The British government is concerned at the recent proscription of Tamil diaspora groups by Sri Lanka, the Foreign and Commonwealth Minister Hugo Swire said in parliament on Monday.
Swire said that the British High Commissioner in Colombo has made clear to the government that “proscription should not be used to prevent or stifle the right to freedom of speech, particularly at a time when Sri Lanka’s human rights record is under international scrutiny.”
The minister also said that the High Commission has raised concerns regarding the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the continued detention of Mrs Jeyakumari Balendran and other rights activists with the Sri Lankan government.
See the ministers full answers in response to questions posed by Virendra Sharma below:
"I am concerned at reports that the Sri Lankan government has proscribed a number of individuals and Tamil organisations operating outside Sri Lanka. While we respect the right of the Sri Lankan government to take appropriate action against individuals and groups where there is clear evidence of their involvement in terrorist activities, our high commissioner to Sri Lanka has made clear to the Sri Lankan government that proscription should not be used to prevent or stifle the right to freedom of speech, particularly at a time when Sri Lanka’s human rights record is under international scrutiny. We believe that this development is not conducive to a successful reconciliation process and will continue to monitor developments closely.
"We continue to have serious concerns about respect for human rights in Sri Lanka, in particular continued intimidation and harassment of human rights defenders and activists. We have consistently made clear to the Sri Lankan Government the importance of safeguarding freedom of expression and protecting human rights defenders, and continue to urge the Sri Lankan Government to uphold their international human rights obligations and to ensure that civil society, human rights defenders and activists are allowed the space to act freely.
"The Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Human Rights Report for 2013 and the quarterly updates to the report, which are available online, includes Sri Lanka as a ‘Country of Concern’ for human rights and outlines our assessment more fully.
"I made clear to the Sri Lankan Government following the arrest of Ruki Fernando and Father Praveen—who have now been released—that it is important that human rights defenders are not subject to intimidation and have a right to freedom of expression. We are also aware of the arrests of Mrs Jeyakumari Balendran and others in Sri Lanka. Officials at our high commission in Colombo have raised concerns with the Sri Lankan Government, in particular on the lack of clarity around the evidence against the suspects and the charges brought.
"We have previously raised concerns with the Sri Lankan government about the length of time individuals can be detained without charge under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. On 27 March, the UN Human Rights Council agreed a resolution which calls on the Sri Lankan government to make progress on human rights issues and to implement Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) recommendations, which includes the re-evaluation of detention policies."