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Sri Lanka: Public threats and harassment against human rights defender Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu
On 15 October 2012, posters containing a threat to human rights defender Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu appeared in Colombo and surrounding areas.
Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu is the executive director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), a non-governmental organisation which carries out research and advocacy for public policy that promotes non-violent conflict resolution and strengthens democratic governance.
On the morning of 15 October 2012, posters appeared in the environs of Colombo containing a message in Sinhala. Translated, the message reads: “Let us save the pro-people Divineguma Act, which builds the lives of fifteen lakhs [1,500,000] of low income families, from the Paikiasothy gang that aids and abets the separation of the country.” The poster refers to a bill currently in the process of being enacted. Dr Saravanamuttu and CPA have filed petitions to challenge the bill, as they are concerned that in a number of areas its provisions could be unconstitutional. As a result, the bill is currently pending before the Supreme Court.
On the same morning the posters appeared, the CPA offices in Colombo were visited by military personnel. The military personnel reportedly offered a vague pretext of having been informed the CPA's address was linked to the Elections Department, which was being investigated by these military persons. In a statement, the CPA has said they are as yet unsure whether the two events are linked, or why the military would be involved in such inquiries at all.
These threats are the latest incident in a long pattern of harassment and threats directed at Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu. In March 2012, a smear campaign by state-affiliated newspapers, TV and radio stations and news websites was launched against him and three other human rights defenders when they attended the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, where they spoke of human rights abuses committed in Sri Lanka. These media outlets repeatedly accused the human rights defenders of treason, affiliation with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and of receiving money from abroad to work against the interests of the country. This smear campaign included one event during a public rally on 23 March 2012 where a member of the national government, Minister of Public Relations Mr Meryn Silva, threatened the human rights defenders with physical harm if they set foot in Sri Lanka, reportedly saying: “I will publicly break the limbs of people like Sunanda Deshapriya, Nimalka Fernando and Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu who lobbied against their own country”.
Front Line Defenders is seriously concerned about this latest incident against Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu and the CPA, especially in the light of the official or state-sanctioned nature of some of these threats. The CPA has identified an increasingly menacing climate of open hostility and stigmatisation on the part of the government toward critical voices in civil society. Front Line Defenders has issued a number of appeals on behalf of Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu in the past, [[path..:/node/17868|dated 27 March 2012]], [[path..:/node/217823 September 2009]] and [[path..:/node/213721|August 2009]], including in relation to the incidents described above.