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Threats and Intimidation against Sri Lankan Human Rights Defender Mr. Herman Kumara

Dear Ambassadors of SRILANKA,

Please give legal protection to Herman Kumara, Negombo of SRILANKA. He has been fighting for the Human Rights of the Fisher People in Sri Lanka and in the World. He was doing all these in the capacity of International Laws and SriLANKAN Laws and constitutions.
thomas kocherry

4th March 2012

Mr. Herman Kumara, a well known Human Rights Defender in Sri Lanka, has received repeated threats, surveillance and intimidation since February 2012. The threats are due to Mr. Kumara’s work as a human rights defender and his campaigns against the Governments policies on fishermen’s rights and the rights of internally displaced persons in Sri Lanka due to war and development projects.
The threats against Mr. Kumara increased following around 10 days of protests by fisherman in the Chilaw (Puttalam district) and Negombo (Gampaha district) areas in February 2012 against an increase in fuel prices by the Government. One fisherman was killed and several were injured when police opened fire at a protest in Chilaw (Puttalam District) . Mr. Kumara and his organization NAFSO were wrongly accused by Government Ministers of organizing the protest. The state controlled media repeatedly portrayed the protest as being instigated by NGOs and anti-government forces. Mr. Kumara believes that there is a deliberate attempt to implicate him and his organization as having organized or instigated the protests and violence. These attacks have severely compromised Mr. Kumara’s work and security.

1. Background to Mr. Herman Kumara
Mr. Herman Kumara, was the Secretary General of the World Forum of Fisher People (WFFP) and is the head of the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement (NAFSO) in Sri Lanka. He is the chairperson of Praja Abhilashi Network, a coalition of organizations working on land issues in Sri Lanka. He is a founder member of the People to People Dialogue on Peace & Sustainable Development and the Platform for Freedom in Sri Lanka, a collective of civil society organizations and trade unions and political parties across Sri Lanka. Mr. Kumara is also a member of the Board of Directors for the Women for Development Alternatives of Sri Lanka (SAVISTHRI). He serves as a core committee member of the South Asian Alliance for Poverty Eradication [SAAPE], steering committee member of Food Sovereignty Network of South Asia [FSNSA], steering committee member of REINCORPFISH program, a research and policy dialogue on Indian-Sri Lankan trawl fisheries issues. He is a special invitee to the World Forum of Fisher Peoples’ [WFFP], a member of the steering committee of Global Farmers Forum of International Fund for Agriculture [IFAD], and is the international focal point of the fisheries sector on the International Planning Committee on Food Sovereignty.
Mr. Kumara is a well known HRD who has campaigned at the community level against systematic repression and human rights violations and advocated locally, nationally and internationally for the rights of fisherman in Sri Lanka. In November 2010, Mr. Kumara and his organization were part of a collective of civil society organizations and HRDs who campaigned against the Government’s proposed sea plane project in the Negombo lagoon (on the west coast of Sri Lanka). The project was abandoned due to the protests and several HRDs and union leaders faced threats and persecution during and following the sea plane protest.

On 17th February, Mr. Kumara, NAFSO and several other organizations and the Platform for Freedom, organized a protest against the killing of the fisherman in Chilaw on 15th February and against the brutal attacks against fisherman by the police and state forces. The threats against Mr. Kumara have increased following this protest and campaigns.

2. Threats and Intimidation
2.1 Statement in Parliament by Fisheries Minister, Rajitha Senarathna
On 21st February 2012, Minister of Fisheries & Aquatic Resources Development, Dr. Rajitha Senarathne, in his statement to parliament, directly accused Mr. Herman Kumara of organizing the fisherman’s protests. He accused Mr. Kumara and the JVP (Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna), an opposition party, of instigating the protests, referring to them as murderers and underworld thugs who were behind the protests in return for foreign funding/payments.

The Minister told parliament that ‘‘…After the fisherman had reached an agreement, certain opportunists mobilized this protest. I will identify them by name. There is a man called Anura. The other person is Herman Kumara. There are ‘dollar thieves’ like this. They get paid directly in dollars when this body is lifted (referring to the fisherman who was killed during the protests). The others are the JVP. The murderers in the JVP. It is these underworld characters who were behind the protest. They are the real murderers. The real underground….

2.2 False allegations by Government ministers and by the State media
Government ministers and the state controlled media (print and electronic) have repeatedly attempted to portray the fisherman’s protests as being organized by NGOs and anti-government forces.

