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Arrest of Tamil MP is ‘a flagrant abuse’ of rights

Sri Lanka’s arrest of Tamil parliamentarian Vijayakala Maheswaran, following her remarks on the LTTE, is a “flagrant abuse of the rights to freedom of expression,” write human rights lawyers Samir Pasha and Naga Kandiah in The Interpreter this month.

“Any citizen has a right to dissent against government actions and raise issues affecting communities,” they wrote. “There is an unarguable difference between this and making a call to violent uprising, promoting hatred or hostility… The government’s claim in protecting the public can only be exercised in criminal proceedings where absolutely necessary. In Maheswaran’s case, this distinction was not made.”

Pasha and Kandiah went on to state,

“This is also not the first time that penal provisions have been used in Sri Lanka to repress freedom of expression. The wide application of the penal code has been used to suppress dissent against the ruling government in a number of instances, where groups or individuals have expressed dissatisfaction with the treatment of minority communities. For example, when the Northern Provincial Council and Tamil National Alliance called for a national enquiry into claims of genocide during the war, there were calls for their arrest, despite the fact that the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights had concluded there were reasonable grounds to institute international criminal prosecutions.” 

“Maheswaran’s arrest and charge appear a flagrant abuse of the rights to freedom of expression. There is not only a distinction between propagating war and expressing an opinion, but also a government’s feelings are not protected by any international standard.”

See the full text of their piece here.