April 7, 2009

Christian peace activist arrested in Sri Lanka


by David Masters

A leading figure in the Sri Lankan Christian peace movement was arrested last month by a government anti-terror squad, and has yet to be released.

Santha Fernando, 63, was detained at Colombo airport on 27 March whilst on his way to a meeting in India.

He was taken into custody after security personnel at the airport found that he was carrying documents about the humanitarian crisis in the Vanni region of Sri Lanka, where an estimated 150,000 Tamil civilians are trapped by fighting between Sri Lankan government forces and Tamil rebels.

Fernando is head of the justice and peace commission at Sri Lanka’s National Christian Council (NCC).

Jehan Perera, executive director of Sri Lanka’s National Peace Council, described Fernando as a ‘committed human rights worker’ and added that the NPC was ‘shocked’ at his arrest.

“This is the intimidation technique the government uses against those who stand up for peace and oppose war,” Perera said.

NCC general secretary Jayasiri Peiris said Fernando is “a person who is least likely to engage in any unlawful or separatist activity.”

Perera explained that the arrest was not initially made public by the NCC or NPC as they had tried to secure his release without getting into confrontation with the government.

However, their attempt at negotiating his release failed, and the media have now been notified of Fernando’s detention.

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