Sri Lankan anti-terrorist police have arrested two prominent human rights activists in the country’s former war zone in the latest crackdown on rights defenders.
Both Ruki Fernando, an adviser for the Human Rights Documentation Center, and Catholic priest Praveen of the Center for Peace and Reconciliation have been prominent in promoting human rights and media freedom in the island’s north, where government forces defeated separatist Tamil Tiger rebels in 2009.
The charges under which they were arrested were not disclosed, according to their colleagues and the Free Media Movement, a local rights group.
Sunil Jayasekara of the Free Media Movement urged authorities to release them immediately.
Attempts to contact a police spokesman for comment were unsuccessful on Monday.
Sri Lanka faces criticism for cracking down on rights activists and has rejected calls for an international inquiry into the conduct of the final months of the civil war.
The US has sponsored a third resolution on Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council calling for an international probe of alleged war crimes if the nation fails to conduct one of its own.
Last week, authorities arrested an outspoken activist, Balendran Jeyakumari, and her 13-year-old daughter who were campaigning for the release of relatives missing from the war.
Military spokesman Ruwan Wanigasooriya said they were arrested for harbouring a former rebel who shot at police and fled when they tried to catch him. He said one policeman was wounded.
The US expressed concern over the arrests and detention of the activists and urged authorities “to ensure that all those detained are given transparent and due legal process, including full access to legal counsel”.
“Both previous and on-going human rights concerns have led many in the international community to push for a UN Human Rights Council resolution on the situation in Sri Lanka.
“With these latest actions, we remain convinced that continued scrutiny by the Human Rights Council is necessary,” the US Embassy in Colombo said in a statement.