A death squad formation against human rights lawyers needs to be investigated urgently

 

Yesterday an announcement was received by registrars of all courts and a number of human rights lawyers by a group that calls itself the Mahason Balakaya (Mahason Battalion). The notice threatens death or other serious physical harm to any lawyers who appear for any suspected terrorist in any court in Sri Lanka. The lawyers who appear for such persons are referred to as traitors, who should be treated in the same way that the terrorists treat their enemies. In the present context the vast majority of those who are charged under anti-terrorism laws are Tamils.

We give below a full translation of the notice from the “Mahason Battalion” referred to above.

To those who represent the terrorists today

The innocent people of our motherland have been subject to the killing sprees of terrorists for over three decades. Expectant mothers and farmers have been among those killed – chopped to pieces – by the terrorists. These terrorists now engage in bombings intended to kill innocent civilians in various parts of the country, in a bid to escape defeat at the hands of the valiant forces.

To date, the number of innocent that have fallen victim to these terrorist bombings extend into their thousands. Thousands more have been maimed. But there is no one today to speak for the human rights of these innocent people.

However, we know that there are many traitors who voice their concerns for the human rights of the evil terrorists and those who assist them in carrying out these indiscriminate killings.

Can such people who strive to free these terrorists when they’re captured and imprisoned for their crimes against the innocent be considered anything but traitors? We have the names and addresses of these traitors who take home salaries numbering into hundreds of thousands and even accept bribes in exchange for acting as enemies of our beloved motherland and its innocent people.

We have decided that all those who try to split our motherland in two and all those who represent the interests of and speak on behalf of the terrorists who kill our innocent civilians will be meted out the punishments that they deserve. There is still room for those who sell out on the cause of the nation, of the motherland, for financial gain, to cease such treacherous acts. In the future, all those who represent the interests of the terrorists will be subject to the same fate that these terrorists mete out to our innocent people.
Traitors to the nation, mouthpieces of the terrorists,

Remember the faces and bodies of those innocents who have been killed and maimed by the terrorists. Be warned that meting out the same fate to you in the name of our motherland would be a favour that we would render to the entire nation.

The Mahason Force that represents the interests of those who have lost their lives and those who have been maimed at the hands of terror.

(The Sinhala word ‘Maha sona ‘ means ‘big graveyard and the word ‘Mahason’ means ‘the ghost that brings death’. The popular myth is that anyone will die when Mahason strikes).

This notice comes at a time when there are several well-known cases where suspects have challenged the charges filed against under anti-terrorism and emergency laws as being baseless. At the same time many cases also come before the Supreme Court by way of fundamental rights applications regarding the forced deportation of persons from Colombo and other Sinhala areas and arbitrary forms of registration imposed on Tamils arriving from conflict regions to safer areas. The Supreme Court has made several interventions in order to protect the rights of these persons.

Under these circumstances the notice of death threats announced against lawyers who appear in these cases could come from sources which are linked to the agencies that investigate into alleged offences under anti-terrorism laws and other arbitrary acts that are undertaken for the purported purpose of keeping terrorists away from other areas. As all these activities come under the auspices of the Ministry of Defence it will be this ministry that will must come under the greatest suspicion about such notices.

This announcement may also be seen as a direct threat to the Supreme Court itself since the Supreme Court in recent months has given many judgements against the government, among which are matters relating to the protection of minorities. If the lawyers can be intimidated from taking cases to the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court would not have the occasion to intervene into arbitrary forms of deprivation of rights under the pretext of national security by agencies of the state.

Sri Lanka in the past has seen many formations of death squads which act under various names. There were many such squads in the period from 1986 – 1990 when there were counterinsurgency activities against the predominantly Sinhala JVP. One such group named the Black Cats left a tremendously chilling impression in the minds of people. During this period the number of disappearances has been estimated officially to be around 30,000. It is now well established that these death squads functioned under the country’s security forces and police during that period.

The re-emergence of such death squads is a frightening reminder of the extreme loss of the rule of law in the country. Such death squads in the late 1980s were used against all political opponents of the regime as the reports of the Commissions on Enforced Disappearances clearly demonstrates.

It may not be a coincidence that there was a grenade attack on the house of a well-known human rights and anti graft lawyer, J.C. Weliamuna on the 27th September, 2008. Had both grenades that were thrown at the house exploded Mr. Weliamuna and his entire family might have been killed. Despite of the intervention of the Bar Association no one has been arrested for this attack. For further details please see:

It is the duty of the government to investigate and to arrest the persons who have been sending such death notices under the name of the Mahason Balakaya. However such investigations will not happen if the government itself is directly or indirectly linked to this initiative. It is only through pressure from everyone, including the political opposition in the country, civil society and the international community, that this threat can be exposed and eliminated.

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission

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