Ruki Fernando has been an assiduous researcher and civil rights worker for several years. Associated formally with the National Peace Council and often publishing citizen articles in Groundviews, the web site of the Centre for Policy Alternatives, he has used the Catholic networks and circuits to range beyond the bourgeois lounges of Colombo and unearthed data of both social and political relevance. Needless to say, all such ventures involve interpretations and weightages and should be subject to critical review (as indeed, they are in blog commentary of varying perceptiveness). I note some illustrative examples of his investigative work.
Croos, Fr. J., Deanne Uyangoda & Ruki Fernando 2011 “Threats, Harassments and Restrictions on Former Detainees and Their Families in Vanni,” 11 May 2011, http://www.globalpeacesupport.com/ globalpeacesupport. com/post/2011/05/14
Ruki [Fernando] 2o10 “Vanni in the year after war: Tears of despair and fear,” 26 May 2010, http://groundviews.org/2010/05/26/vanni-in-the-year-after-war-tears-of-despair-and-fear/
Ruki [Fernando] 2o10 “Menik Farm: The tragic end of a bitter saga, from detention to forced relocation,” 2 October 2012, http://groundviews.org/2012/10/02/menik-farm-the-tragic-end-of-a-bitter-saga-from-detention-to-forced-relocation/
It would seem that Ruki was on such an investigative mission with Fr. Praveen Mahesan when they were encompassed by the Sri Lankan state’s intelligence services as the latter responded to the shooting of a police officer by a Tamil who has been deemed an LTTE subversive bent on underground activity. It is early days yet and we require more information in the coming weeks. In the meantime I insert below (A) a statement by Jehan Perera of the National Peace Council and (B) a press statement by the Sri Lanka Army’s media officer in the official mouthpiece Daily News; while recommending visits to Groundviews and Colombo Telegraph over the next week for further information. Dayan Jayatilaka has already criticised the government for this act in the light of the Geneva encounters in process. Also see http://www.cpalanka.org/statement-on-arbitrary-detention-of-human-rights-defenders/ AND http://www.eurasiareview.com/17032014-sri-lanka-free-prominent-rights-defenders-say-human-rights-groups/.
We require more information, however, about Kajipan Ponnai Selvanayagan, alias Gopi, whose arrest after the shooting led to the apprehending of Ruki and Fr Mahesan. His past role in the LTTE and immediate history now in the operations of “Tiger International” [my shorthand for the organised migrant networks seeking Eelam] are central to any analysis of the problem. Without such detail — hard to come by as it is — we are likely to be shooting (words) in the dark. One must allow for the possibility that these Tamil nationalists are prepared to use civil rights workers as catspaws in their stealthy activities.
It is naïve to say that we are a country at peace when there has been a propaganda war from 2009 and when Tiger International and especially its Nediyavan faction are seeking to set up a separate state through international machinations — possibly assisted by local political groups working towards Eelam by democratic stealth.
There is, at the same time, a critical issue of wider import attached to this unfolding tale. The Prevention of Terrorism Act needs to be revisited and reviewed. This in turn is but one aspect of the wider problem relating to the rule of law in Sri Lanka. This broad and central issue impacts on all citizens. A body of personnel from across the political spectrum must address this problem. While including lawyers, this body must not be restricted to the legal fraternity. Such well-versed men as Eran Wickramaratne should be part of the deliberations. Michael Roberts
B: Statement by Jehan Perera of the National Peace Council: “Reassess arrest of Ruki Fernando and Fr. Praveen Mahesan and uphold rule of law and due process”
The National Peace Council views with great concern the arrest of Ruki Fernando and Fr Praveen Mahesan, two of the leading human rights defenders in the country. Both of them are partners of NPC and have taken part in our programs. Their commitment to sustainable peace and reconciliation and promotion of humanitarian norms are unquestionable. Both of them were arrested last evening in Kilinochchi in the North where they had been seeing to the welfare of families of missing persons following the arrest and detention of one of their members Balendran Jayakumari, whose youngest son went missing after allegedly surrendering to the army at the end of the war.
