03/10/2015, 00.00
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Innocent Sri Lankan Tamil activist released after 362 days in jail

by Melani Manel Perera
Jeyakumari Balendaran, 50, was arrested along with her 13-year-old daughter for harbouring a criminal. So far, no evidence has been produced to substantiate the charge. "Her release gives us greater cause for hope," says activist with the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice.

Colombo (AsiaNews) - After 362 days in jail without charges, Tamil human rights activist Jeyakumari Balendaran, 50, was released this morning in Colombo.

A court accepted her application for bail (200,000 rupees or US$ 3,300), and set a number of restrictions, including a ban on foreign travels and the obligation to report to police once a month.

Six other detainees were also released, including a pregnant woman, Geethasudha, who was arrested last year, and Mahalingam Padmawathi, a 64-year-old man.

Jeyakumari Balendaran works with 'Families of the Disappeared' (FOD), an association that seeks to shed light on state-sponsored "disappearances". She lost her husband and two adult sons during the civil war. A third son disappeared in 2009, at the end of the conflict.

On 15 March 2014, police and soldiers surrounded her home and took her away along with her 13-year-old daughter, accusing her of harbouring a criminal. However, no evidence has been produced against her.

Since her arrest, her daughter Vibhushika has lived at a children's home in northern Sri Lanka. On 16 February, she wrote a heartfelt letter to President Maithripala Sirisena, asking him to release her mother.

"Before my very eyes they hit my mother and pulled her by the hair," the girl says in the letter. "They fastened electric shock handcuffs to her hands". They also "threatened her by saying 'Tell us the truth or we will kill you and your child'." 

"Dear President Maithripala Sirisena, please think of me as your child and release my innocent, very innocent mother," Vibhusjika pleads.

"Jeyakumary's detention made it hard to accept the idea that there had been any meaningful change in Sri Lanka," said Fred Carver, campaign director for the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice. Now, "Her release gives us greater cause for hope".

Yet, for him, "the true test will be whether her release marks the beginning of a broader reversal in a pattern of harassment by the security forces against families of the disappeared and other Tamil activists in the North and East of Sri Lanka."

A few days after Jeyakumari was taken into custody, police arrested a priest and a human rights activist on "terrorism" charges for intervening on her behalf.

Last October, another social activist was attacked as he returned home from a rally organised in solidarity with her.

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