03/17/2014, 00.00
SRI LANKA

Sri Lanka, Catholic priest and human rights activist arrested

by Melani Manel Perera
The police deny everything, but the detainees warned others they were being taken away via text message. The two had asked for information on the whereabouts of a Tamil woman and her 13 year old daughter, arrested on suspicion of "hiding a criminal in their house". Their fate remains unknown.

Colombo ( AsiaNews) - A Catholic priest and a human rights activist were arrested yesterday by the Kilinochchi anti-terrorism police (TID) in northern Sri Lanka. Fr. Praveen OMI, director of the Centre for Peace and Reconciliation ( CPR ) in Jaffna, and Ruki Fernando, special advisor of the Center for human rights documentation, are in the Colombo TID. The police deny the detention of the two, but Fr. Ashok Stephen OMI, who works with Fr. Praveen, confirmed the arrest to AsiaNews. In fact Ruki Fernando warned some friends of their arrest, via text message.

"This morning - explains Fr. Ashok, who is also a lawyer - I presented in my vestments and asked for Fr. Praveen . A few minutes later the officer Walisundara told me that that person was not there, he asked me to wait and then they questioned me. They were more interested in me than in telling me where Fr. Praveen and Ruki were. They reiterated that the two are not being held in custody in Colombo. If the situation does not change, I will present an official court complaint".

Their arrest was also confirmed by Fr. Rohan Silva , provincial of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in Colombo. Last night the priest was able to speak with Fr. Praveen, who confirmed he is in a police station in Kilinochchi. In a message sent to some of his friends, Ruki Fernando said he was interrogated separately from the priest.

Local sources have told AsiaNews that the two Catholics were arrested by a dozen police officers for visiting Darmapuram (Kilinochchi), where on March 15 police arrested a Tamil woman and her 13 year old daughter (see photo) . The mother, Balendran Jeyakumari, is an activist for human rights with a group that works with the Families of the Disappeared. She herself has lost her husband and two grown sons, who were killed during the civil war. A third child disappeared into thin air in 2009, at the end of the conflict.

Witnesses say that March 15 about one hundred soldiers and policemen surrounded Balendran's house, preventing anyone from being able to enter or exit. Then they stormed it dragging away the woman and her teenage daughter, whose name is Vithushani. According to police, the activist "gave refuge to a criminal".  But no evidence of this was found.

 

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