Ms Jayakumari was arrested under the prevention under the Prevention of Terrorism Act which was formulated to deal with issues of terrorism and war and has no place in a post-war country. Human rights activists like Ruki and Fr Praveen are those who give hope to the hopeless and who by their support discourage extremism. The harsh measures taken against human rights defenders will only show the UNHRC and democratic world opinion that there are continuing problems of arbitrary arrest and detention for human rights workers in Sri Lanka who make representations about such violations to international fora such as the UN Human Rights Council.
We call upon the Government of Sri Lanka to uphold the Rule of Law and follow Due Process including transparent procedures. NPC also points to the need of the Sri Lankan State to allow the Human Rights workers and Non-Governmental Organizations in the field to carry out their activities as recognized in the UN Charter. We regret that civil institutions such as the Police no longer have the independence to act according to their conscience and in the spirit of the normal laws of the country. We call upon the Government to allow civil authorities enforcing the law to act under the normal law when investigating crimes or offences without resorting to draconian provisions of the law, such as found in the Prevention of Terrorism Act.
C: “National Peace Council Tiger links bared” by Chamikara Weerasinghe … http://www.dailynews.lk/local/national-peace-council-tiger-links-bared
Ruki Fernando and Fr Praveen Mahesan, prominent activists of the National Peace Council (NPC), were taken into custody in Kilinochchi by the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID), Military spokesman Brigadier Ruwan Wanigasekera yesterday said. “They were taken into custody for questioning under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, because of their alleged connections with hardcore LTTE cadre Kajipan Ponnai Selvanayagan, who is also known as Gopi, according to military sources. Gopi had fired shots at an IP injuring him on March 13. Both Ruki Fernando and Fr.Praveen Mahesan had been with Gopi and his close contacts,” he said.
After surrendering to the Sri Lanka Army on May 22, 2009, Gopi escaped from the IDP camp. He had worked in a Middle Eastern country for a few years before he went to Europe. He has become a member of the LTTE breakaway Nediyavan faction which is currently functioning undercover in Norway.
Nediyavan is a terrorist faction that is trying to revive the LTTE in Sri Lanka to establish a separate state. Gopi had however come to Sri Lanka from Europe with a mission to fan the flames of terrorism.
The Sri Lanka Army recovered posters and handbills from a location in Kilinochchi along with 356 T 56 guns, mortar ammunition and claymore bombs. “The TID had arrested Balendran Jayakumari for harbouring a wanted criminal- Gopi, who had come to Sri Lanka with a mission to rekindle terrorism,” sources said.
Jayakumari had a F3 type mine detector in her possession.” We suspect that she and Gopi used this machine to unearth weapons, because they know as former LTTE cadres where they had been buried. “Both Ruki Fernando and Fr Mahesan, who call themselves human rights defenders had often met these terrorist activists. They are being questioned because the matter concerns national security,” the Military spokesman said.
D: A Statement from the Foreign Ministry in Geneva, courtesy of the government’s Daily News, 20 March 2014
The Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka in Geneva submitting its report before the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) says it is regrettable that an elected member of the Northern Provincial Council Ms. Ananthi Sasitharan had chosen to misrepresent the arrest and detention of Ms. Balendran Jeyakumari. The fact that her daughter was taken under Police care when she was arrested has been portrayed as a case of arresting a child who participated in a protest. “It is also regrettable that Ms. Sasitharan despite being a member of a Provincial administration had chosen to make statements in the UN Human Rights Council using time allocated to two NGOs,” Sri Lanka’s Permanent Mission stated in a Right of Reply statement.
