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Death Threats Against Sri Lankan Human Rights Defender Are Condemned by USTPAC

State-run media carry out smear campaign against Nimalka Fernando

Just days before Sri Lanka hosts a Commonwealth summit, Sri Lankan state media is making death threats against prominent human rights campaigners. Amidst continued rights abuses in the heavily militarized North-East, new threats to human rights defenders serve as yet another example of why the island nation is unfit to lead the Commonwealth.

WASHINGTON, Nov. 12, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — United States Tamil Political Action Council (USTPAC) strongly condemns the death threats and smear campaign aimed at Ms. Nimalka Fernando, attorney-at-law and President of the International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination (IMADR) and the Women's Forum for Peace in Sri Lanka.  An internationally recognized human rights leader, Ms. Fernando has for 25 years courageously identified Sri Lanka's consistent failures to meet its human rights obligations.

On October 25, in an interview to The Island newspaper in Colombo on the condition of sex workers, Ms. Fernando spoke of the need for protection of sex workers from harassment and called for reform of abortion laws in favor of a more protective reproductive health approach.

The Island and other media sources, including Hiru TV deliberately misquoted Ms. Fernando's statements as a call for legalizing prostitution and unleashed a smear campaign against her. The government-controlled Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC) joined the fray conducting a discussion with the derisive title, Stoning the Sinner Woman.  Mr. Hudson Samarasinghe, Chairperson of SLBC, condoned derogatory comments from callers that vilified Ms. Fernando, some of whom suggested that she be "annihilated" and "cannot allow persons like Nimalka Fernando to live in this society."

"It is no coincidence that Ms. Fernando's statement was manipulated by the state-controlled SLBC and then used to threaten her life in the lead up to CHOGM, as the government is trying to silence civil society and human rights defenders," stated Dr. Yaso Natkunam, USTPAC's Director for Human Rights.

"Such actions are typical for Sri Lanka, where the press is muzzled and state organs are routinely used to incite violence against human rights defenders and non-Sinhala Buddhist ethnic and religious groups," Dr. Natkunam continued.

Dr. Natkunam, who has worked closely with Ms. Fernando in Geneva on Sri Lanka's rights violations, expressed serious concern for Ms. Fernando's safety.  She has notified the UN Human Rights Council which has previously expressed its concern at the Sri Lankan government's actions against human rights defenders.

"Nimalka is a woman who has tirelessly fought for the rights of all peoples of Sri Lanka, regardless of language, ethnic or religious considerations. This smear campaign, this incitement of hatred against Nimalka, and these threats against her life must stop," said Dr. Natkunam.

"At this critical time, when Sri Lanka stands accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including possibly the crime of genocide, the government's attempt to intimidate Ms. Fernando demonstrates that it has no intention to address the serious allegations arising from the civil war," stated Dr. Natkunam.

In September this year, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay delivered a highly critical oral report to the Human Rights Council in the wake of her official visit to Sri Lanka.  Her report put the Sri Lankan government on notice that failure to urgently engage in a credible process of truth seeking and prosecution of perpetrators would lead to an independent international commission of inquiry.

"Despite this warning, Sri Lanka shows no sign of deviating from its headlong march in what the High Commissioner called an 'increasingly authoritarian direction.'  These personal attacks on Ms. Fernando endanger her personal safety at the very moment when Sri Lanka is gearing up to welcome the heads of states of Commonwealth countries for CHOGM in Colombo this week," Dr. Natkunam observed.

"Unable to withstand this hypocrisy, Prime Ministers Stephen Harper of Canada and Manmohan Singh of India have decided to boycott the summit," concluded Dr. Natkunam.  "It is incumbent upon those Commonwealth heads of state who have determined that they should nonetheless attend, to take the opportunity to protest in the strongest terms to the government of Sri Lanka of its attacks on human rights and democracy defenders, like Ms. Fernando, and to demand that the government guarantee their safety."

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