22 October 2008, Colombo, Sri Lanka: The Free Media Movement (FMM) is deeply disturbed by the contents of a letter posted to leading Human Rights defenders and lawyers, as well as given to all Court Registrars to be handed over to lawyers who appear for human rights cases.
The letter, in Sinhala, from a group that calls itself the ‘Mahason Balakaya’ (Mahason Regiment) clearly states that lawyers who defend human rights cases will be summarily killed or receive life-threatening injuries.
It is unclear who this group is. Mahasona is a well-known demon figure in Sinhala folklore. The FMM also learns that the Sri Lanka Army’s LRRP (Long Range Recon Patrol or “Digu Dura Wihidum Balakaya” in Sinhalese) were better known in the military “Mahasohon Brigade”.
Speculation over origins of the letter, however, is secondary to our grave concern that in the present context this letter may instigate more violence against human rights defenders and those who appear in the defence of those such as journalist J.S. Tissainayagam, who stands accused of terrorism. This disturbing letter comes just weeks after a deadly grenade attack against renown lawyer and human rights activist J.S. Weliamuna, who is also the head of Transparency International in Sri Lanka.
Reflecting the growing idiom of hate and harm against human rights activists even by senior members of the government, the letter calls human rights defenders ‘traitors’ who deserve to be killed. It ends by noting that,
“To those who support the terrorists, remember those who were killed and lost their limbs and eyes to the terrorists! Know that in the name of the nation, to make you suffer in the same manner is a blessing.”
The letter also notes that “Henceforth, for every traitor who stands up to defend a terrorist, know that we will not hesitate to hasten fate which is the same as that faced by the innocent victims of terrorist in our motherland today.”
This hate speech, openly distributed with impunity, is hugely disturbing in a context of wanton violence in Sri Lanka against those who champion human rights, question the government’s conduct of war and independent media.
The FMM urgently calls upon the Inspector General of Police to launch an investigation into the origins of this reprehensible letter. The Government must immediately denounce these terror tactics and take meaningful steps to restore public confidence in the rule of law, human rights and democratic governance in Sri Lanka.
Terror, in whatever form, has no place whatsoever in the democratic process.