On September 3, 2022, human rights defender Sabharatnam Sivayoganathan, also known as Seelan, received a summons to appear before the Counter Terrorism Investigation Division (CTID) for questioning on September 9, 2022. The reason for the questioning was not given. The human rights defender’s lawyer wrote to the CTID to request the postponement of the investigation due to his father’s poor health and provided documents confirming the state of health. The letter was delivered to the Officer in Charge, Terrorism Investigation Division, Fort, Colombo. On September 12, 2022, Seelan received a call from a police officer from the Kallady police station, Batticaloa, and was informed that the investigation would be carried out in Batticaloa and on a date to be specified.
Sabharatnam Sivayoganathan is a long-time human rights defender in Sri Lanka. During the ethnic conflict and civil war in Sri Lanka, Seelan supported victims of human rights violations in their fight for justice, many of whom come from vulnerable and impoverished communities. Seelan is an active committee member of the Batticaloa District NGO Consortium, committee member of Transparency International Sri Lanka and chairperson of the Batticaloa District Civil Society Forum. Seelan has participated in several initiatives related to peacebuilding, transitional justice and reconciliation processes. He spoke about reprisals and intimidation faced by regional journalists, land grabbing by the military, militarization and the Terrorism Presentation Act.
Sabharatnam Sivayoganathan has been targeted in the past by intelligence officials and court orders related to his human rights work. In April and May 2022, intelligence agents visited Sabharatnam Sivayoganathan’s office in Batticaloa and questioned him about his human rights work. In September 2021, the Batticaloa Magistrate’s Court issued a court order preventing him from attending a memorial event. Front Line Defenders has issued an appeal calling for an end to the harassment and intimidation of the human rights defender, when he was summoned for questioning about his work by police and intelligence officers in August, July and May 2021.
Front Line Defenders is concerned about the use of the Counter-Terrorism Division to target or interrogate the human rights defender. He believes the summonses are part of a retaliatory package that includes arrests, interrogations and harassment of human rights defenders in Sri Lanka, which has a history of using anti-terrorism laws and institutions against rights activists human rights defenders, in particular against Tamil and Muslim human rights defenders. .
Front Line Defenders condemns the continued harassment of Sabharatnam Sivayoganathan and the use of Sri Lankan police counter-terrorism units to interrogate and target the human rights defender. He calls on the Sri Lankan authorities to end the ongoing harassment and create an environment in which all human rights defenders can work in safety and dignity.