Addressing a cabinet press briefing on 23rd February, a group of cabinet ministers including Minister Weerawansa, described the recent protests against the fuel price increase as an “NGO funded conspiracy” supported by the West
The Dinamina newspaper (state controlled Sinhala language daily newspaper) on 20th February and the Daily newspaper (state controlled English language daily newspaper) on 21st February reported a statement made by minister Wimal Weerawansa at a ceremony at the Kaduwela Divisional Secretariat on 19th February, that ‘a Non Governmental Organization is behind the recent fishermen's protests in Chilaw’. The minister also said that ‘NGOs want to organize this type of protests in Sri Lanka to create a bad image about the country through the international media, such as, CNN, BBC on the eve of the Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva’.

On 26th February, the Sunday Observer (State controlled English Sunday Newspaper) in its editorial accused NGOs and groups with vested interests in mobilizing the fisherman’s protests. The editorial quoted Minister Weerawansa as saying that ‘certain NGOs, who dance to the tune of their funding INGOs, are keen to organise unruly protests in Sri Lanka to create an adverse image of the country through the international media’ .
On 26th February, Silumina (state controlled Sinhala language Weekend newspaper) published an article by Mr. Milroy Fernando, Member of Parliament, stating that the fisherman’s protests were mobilized and instigated by extremist anti-government forces with vested interests .
As the head of a prominent fishermen’s rights NGO in Sri Lanka and a well known activist who has campaign openly for the rights of fisherman in Sri Lanka, Mr. Kumara believes that there is an attempt to implicate him and NAFSO as organizing the fisherman’s protests. Mr. Kumara states that while he has campaigned for fisherman’s rights, he and his organization were not involved in the protests that broke out following the fuel price hike and that these agitations were organized by the fisherman themselves.

2.3 False allegations/threats by Catholic priest
On 17th February 2012, Rev. Fr. Lester Nonis, responsible for fisheries issues for the Colombo Archdiocese of the Catholic church, stated on the Independent Television Network (ITN), a state controlled television station, that the violence at the protests were begun by NGO and civil society activists who stood on the opposite side of the fishermen and threw stones at the police. Fr. Nonis also stated that these activists must take direct responsibility for the violence and the death of the fisherman.

Fr. Lester Nonis, who is also the Parish Priest of the Periyamulla church (near Negombo, in the Gampaha district), has previously threatened Mr. Kumara due to his work in the community. On 25th January 2012, Fr. Nonis threatened Mr. Kumara on his mobile phone and accused him of ‘instigating protests and unrest among fisherman everywhere’ He warned that ‘the Cardinal was also aware of this and that they would take care of this’.

The statement by Fr. Nonis on 17th February was used by Minister Rajitha Senrarathne during his attack against Mr. Kumara in parliament, as further evidence that the protests were instigated by anti-government forces. Having directly accused Mr. Kumara and opposition groups of organizing the protests for financial gain, the Minister referred to the statement by Fr. Nonis and said that ‘…Father Nonis made a statement. That priest is the fisheries director. Father said that conspirators are involved in this (the protest). The Cardinal said that there are two people involved in this. Even the cardinal told me that there are extremists and conspirators involved in this’.

2.4 Surveillance and intelligence gathering
On 18th February 2012, Mr. Herman Kumara left Sri Lanka to attend an international conference in Rome, Italy. While he was overseas, an officer who introduced himself as an intelligence officer from the Kuliyapitiya police station had questioned a village official in Mr. Kumara’s hometown and confirmed Mr. Kumara’s details, including his vehicle number. The officer had also asked the village official whether Mr. Kumara had left Sri Lanka.
On 21st and 25th February, two employees at NAFSO were visited at their homes by intelligence officers who questioned them about the organization, its work and Mr. Kumara’s activities.
When Mr. Kumara returned to Sri Lanka on 24th February 2012, he was followed from the airport by a group of men who later visited his home in Irabadagama (Kurunegala District) and questioned his neighbors about his work and details of his family members.

Mr. Kumara landed in Sri Lanka at 1.30 pm on 24th February 2012. At immigration, he noticed three officers in civilian clothes watching him and behaving in a suspicious manner. Mr. Kumara states that he was stopped at immigration for an unusually long time while the immigration official examined his passport. According to Mr. Kumara, the three officers stood very close to the counter while his passport was being checked and he overheard one officer say that ‘we will finish this now and look into the others later’. Two of the officers followed Mr. Kumara to the baggage collection area and stood, around 50 meters away from him, until he collected his luggage.

