Sri Lanka frees arrested human rights activists

  • 19 March 2014
  • From the section Asia
April 15, 2009 file photo of Ruki Fernando
Image caption Ruki Fernando has documented abuses in northern Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan authorities have released two prominent human rights activists who were detained on Sunday under anti-terrorism laws.

The arrests of Catholic priest Father Praveen Mahesan and Ruki Fernando had provoked domestic and international criticism.

The authorities said they had been held under suspicion of fostering communal disharmony.

Both men had been working with families of disappeared people.

Sri Lanka's army defeated separatist Tamil Tiger rebels in May 2009.

Since then there have been allegations of mass civilian deaths at the end of the conflict.

US concern

Civil society representatives and police confirmed to the BBC that Mr Fernando and Father Praveen were freed late on Tuesday night after a release order was granted by a magistrate.

They were arrested in northern Sri Lanka and held for 48 hours, the authorities said.

Their supporters have described them as campaigners for human rights.

Speaking to BBC Sinhala after his release, Mr Fernando said he had not been released on bail as he had not been charged.

He stressed he remained committed to fighting for human rights.

"I think the main reason we were released relatively quickly was the attention we received from people inside Sri Lanka, but also from people outside," he said.

"Many other people who are still in detention, if they were to get this kind of attention, I think many of them would find themselves free soon."

The US has expressed concerned about the detention of several well-known Sri Lankan human rights activists over the past week.

A female campaigner against political disappearances, who was arrested on Thursday, remains in detention under the same laws.

Jeyakumari Balendran's son went missing after the war and she and her daughter had become vocal campaigners on the issue of disappearances.

The government accuses her of sheltering a man they say is trying to revive the Tamil Tiger movement.

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