The detention on March 16 of Mr. Ruki Fernando and Father Praveen under the PTA were in connection with an investigation into attempts to revive the LTTE, and the recovery of an arms caché at Vishwamadu and the shooting incident in Dharmapuram involving Gobi, a former LTTE cadre. Investigations have revealed that Mr. Fernando and Father Praveen had been in Killinochchi in close contact with persons connected to Gobi, an LTTE operative actively involved in reviving the LTTE and regrouping LTTE cadres. Their questioning is continuing at present to ascertain the whereabouts of Gobi and other related operatives. The Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the UN, Geneva in a Right of Reply on statements made regarding the arrest and detention of Ms. Balendran Jeyakumari and the detention of Ruki Fernando and Fr. Praveen states that while Jeyakumari aided and abetted in LTTE activities of Gopi who was actively involved in reviving the LTTE and regrouping LTTE cadres the detention of Messrs Fernando and Fr. Pravin was in connection with their engaging with persons connected to Gopi. The Right of Reply states: a. Investigations revealed that K.P. Selvanayagam a.k.a. Gobi who had been overseas and returned to Sri Lanka was actively involved in reviving the LTTE through regrouping LTTE cadres and recruiting unemployed local youth with the intention of using them for acts of terrorism. b. The intention of these LTTE operatives headed by Gobi had been to recover arms cachés hidden by the LTTE prior to their defeat. c. The key operative directing the operations, Gobi, had been evading arrest. Following further investigations, the Terrorist Investigations Division (TID) had recovered an arms caché including mortar and RPG type live ammunition, three hand grenades, 2.5 kg claymore bomb and ammunition for T-56 weapons. d. Pursuant to this recovery, and a lead obtained on the whereabouts of Gobi, a team of Police Officers proceeded to the residence of Balendran Jeyakumari in Killinochchi. During the search operation Gobi had fired at the Police, injuring a sub-Inspector and escaped. e. At this residence, the landlady Balendran Jeyakumari and her 13-year-old daughter Vibooshika were present. Since suspect Gobi while being armed escaped, a search was carried out on the said residence. A Menelab F-3 type mine detector was recovered. Therefore, Ms. Jeyakumari was placed under arrest on suspicion of aiding and abetting Gobi in his activities. f. As Balendran Jeyakumari had been unable to provide an appropriate caregiver/relative to keep her 13-year-old daughter, she was taken along with the mother and produced before the Killinochchi Magistrate. Based on the Magistrate’s order, Vibooshika has been placed under the care of Probation and Child Care Services. g. The aforementioned arrest was made under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). The ICRC has access to all detainees being held at Boossa. Therefore, it is regrettable that an elected member of the Northern Provincial Council, Ms. Ananthi Sasitharan, has chosen to misrepresent this case in this august body and depict it as an arrest made of a child who had participated in protests. It is also regrettable that Ms. Sasitharan, despite being a member of a provincial administration, has chosen to make statements in the Council using time allocated to two NGOs. We also note that Ms. Sasitharan, in referring in her statements to the Council to “Tamil Eelam”, has failed to adhere to the agreed language of the United Nations, and is in violation of the Constitution she has pledged to uphold as a Provincial Councillor. The detention on March 16 of Mr. Ruki Fernando and Father Praveen under the PTA were in connection with the aforesaid investigation into attempts to revive the LTTE by operatives, including the recovery of the arms caché at Vishwamadu and the shooting incident in Dharmapuram involving Gobi. Investigations have revealed that Mr. Fernando and Father Praveen had been in Killinochchi engaging with persons connected to Gobi. Their questioning is continuing at present to ascertain the whereabouts of Gobi and other related operatives. The above actions taken by the Law Enforcement Authorities of Sri Lanka are well within the existing legal framework and following due process. This development also underscores the need to be vigilant on the activities of the remnants of the terrorist group, considering its bearing on national security.” – See more at: http://www.dailynews.lk/?q=local/ananthi-rebutted-willful-misrepresentation.
V. Media Release 2 from the National Peace Council, 20 March 2014
The Daily News of 18 March 2014 in its lead front page story claimed “National Peace Council Tiger Links Bared” in relation the arrest and detention of Human Rights Defenders, Ruki Fernando and Fr Praveen Mahesan. We categorically refute this malicious accusation. Both of them were released without charge by the government which contradicts the assertion of this newspaper. We are distressed that the premier English language daily newspaper of the Government of Sri Lanka should engage in such misinformation and lead its readership astray. It also conveys a wrong impression of the government’s own position on a matter that has attracted widespread international attention and even been discussed at the ongoing UN Human Rights Council sessions in Geneva.
