Critically acclaimed: New report on Sri Lanka's 'Assault on Dissent'

It’s always good to be able to say your work is critically-acclaimed, and you can’t get more critical than Dr Chris Nonis, Sri Lanka's High Commissioner to the UK. This morning on BBC Radio Four’s Today programme he called our new report a “vitriolic diatribe” a “fascinating piece of fiction” and “dreadful proxy propaganda”.

No stranger to the diatribe himself, it seems. He was responding to our call that the upcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) meeting in Sri Lanka in November, be pulled, unless systematic violations of human rights are addressed.

The 78-page report, Assault on Dissent reveals how the Sri Lankan government, led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, is promoting an official attitude that equates criticism with “treason” in a bid to tighten its grip on power.

An hour before the High Commissioner spoke, also on the Today programme, the report’s findings were outlined in an interview with Polly Truscott, Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia Pacific Director. You can listen here. (Take dial to 1:20:50)

The report makes no bones about it. The crackdown on dissent in Sri Lanka has resulted in a ‘climate of fear’ for those brave enough to criticise the government.  Journalists in particular have been a key group targeted. The few who remain independent are subject to intimidation, threats and attacks. At least 15 have been killed since 2006 and many others have been forced to flee the country. Indeed the case of Prageeth Eknaligoda, who disappeared in 2010 launched the Independent’s Voices in Danger series yesterday.

As well as journalists, the judiciary has been a key target of repression, with the government undermining its independence by making threats against judges who rule in favour of victims of human rights violations. The assault on the independence of the judiciary came to a head in January, when Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake was impeached on charges of misconduct, despite a Supreme Court ruling that the impeachment procedure was unconstitutional. That move prompted the Commonwealth Lawyers Association to pass a resolution calling for Sri Lanka's suspension from the Commonwealth altogether. Disappointing then, as Channel Four’s Jonathan Miller points out,  that discussion of even moving the location of CHOGM did not make it onto the formal agenda of last Friday's foreign ministers' meeting. "It would have been a logistical nightmare to change the venue," he reports a Commonwealth source telling him.

Remember, this comes against the back drop of a continued failure to properly address allegations of crimes under international law, including war crimes, during the conflict in the country and its bloody conclusion in 2009.

Amnesty is insisting that what is needed is an independent, impartial and internationally led investigation.

Instead of an insistence on that investigation, at present, Sri Lanka is being invited to host a gathering of 54 Heads of State to the country, following which they will represent the Commonwealth as its Chair for the next two years. Surreal, but then the truth is often stranger than fiction.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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