Amnesty International Cambridge city group meeting

Thursday 11 March 2010

The Cambridge city group of Amnesty International invited Manny Thain, Tamil Solidarity national secretary, to address its meeting last Thursday. Manny explained the origins of Tamil Solidarity – set up as the war raged at the start of last year – and the situation in Sri Lanka today – the devastation of villages, homes, fishing boats and small businesses, as well as the continued existence of ‘secret’ prison camps and the militarisation of the whole of the North East.

The continual crackdown on basic democratic rights, including the intimidation and persecution of journalists who speak out, of human rights workers, trade union and political activists means that those issues have to be highlighted, too – for the rights of all workers and oppressed people in Sri Lanka. Manny briefed the meeting on the ongoing campaign for asylum rights for the Tamil-speaking people on board the fishing boat in Merak harbour, Indonesia, stranded because of a rotten deal struck between the Australian and Indonesian governments.

The meeting then opened up into a wide-ranging and well-informed discussion, with questions and points of view being aired. Jothy, who has recently returned from Colombo, gave a very moving account of the imprisonment of her brother. He has been in jail, without charge, for 20 months, arrested under the sweeping powers of the notorious Prevention of Terrorism Act. This act is being used as a pretext to arrest anyone who speaks out against the regime. And it is and will continue to be used against journalists, trade union, human rights and socialist activists. Tamil Solidarity stands for its complete abolition and will do all we can to link up with trade unionists and other campaigners in Sri Lanka to help in their struggle against it.

Another issue which came up was that of GSP+ status – which gives favourable terms of trade and so is a big boost to the Sri Lankan economy (and Rajapaksa’s regime) – and the European Union. The Cambridge city group had already taken this up with their MEP. But, although the EU has withdrawn GSP+ status, it has done so only for six months, and it will soon be up for review. So, the pressure needs to be kept up. Tamil Solidarity will be planning lobbies and other protests to coincide with the review. We will liaise with the Cambridge city group of Amnesty International on this and other issues, as part of our policy of working alongside other organisations and individuals on the issues facing the Tamil-speaking people, the working class and poor in Sri Lanka, across the religious and ethnic divides.


Following is the earlier press release from Amnesty International regarding Witch Hunt Against the Media and NGOs

10 March 2010
AI Index: PRE01/082/2010

Sri Lanka: End Witch Hunt Against the Media and NGOs

The Sri Lankan government should end its harassment of journalists and activists and take steps against those making threats, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said in a joint statement today.

Since the January 2010 presidential election, the government has engaged in a campaign to silence and discredit journalists and nongovernmental organizations. A recently leaked document, which appears to be a government surveillance list of more than 30 journalists and activists, significantly raises concerns about the safety of the people on the list, the organizations said.

“The Sri Lankan government is conducting a carefully coordinated witch hunt aimed at discrediting critics of the government,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “This is extremely dangerous and irresponsible in a country where journalists and activists have often been threatened and killed.”

On March 4, the directors of two highly respected Sri Lankan organizations, the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) and Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL), wrote a joint letter (see link below) to President Mahinda Rajapaksa expressing their grave concern about a press report of the government’s apparent surveillance list. The list places the directors of the CPA and TISL among several people in the top category, presumably meaning that they are under particularly close surveillance.

News about the government surveillance list emerged amidst a government campaign in the media to discredit nongovernmental organizations. In several statements since February 20, government officials have made vague and unproven accusations against various groups, claiming that they have attempted to “destabilize democracy” in Sri Lanka.

Concerns about the safety of individuals on the alleged government surveillance list are heightened because of previous death threats and attacks, the organizations said. In September 2008 unknown persons threw two grenades at the TISL director’s house. In August 2009 the director of the CPA received an anonymous death threat by mail. The authorities have failed to hold anyone accountable for either of the incidents.

Both the CPA and TISL played a crucial role in monitoring the January presidential election, reporting on electoral violations and the government’s misuse of state resources to campaign in favor of the incumbent, Mahinda Rajapaksa.

“This smacks of retaliation for reporting on violations during the presidential election,” said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific director. “Despite the elections and the end of the war against the Tamil Tigers, the government seems to have a hard time getting rid of the habit of repression.”

Link to joint letter by the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) and Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL)