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ATTORNEY URGENT ALERT

 

SRI LANKA

 

27 January 2009

 

   After he was threatened three times with death at the Negombo Police Station by police officers

The office of Human rights lawyer

Amitha Ariyaratne,

burnt down by an unknown arsonist who fled the scene. 

Source : AHRC-PRL-008-2009

 

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The office of human rights lawyer Amitha Ariyaratne,   situated in front of his residence at No. 53, Temple Road, Horapay was burned down   at around 9pm by an unknown arsonist who fled the scene.

 

On the 27th January 2009, Mr. Ariyaratne was threatened inside the Negombo Police Station in front of several officers by an officer named Bandara who struck him on the shoulder and threatened him with death three times. Earlier, on the 26th September, 2008 Mr. Ariyaratne also received death threats by an anonymous caller asking him to desist in providing legal representation at the inquest relating to Sugath Nishanta Fernando. This inquest was regarding the assassination of Mr. Fernando which took place on the 20th of the same month.

 

Mr. Fernando was a complainant and a witness in a torture case against an Inspector of Police in the Negombo area against whom the Commission on Bribery and Corruption had filed a case. He was also the petitioner in a fundamental rights application in which he made 12 police officers of the Negombo area, including a Senior Superintendent of Police respondents for assaulting his entire family, including his wife and two young children, demanding that he should not give evidence in court against the inspector who was charged with an offense relating to corruption. Before his assassination, Mr. Fernando and his family were threatened with death within 24 hours if they did not withdraw the fundamental rights application filed in the Supreme Court. The police officer named Bandara who threatened Mr. Ariyaratne with death on the 27th January 2009 is one of the respondents in this fundamental rights application.

 

Shortly before the arson of Mr. Ariyaratne¡¦s office, he and his wife who is also a lawyer were working at the office in which all the case files relating to their work were kept. When they left the office for some personal reasons they saw a man walking past very hurriedly. He was dressed in a sarong. Almost immediately after leaving the office they saw the building burst into flames. They described the fire as intense.

 

After the couple called on the neighbours several of them arrived and tried to put out the flames. After considerable effort they succeeded. The furniture and tables in the office had been burned and many of the case files on one side had also been destroyed. The extent of the full damage has not yet been assessed.

 

Despite of calls the police did not arrive promptly. When they did finally arrive they did not conduct a thorough investigation into the fire. After the arrival of some friends, Mr. Ariyaratne went to the Ragama Police Station and made a complaint. However, no inquiry has yet started.

 

Mr. Ariyaratne, Fernando’s lawyer,  fears for his life and those of his family which includes two school-going children. On the 27th January he made a complaint to the Bar Association and the Inspector General of Police. The the Bar Association of Sri Lanka had  passed a resolution on death threats to Amitha Ariyaratne and asked the inspector general of police to inquire into the matter. This time, naturally, there was greater frustration regarding the arson attack as well as the inaction of the police on the earlier demand.

 

 

Situation of Lawyers in Sri Lanka :

It is not the first time a demand for an inquiry by the association of lawyers of Sri Lanka has been ignored by the police. The grenade attacks on the house of senior lawyer J.C. Weliamuna,  who was the  counsel for the widow in the fundamental rights application,  lead not only to a lengthy resolution by the association but also to a demonstration.  (See : uk-page4.1.asia.slk1.htm).

 

Later there was the humiliation of an attorney-at-law named Mohotti at the Bambilipitya Police Station, which also lead to protests and calls for action by the police. In all these instances there was the familiar inaction, reflecting the attitude that such events are unimportant and do not warrant criminal investigation or prosecution.

 

The statement of the defense secretary was also reflected in the use of the Defense Ministry website to chastise lawyers who offer their professional services to alleged terrorist suspects. A number of lawyers names were mentioned in the website in a very provocative manner. The affected lawyers wrote to the Bar Association and in their letter to the president of the association stated:

 

Supporting Asian Human Rights Commission, IDHAE  calls  upon the Inspector General of Police and the Sri Lankan authorities to investigate this matter and also to provide protection to Mr. Ariyaratne and his family. We also hope that the Bar Association of Sri Lanka which in recent months has passed many resolutions and even organised demonstrations to come to the assistance of their colleague and also to strongly intervene with the government and the Inspector General of Police regarding this case.

