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Switzerland sends in ‘experienced diplomat’ amid calls to transfer employee to hospital

The Swiss government announced it was sending “experienced diplomat” Jörg Frieden to Sri Lanka, amidst raised tensions between the two governments after claims that a Swiss embassy employee was abducted, molested and threatened at gunpoint in Colombo last month.

Swiss Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis phoned his Sri Lankan counterpart Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena this week, where he also “expressed his regret at the decision by the examining magistrate to place the local employee concerned in pre-trial detention, where the conditions do not take into account her state of health in any way,” according to an official statement.

“Switzerland considers the Sri Lankan authorities to be responsible for the health and safety of all its embassy staff,” the statement added, noting that Cassis had called for the mployee to be transferred to a hospital on “humanitarian grounds”.

“Mr Cassis also pointed out that the high level of media coverage, lack of privacy safeguards and public statements prejudging the outcome of the proceedings in this case not only endangered Swiss embassy staff but also eroded the trust and confidence required to jointly clarify the incident,” the statement added.

Sri Lankan media has come under fire for its coverage of the incident, which has included several media outlets naming the victim, as well as reporters gathering outside the Criminal Investigation Department as she gave evidence, photographing her whilst she attempted to cover her face.

Switzerland has warned Sri Lanka that its “reputation as a country that upholds the rule of law is at stake”.

Meanwhile, Sri Lankan president Gotabaya Rajapaksa met with Switzerland’s ambassador to Colombo last week, where he said the abduction was a “total fabrication”.

The embassy employee is reported to have been abducted by a group on unknown men in Colombo last month. The New York Times reported the men "forced her to unlock her cellphone data, which contained information about Sri Lankans who have recently sought asylum in Switzerland, and the names of Sri Lankans who aided them as they fled the country because they feared for their safety after Gotabaya Rajapaksa won the presidency in elections this month". Before releasing her, they reportedly threatened to kill her if she told anyone of her ordeal.