Mr. Kumara was met at the airport by his wife and several friends and colleagues who were to accompany him to his home. While he was leaving the airport, the same two men walked past Mr. Kumara towards the entrance and stood opposite the arrivals car park where Mr. Kumara and his group had gathered. One of the HRDs who had gone to meet Mr. Kumara at the airport overheard one of the men telling someone over his mobile phone to ‘hurry up and bring the vehicle since the man was about to leave’.

As they left the airport, Mr. Kumara noticed that their vehicle was being followed by a group travelling in a green car bearing license number 301-2865. Mr. Kumara recognized one of the men who had watched him at the airport in the vehicle. The men followed Mr. Kumara’s vehicle for around 3 km, while he was travelling from the airport towards Negombo, on the Colombo-Puttalam road. Fearing for his safety, Mr. Kumara drove at high speed until they lose sight of the vehicle. Mr. Kumara did not return home that day for security reasons.

The same day (24th February), the green car (license number 301-2865) was seen parked near Mr. Kumara’s home. Three officers dressed in civilian clothes had questioned Mr. Kumara’s neighbors regarding his work, activities, the vehicle he drives and the details of his family members. The men had claimed that the inquiry was for the purpose of a bank loan that Mr. Kumara had applied for.

On 25th February, Mr. Kumara spoke at a Platform for Freedom meeting held in Negombo (Gampaha district), where he told the public and press gathered about the threats and surveillance against him. He believes that there were several intelligence officers at the meeting. One person, who is believed to be an intelligence officer, tried to obtain information regarding Mr. Kumara from a colleague in the audience. This person was seen leaving on a motorbike bearing license number WPVX2375 before the meeting concluded.

That night, on his way back from the meeting at around 7.30 pm, Mr. Kumara was followed on a motorbike bearing number WP 6442 (the rest of the number was unclear). Mr. Kumara was travelling in the vehicle belonging to NAFSO and was able to avoid the motorbike by using another vehicle as a decoy. He believes that such repeated surveillance and intimidation pose a serious risk to his security in Sri Lanka.

3. Complaints, action taken and media reports
Mr. Kumara’s wife filed a complaint with the Pannala Police Station on 24th February regarding the threats and surveillance against him. The complaint was recorded as CIB (1)/241/490. To date no credible action appears to have been taken to inquire into the threats against Mr. Kumara or to grant him adequate protection. On 2nd March 2012, Mr. Kumara submitted a written complaint dated 28th February 2012, to the Inspector General of Police by registered post detailing the threats and surveillance against him .

On 26th February, the BBC reported the threats and surveillance against Mr. Kumara following his return from an international conference in Rome. On 29th February, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) issued an urgent appeal regarding the threats against Mr. Kumara . A written statement by Mr. Kumara detailing the threats against him is also available on the AHRC website.

On 2nd March 2012, the World Socialist Website published an article condemning the the Sri Lankan Government’s attempt to dismiss and discredit the protesters against fuel hikes including the fisherman’s protest as a western led NGO conspiracy .
On 20th February, NAFSO published an article, citing state media reports, and accusing the Government of hiding behind NAFSO following the killing of the fisherman in Chilaw . On 2nd March 2012, NAFSO organized a press conference in Negombo regarding the threats, intimidations and surveillance against Mr. Herman Kumara.

4. State Response
To date there has been no credible attempt to investigate the police complaint by Mr. Kumara’s wife and Mr. Kumara himself regarding the threats and surveillance against him. To the best of our knowledge, no steps have also been taken to ensure the protection of Mr. Kumara.

5. Present Situation
As a result of the repeated threats, Mr. Kumara had lived the last few days in imminent fear of further threats and even attacks, abduction or attempt on his life. He has been compelled to leave his home due to the threats. He maintains that he has not conducted or been part of any illegal activity and calls on the Government to conduct any investigation or inquiry in a legal manner and to guarantee his security and protection for his family in Sri Lanka.

Thomas Kocherry

World Forum of Fisher Peoples (WFFP) Special Invitee,
National Fishworkers' Forum (NFF), India
National Alliance of Peoples Movements(NAPM), India.

7/48, Vayakarai, Manavalakurichy-P.O., Kannyakumari Dt.,Tamilnadu-629252.India

Tel/Fax: (91)4651 237 297 , .Tel: (91)4651 200 517 .Mobile: (91) 936 064 5772 .