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Shakthika’s detention is in contravention of Sri Lanka’s human rights obligations: UN body

ECONOMYNEXT – The Government of Sri Lanka is in contravention of its international human rights obligations for the four month pre-trial detention of author Shakthika Sathkumara, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said.

Issuing an opinion on the detention of Sathkumara, who was remanded in April 2019 over a controversial short story he had authored, the UN body said he was detained for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression.

The statement was issued in response to a petition filed by Freedom Now, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit that, according to its website, seeks to facilitate representation for arbitrarily detained individuals who have neither used nor advocated violence.

“We welcome the Working Group’s determination that Shakthika Sathkumara spent four months wrongfully detained in violation of his fundamental rights,” a press release quoted Freedom Now Legal Officer Adam Lhedmat as saying. “However, we are deeply troubled that the legal proceedings against him are set to resume on May 19 and he faces up in 12 years in prison, if convicted. This highly disproportionate sentence raises serious concerns about Sri Lanka’s commitment to protecting the right to freedom of expression. We call on the Sri Lankan government to comply with the United Nations and drop the charges against Sathkumara.

Sathkumara faces up to 10 years in prison if found guilty as he is charged under Section 3(1) of the ICCPR Act and Art. 291(B) of the Penal Code of Sri Lanka, which deals with propagating hatred and incitement of racial or religious violence.

Many Sri Lankan and international organisations including CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance and the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), have called for Sathkumara’s release.

Sathkumara was arrested by the Polgahawela Police in response to a complaint alleging that Sathkumara’s short story ‘Ardha’ (Half) was derogatory and defamatory to Buddhism.

The ICCRP Act (of Sri Lanka), which was ratified in 2007, seeks to give effect to certain articles in the ICCPR (as adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1966 and acceded to by Sri Lanka in 1980). Sathkumara was arrested for violating the Subsection (1) of Section 3 of the Act which states: “No person shall propagate war or advocate national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.” (Colombo/May19/2020)

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