COLOMBO: A Catholic-run human rights group working in northeastern Sri Lanka said yesterday it had been harassed by security personnel after meeting UN rights chief Navi Pillay last week.
Pillay ended her first official visit to the formerly war-ravaged country at the weekend with a stinging press conference in which she accused the government of becoming “increasingly authoritarian”.
Veerasan Yogeswaran, a 60-year-old Jesuit priest who runs the Centre for Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, said five or six plainclothes policemen visited him at midnight and before dawn, just hours after the meeting with Pillay.
“The concern is that they are going to homes at midnight and questioning people,” the priest said from his home in Trincomalee, 260 kilometres northeast of the capital Colombo.
“This should not happen four years after the war has ended. People feel harassed and intimidated.”
Pillay denounced the intimidation of people she had spoken to during her week-long fact-finding mission to probe alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka. “This type of surveillance and harassment appears to be getting worse in Sri Lanka, which is a country where critical voices are quite often attacked or even permanently silenced,” she said on Saturday.
The Centre for Promotion and Protection of Human Rights helps families of people who went missing during and after Sri Lanka’s Tamil separatist war as well as people in detention.
Rights activist Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, who heads the Colombo-based Centre for Policy Alternatives, said he travelled to the war-affected districts of Mullaittivu and Jaffna and spoke to local people who also said they were questioned after meeting Pillay. “I have had reports confirming that civilians who spoke with her... had been visited and questioned by people they suspected to be military intelligence or army,” Saravanamuttu said.