 

PLEASE TAKE ACTION

 

Copy the enclosed letter and send it to the address provided

 

ADRESSES: 

President Mahinda Rajapakse, Office of the President, Temple Trees, 150, Galle Road, Colombo 3, Sri Lanka, Fax: + 94 11 2446657 / +94 11 2472100 / +94 11 2430 590. Email: secretary@presidentsoffice.lk

 

Mr. Jayantha Wickramaratne, Inspector General of Police (IGP), New Secretariat, Colombo 1, Sri Lanka. Fax: +94 11 2 440440 / 27877. E-mail: igp@police.lk

 

Mr. Amarasiri Dodangoda, Minister, Ministry of Justice and Law Reforms, Superior Courts Complex, Colombo 12, Sri Lanka. Fax : (94) 1 2320785. Email: justiceminist@sltnet.lk

Letter: 

Your Excellency,

 

I am deeply concerned by attack by way of arson on the office of our colleague Amitha Ariyaratne, Attorney-at-Law, situated in front of his residence at No. 53, Temple Road, Horapay was burned down on 27th January 2009,  at around 9pm by an unknown arsonist who fled the scene.

 

I am also deeply concerned by constant death threats to  lawyer, Mr. Amitha Ariyaratne. On the 27th January 2009, our colleague Mr. Ariyaratne was threatened inside the Negombo Police Station in front of several officers by an officer named Bandara who struck him on the shoulder and threatened him with death three times. Earlier, on the 26th September, 2008 Mr. Ariyaratne also received death threats by an anonymous caller asking him to desist in providing legal representation at the inquest relating to Sugath Nishanta Fernando. This inquest was regarding the assassination of Mr. Fernando which took place on the 20th of the same month.

I understand that Mr. Fernando was a complainant and a witness in a torture case against an Inspector of Police in the Negombo area against whom the Commission on Bribery and Corruption had filed a case. He was also the petitioner in a fundamental rights application in which he made 12 police officers of the Negombo area, including a Senior Superintendent of Police respondents for assaulting his entire family, including his wife and two young children, demanding that he should not give evidence in court against the inspector who was charged with an offense relating to corruption. Before his assassination, Mr. Fernando and his family were threatened with death within 24 hours if they did not withdraw the fundamental rights application filed in the Supreme Court. The police officer named Bandara who threatened Mr. Ariyaratne with death on the 27th January 2009 is one of the respondents in this fundamental rights application.

Shortly before the arson of Mr. Ariyaratne’s office, he and his wife who is also a lawyer were working at the office in which all the case files relating to their work were kept. When they left the office for some personal reasons they saw a man walking past very hurriedly. He was dressed in a sarong. Almost immediately after leaving the office they saw the building burst into flames. They described the fire as intense.

After the couple called on the neighbours several of them arrived and tried to put out the flames. After considerable effort they succeeded. The furniture and tables in the office had been burned and many of the case files on one side had also been destroyed. The extent of the full damage has not yet been assessed.

Despite of calls the police did not arrive promptly. When they did finally arrive they did not conduct a thorough investigation into the fire. After the arrival of some friends, Mr. Ariyaratne went to the Ragama Police Station and made a complaint. However, no inquiry has yet started.


I want to underline that earlier, Mr. J.C. Weliamuna who was the senior counsel for the widow in the fundamental rights application also came under serious threat.

 

I am also deeply concerned by reports that   the staff members of Right to Life, a  human rights organisation based in Negombo which is assisting Mr. Fernando’s widow and family also received death threats by anonymous callers.

 

Under these circumstances I am  urging you to :

·                    Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of our colleague  Mr. Amitha Ariyaratne in particular and of all staff members of the human rights centre “Right to Life” ;

·                    Order a thorough and impartial investigation into the above-mentioned death threats, in order to identify all those responsible, bring them before a civil competent and impartial tribunal and apply to them the penal sanctions provided by the law;

·                    Put an end to all acts of harassment against all human rights defenders and humanitarian workers in Sri Lanka;

·                    Conform with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, especially its Article 1, which states that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”, and Article 12.2, which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration”;

·                    Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.

 

Thank you.

 

Yours sincerely,

 TAKE ACTION NOW!

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