NPC has a mission to promote peace and reconciliation by engaging with all parties to the national conflict. We believe in non-violent conflict resolution and that the roots of conflict should be dealt with through political dialogue and reform. We have always promoted the unity of the country nationally and internationally. We have engaged and cooperated with the state and its authorities where and when needed. We operate within the law and are committed to a united Sri Lanka.
VI. Media Release i from the National Peace Council, 20 March 2014
The National Peace Council welcomes the government’s release of Ruki Fernando and Father Praveen Mahesan who were arrested earlier this week under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. We are pleased to note that they were released unconditionally and speedily as the allegations on which they were detained were devoid of substance. We recognize that the government was willing to reassess their arrest in the face of the local and international pressure and appeals made to secure their release.
We call upon the government to likewise reassess the other recent arrests including Balendran Jayakumari who has been in the forefront of families seeking their missing ones. The Prevention of Terrorism Act which was enacted to deal with conditions of terrorism and war is no longer indispensable. Therefore we call upon the Government to take action against them if warranted under the normal law of the land. We expect the government to follow the recommendation of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and call on the government to repeal this Act which is a potential instrument of abuse.
His Excellency President Rajapakse himself was himself a human rights defender when he brought up issues of serious human rights abuses in international fora in the late 1980s. Those who engage in fact finding and who report on human rights violations are performing an important task which is part of the system of monitoring human rights and providing checks and balances in any democratic society. It was and remains our position that Ruki and Fr Praveen are Human Rights workers acting within the law and not persons who have violated the criminal law or sought to create disaffection against communities.
VII: “US and UK mum on Jeyakumari’s arrest,”in The Nation, 23 March 2914, http://www.nation.lk/edition/latest-top-stories/item/27338-us-and-uk-mum-on-jeyakumari’s-arrest.html
The US State Department and the UK Foreign Office Minister who issued statement on the arrest of human rights activists in Sri Lanka refrained from commenting on the arrest of B. Jeyakumari, arrested by Police in Dharmapuram in connection with harboring a criminal.The decision made by the UK Foreign Office Minister and the US State Department to stay silent on the matter gives rise to the speculation that both the US and the UK have distanced themselves from the arrest. Police last week stated that ‘disappearance activist’ Jeyakumari had close links with an ex-LTTE member named ‘Gobi’ who was involved in smuggling and was a member of the LTTE’s ‘intelligence’ network, working directly under Pottu Amman.
Jen Psaki, Spokesperson of the US State Department, stated on Saturday that, ‘The United States is concerned by intensifying pressure on Sri Lankan civil society and human rights activists. We are especially concerned by the detention of well-known human rights defenders Ruki Fernando and Fr Praveen Mahesan after they made inquiries regarding the arrest of another activist. While it is encouraging that Mr. Fernando and Fr Mahesan have since been released, they continue to face harassment by security forces.’
Meanwhile Hugo Swire, UK Foreign Office Minister said that he was deeply concerned to hear of the arrest and detention of two long-standing and well respected human rights defenders in Sri Lanka.‘Ruki Fernando and Fr Praveen have a strong record of promoting peace, justice and reconciliation across the country. We are urging the government of Sri Lanka to allow them immediate access to lawyers and their families, and to clarify the basis on which they have been detained.’ The Nation learns that Jeyakumari has also maintained close relations with ‘Appan’, who, like Gobi, is a non-rehabilitated LTTE cadre.
VIII. “Signs of LTTE regrouping in North and East,” by Kurulu Kariyakarawana …. http://www.sundayobserver.lk/2014/03/30/sec03.asp
IX: “Crackdown on LTTE Colombo Cell Reveals Plot to Assassinate President Rajapaksa or his Brother Gotabhaya” ……… http://dbsjeyaraj.com/dbsj/archives/29091