Sri Lanka: Stop BBS campaign demands release of Azath Sally

BBSThe Stop BBS campaign ( Stop Bodu Bala Sena (Buddhist Power Force), supported by Tamil Solidarity, condemns the arrest of Azath Sally. This is yet another example of how the current regime is becoming even more repressive. We also support the following statement. Please send your support to demand the release of Azath Sally and all political prisoners.

Public Statement

Condemn the Unlawful Arrest and Detention of Azath Salley and Call for his Immediate Release.

 
We the undersigned, vehemently condemn the arrest of Former Deputy Mayor and Founder Leader of the National United Front (NUF), Azath Salley, by a team of officers from the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and the Terrorism Investigation Department (TID), on Thursday, 2nd May 2013 morning, and call for his immediate release, in the absence of any demonstrable evidence.

Mr. Salley was arrested under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), and it has been now reported that he has been placed under detention for further interrogation by the TID for 3 months under Section 2(1)(h) of the PTA. Section 2(1)(h) states that a person has committed an offence under the PTA “….by words either spoken or intended to be read or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise causes or intends to cause commission of acts of violence or religious, racial or communal disharmony or feelings of ill-will or hostility between different communities or racial or religious groups…”

The unlawful arrest and detention of Mr. Salley is in a context where there have been increasing attacks and threats against minorities, a growing spate of incidents of religious intolerance and clamping down of critics of the Government and dissent on the whole. Mr. Salley has been a vocal critic of the extremist group Bodhu Bala Sena (BBS) and the anti–Muslim activities of the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), and has been actively involved in efforts to initiate legal action against both groups. He has also promoted minorities to unite against the racist rhetoric and action of such groups. In addition, Mr. Salley has been publicly critical of the indirect support given to these elements by the Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. On 24 April 2013, in an interview to the Tamil Nadu bi-weekly magazine “Junior Vikatan, Mr. Salley is alleged to have said that “the Muslims too should launch an armed struggle against the state in the same manner in which Tamils conducted a campaign earlier…(and) that such a struggle would commence once necessary arms are procured.” Mr. Salley has later written to the magazine stating that he was misquoted with a retraction printed by the magazine on 4 May 2013.

Mr. Salley has been on a fast since his arrest on 2 May in protest against his unjust arrest and demanding his release. Since his arrest, he has been moved from the 4th Floor of the CID to the National Hospital as he had collapsed due to lack of food, water and medication. There are concerns his condition can deteriorate if not urgently addressed as he is a diabetic and in need of medication. He was initially refused visitors including visits from his immediate family and lawyers, and was warded under heavy police guard. It is now reported that regardless of medical concerns, Mr. Salley has been moved back to the 4th Floor of the CID.

Regardless of Mr. Salley’s political positions, we are deeply concerned with the treatment meted towards him which seems to be a result of his position against hate propaganda and opposition to extremist groups. While we recognize the rights of the State to investigate hate speech and other actions aimed at inciting communal disharmony, we wish to highlight the lack of fair and due process on the part of the State in the unlawful arrest and detention of Mr. Salley.

We also note the speed with which the Government and its agents acted on the arrest of Mr. Salley based on a misquoted interview. This is in a context of an increasing number of instances of hate speech and violence in Sri Lanka, with evidence publicly available identifying the perpetrators. Unfortunately, such incidents have not been independently investigated and perpetrators brought to account. Sadly, this incident is yet another reminder that the Government has resorted to strong arm tactics to silence and harass critics, while turning a blind eye when actual incidents of violence occurs. It is of serious concern as to the reasons for this unlawful arrest and the detention of Mr. Salley and sends a chilling reminder to all critics of the Government of reprisals. We believe the charges against Mr. Salley are baseless and politically motivated, and call for his immediate release.

Firazul Fouz,

Stop BBS