Continued harassment and defamation of human rights defender, Ms Nimalka Fernando
On 8 November 2013, human rights defender Ms Nimalka Fernando lodged complaints of defamation against state-owned Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC), following a radio programme in which she was subjected to derogatory comments. This incident is part of an ongoing campaign of harassment against the human rights defender.
Nimalka Fernando is a lawyer and social activist. She is the president of the International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR) and the Women’s Forum for Peace in Sri Lanka. Nimalka is also an active member of Mothers and Daughters of Lanka, a diverse coalition of women’s organizations in the country.
On 8 November 2013, human rights defender Ms Nimalka Fernando lodged complaints of defamation against state-owned Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC), following a radio programme in which she was subjected to derogatory comments. This incident is part of an ongoing campaign of harassment against the human rights defender, which has included threats by public officials. Nimalka Fernando is President of the International Movement against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR).
On 3 November 2013, Nimalka Fernando gave an interview for broadcasting on HARD TALK on HIRU TV. The following day, she was informed that her voice had been cut from the interview and used in a SLBC radio programme, in which she was portrayed in a negative light and the subject of derogatory comments. Nimalka Fernando was described as a 59-year old divorced woman who had served thirty different organisations, and “carried tales since 1989”. The Chairman of the SLBC, Mr Hudson Samarasinghe, was in the studio during the programme.
Callers made comments that Nimalka Fernando should not be allowed to live in Sri Lankan society and that such people should be destroyed. One said that NGOs should be dealt with one by one, while another caller referred to the human rights defender as a prostitute. Hudson Samaringhe actively supported the callers' ideas and encouraged these comments. Most of the callers were men and at least three of them identified themselves as people who have served in the armed forces.
On 8 November 2013, Nimalka Fernando lodged a complaint with the Inspector General of Police (IGP) and the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL). Her complaint's IGP registration number is IMP/PAC/0/1140/13. The human rights defender has requested that the IGP and HRCSL carry out an inquiry and investigation into defamation, which is a criminal offence in Sri Lanka. She has also requested that recordings of the SLBC radio programme be secured for proof since it will provide information of the callers and their phone numbers.
It is reported that the defamation against Nimalka Fernando came as a result of her comment in Island Newspaper on 25 October 2013 about the Health Ministry's recent report, which indicated that there are over 40,000 sex workers in Sri Lanka. In the interview, Nimalka Fernando commented that she appreciated the categorisation used by health authorities since it will protect sex workers who are normally harassed under the Vagrant Ordinance of Sri Lanka, which should be abolished. During the interview, she also advocated a more protective reproductive health approach in Sri Lanka.
In March 2012, state-affiliated media and government websites have been conducting a smear campaign against Nimalka Fernando and other human rights defenders, accusing them of treason. The Minister of Public Relations, Mr Meryn Silva, reportedly threatened human rights defenders with physical harm if they set foot in Sri Lanka, during a rally against the Human Rights Council Resolution on Sri Lanka. He is reported to have said, “I will publicly break the limbs of people like Sunanda Deshapriya, Nimalka Fernando and Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu”.