Lawyers show solidarity with Weliamuna

(Lankadissent)Tuesday, 30 September 2008 16:49
 
Lawyers in the Supreme Court showed solidarity with colleague J.C. Weliamuna and staged a protest this afternoon (Sept. 30th) to condemn the hand grenade attack on his home two days ago.
They marched from Hulftsdorp Courts Complex to Keselwatte Junction.
Speaking here, Bar Association President Upul Jayasuriya said the anti-corruption and human rights crusade by Mr. Weliamuna would not be halted by harming his life.
Not just 100 or 500, more than 5,000 individuals of the calibre of Mr. Weliamuna will take that campaign forward, he said.
The BASL chief said the IGP should not take this attack lightly and must bring the culprits to book and ensure there would be no repetition of such incidents.
Mr. Weliamuna, who is also executive director of Transparency International Sri Lanka, spoke here and thanked his colleagues for their support.
He said he has continued threats to his life, the latest being an unknown visitor to his office just this afternoon inquiring after him, regarding which a complaint has been lodged with Keselwatte Police.

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TI condemns bombing of Sri Lankan anti-corruption advocate’s home

Berlin, 30 September 2008
Transparency International (TI) today vehemently condemned the attempt on the life of J. C. Weliamuna, prominent Sri Lankan anti-corruption and human rights advocate, and Executive Director of TI Sri Lanka (TISL), following a grenade attack on his family’s home in Colombo late Saturday, 27 September. Weliamuna, his wife and two young children escaped injury.

TI is deeply concerned by this attempt to intimidate anti-corruption and human rights advocates, and all those who dedicate their lives to building a better future for Sri Lanka. TI calls on the government of Sri Lanka to ensure a fair, speedy and transparent investigation, and to take all necessary steps to ensure the safety of Weliamuna, his family and the personnel of TI Sri Lanka.

The bombing of Weliamuna’s home is the latest episode in a continuing wave of harassment of activists, journalists and civil society – seen as a concerted effort to curb the freedom of expression in Sri Lanka – although the precise motives of Saturday’s perpetrator remains unclear.

TI, currently participating in a meeting on the protection of anti-corruption advocates being held in Helsinki at the invitation of the Finnish government, condemns all intimidation tactics against anti-corruption advocates, from professional discrimination to physical threats.

TI remains in constant contact with Weliamuna, tracking events as they unfold.

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Note to editors: A further obligation for the government of Sri Lanka to investigate the attack arises from the UN Convention against Corruption, which Sri Lanka has ratified. Article 13 of the Convention obliges signatory states to protect anti-corruption advocates and ensure “the freedom to … publish and disseminate information concerning corruption”.

New threats emerge for Sri Lankan rights lawyers29

Sep 2008 13:25:36 GMT
 Reuters,By C. Bryson Hull

COLOMBO, Sept 29 (Reuters) – An attack targeting a top Sri Lankan human rights lawyer drew U.S. and European condemnation on Monday, underscoring increasing threats faced by those who pursue cases against police or politicians in the Indian Ocean nation.

The Saturday hand-grenade attack on the Colombo home of J.C. Weliamuna, head of the local arm of graft watchdog Transparency International, injured no one but sent a chilling message to lawyers handling civil rights, graft and police abuse cases.

“I’m still pretty shaken,” Weliamuna told Reuters. “There is a heavy burden on the state to show that the rule of law exists. If this happened, they must resolve it. If they don’t, then no professional will be able to handle a sensitive issue.”

Weliamuna said he could not be sure which of the hundreds of graft and police abuse cases he is handling prompted the attack.

The Supreme Court last week ordered an investigation into police torture in a case he is pursuing, and in which other lawyers have already been threatened.

The attack, combined with increasing threats against other lawyers, now puts Sri Lankan rights attorneys squarely in the company of journalists and civil society figures who routinely face threats, harassment and murder for speaking out.

The United States and European Union on Monday called on the Sri Lankan government to provide protection to Weliamuna and prosecute those responsible.

“We look to the authorities to launch an immediate investigation into this act of violence and bring the perpetrators of this crime swiftly to justice,” the U.S. embassy in Colombo said in a statement.

The E.U. said it noted “with concern the trend in attacks and threats on journalists, civil society organizations and now a lawyer.”

Sri Lanka’s government accepts that it has problems with rights violations, and that it prosecutes those against whom it can establish evidence.

Journalists have long been threatened, harassed or killed in Sri Lanka for writing critical stories against powerful figures in government or the Tamil Tiger rebel group that has waged a separatist war since 1983.

But while most threats to media stem from a war where both sides are accused of rights abuses, lawyers are running afoul of the politically connected or police acting with impunity outside of the fighting, Asian Human Rights Commission Director Basil Fernando said.

“If it is like this in Colombo and other peaceful areas of the country, than can you imagine what it is like in the north and east where the war is?” Fernando, a lawyer from Sri Lanka, told Reuters by telephone from Hong Kong.

He said other lawyers told him they were unwilling to take cases involving politicians or police, because of a system that encourages corrupt politicians to keep policemen who are willing to do their bidding in exchange for political protection.

“Only a few people like Weliamuna were willing, and now we can see the result,” Fernando said.

Weliamuna said he had no reason to suspect the government would not pursue his case and those of his clients, but said it would take “high-level commitment” to produce results.

“I am keeping my fingers crossed that investigations are going ahead,” he said. (Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)