SRI LANKA: Abduction of a human rights defender Stephen Suntharaj

After his 2 month detention and release by the courts:

Immediate intervention needed to save his life



May 09, 2009

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission

SRI LANKA: Abduction of a human rights defender Stephen Suntharaj
after his 2 month detention and release by the courts: Immediate
intervention needed to save his life

Stephen Suntharaj, age 39, has been working for Centre for Human
Rights and Development (CHRD) since March 2008 as program officer. He
formerly worked for Child Protection Authority, Jaffna branch. Stephen
had taken up many cases of child abuse in Jaffna as a result was
threatened by different groups and ultimately had to flee Jaffna.

In the 1st week of March Stephen was taken by armed men in uniform,
just few yards away from CHRD office (No. 06 Aloe Avenue Kolpity 
Colombo 03). Another colleague of him has witnessed this event.
Immediately CHRD sent its lawyer to nearby police stations and found
Stephen at Kolpity police station.

Later they issued 2-month detention order and Stephen was kept at
Kolpity police station for 2 months. During this period Stephens
wife and his lawyer had regular access, and Stephen had told them
that he was treated decently but had been interrogated by CID. On May
7th Stephen was released by the Supreme Court (Halstrup) around 2.30pm
and he was accompanied by his lawyer to CHRD office. Later Stephens
wife and three children joined him at CHRD office and a colleague of
Stephen volunteered to take them to her house. This was around 5pm.
Since Kolpity police withheld Stephens passport and national
Identity card they went to the police station and collected the
documents. At this point the lawyer left Stephen and the family to
proceed to their location. Not even few minutes after they left the
police station the lawyer got a call from the colleague who
accompanied Stephen that few men in uniform abducted Stephen in a
white van. The car that carried Stephen was stopped by a motor bike
just close by Buddhist Ladies college (near Turret road junction),
one man keeping a pistol at the drivers side, while another man in
uniform opened the side door and dragged Stephen out and then pushed
him into a white van parked by the side of the car. There were many
bystanders watching this and Stephens 8-year-old son begged the man
in uniform to not to hurt his father. Stephens wife and other have
seen these men faces clearly expect for the man on the motorbike
whose face was fully covered. All of them were in uniform and armed
with pistols.

Stephen’s wife has appealed to the international community to help
whatever possible way to expedite her husbands release. Stephen was
released from jail due to an order from the Supreme Court. There is
no reason to believe that those who abducted Stephen are acting on
any other instructions other than those from the people who
authorised his detention in the first place. It is the duty of the
Ministry of Defence and the Sri Lankan government to immediately take
steps to find and release Stephen.

The entire responsibility for this abduction lies with the Sri Lankan
government. Abductions, killings and disappearances have been going on
for a long time and the government has done nothing at all to bring
this matter to an end. We urge the local and international community
to intervene strongly to save the life of Stephen.


# # #

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional
non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights
issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

Asian Human Rights Commission
19/F, Go-Up Commercial Building,
998 Canton Road, Kowloon, Hongkong S.A.R.
Tel: +(852) – 2698-6339 Fax: +(852) – 2698-6367

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