The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has issued a statement criticising the detention of author Shakthika Sathkumara, who was arrested following the publishing of a controversial short story, stating it was in violation international human rights law.
Shakthika Sathkumara has been kept in pre-trial detention for four months was first detained in April 2019 after he published his short story ‘Ardha’ (Half). The arrest is seen as a violation of his right to freedom of expression.
He faces the prospect of imprisonment for ten years as he is charged under Section 3(1) of the ICCPR Act and Art. 291(B) of the Penal Code of Sri Lanka, which deals with propagating hatred and incitement of racial or religious violence. Sathkumara’s short story has been accused of being defamatory to Buddhism and he was subsequently arrested by Polgahawela Police following complaints.
A petition pursuing representation for Sathkumara has been filed by Freedom Now, a Washington, D.C.-based NGO which aims to provide adequate representation for arbitrarily detained individuals who have neither used nor advocated violence.
Adam Lhedmat, Legal Officer at Freedom Now, stated on UN’s statement:
“We welcome the Working Group’s determination that Shakthika Sathkumara spent four months wrongfully detained in violation of his fundamental rights […] However, we are deeply troubled that the legal proceedings against him are set to resume on May 19 and he faces up in 12 years in prison, if convicted. This highly disproportionate sentence raises serious concerns about Sri Lanka’s commitment to protecting the right to freedom of expression. We call on the Sri Lankan government to comply with the United Nations and drop the charges against Sathkumara”.
This has been in conjunction with international organisations such as CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, and the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) who have called for his release.
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