on the violence in Ampara appears to have faded away. But Muslims in Ampara await justice – which in the long term means opportunity to live without fear as equal citizens, co-existing with other communities. For this to happen, the Government will have to ensure those responsible are held accountable, without delay and start addressing deep-rooted and widespread anti-Muslim sentiments and canards about the Muslims.

[The writer is a Human Rights activist]