Sri Lanka: Death threats against activists highlight risk of violence around elections
Sri Lankan authorities must hold to account those who threatened three prominent activists with death today and ensure that tomorrow’s presidential elections passes without further violence, Amnesty International said.
Opposition campaigners Brito Fernando, Phillip Dissanayake and Prasanga Fernando – who are all well-known human rights defenders active with families of the “disappeared” – today received phone calls from unknown people who threatened them with death. Prasanga Fernando was told the three should “make your funeral arrangements at your homes”.
“These death threats against activists who have been peacefully defending human rights are utterly deplorable. The Sri Lankan authorities must do their utmost to find and hold to account those responsible, and send a clear signal that threats and violence around the elections will not be tolerated,” said David Griffiths, Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia Pacific Director.
“These threats come against the backdrop of a violent election campaign, in which opposition activists have overwhelmingly borne the brunt of attacks. The government must ensure that people can vote without fear on election day, and that there are no repercussions afterwards regardless of the outcome.”
“Sadly, attacks on human rights defenders are commonplace in Sri Lanka – many of those brave enough to work on addressing unresolved abuses live with constant threats hanging over them. It’s worrying that the electoral violence has seemed to give a licence to escalate such attacks.”
These are not the first threats the activists have received – on 5 January, Brito Fernando and Prasanga Fernando woke up to find the severed heads of dogs outside their homes.
Sri Lanka’s election campaign has been marked by threats, violence and harassment mainly targeting those campaigning for opposition candidates. As of 6 January, the independent Centre for Monitoring Election Violence had recorded at least 237 “major incidents” during the campaigning period, including one death, dozens of cases of assaults, intimidation and damage to property.