Sri Lankan authorities arrest churches' justice and peace worker

By Ecumenical News International
April 5, 2009

A government terrorism investigation unit in Colombo has arrested the executive secretary for justice and peace of Sri Lanka's National Christian Council - writes Anto Akkara.

Media reports said that Santha Fernando, who heads the justice and peace commission of the NCC, an ecumenical grouping of Anglican and Protestant churches and agencies, was detained at Colombo's international airport on 27 March while he was on his way to a meeting in India.

"We are shocked by this arrest," Jehan Perera, executive director of Sri Lanka's National Peace Council told Ecumenical News International on 3 April from Colombo.

The AsiaNews agency reported that the terrorism investigation unit had taken Fernando into custody after security personnel found documents in his luggage concerning the humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka's northern Vanni region. Here, an estimated 150 000 Tamil civilians are trapped by fighting between Sri Lankan government forces and Tamil rebels.

AsiaNews reported that the organization Media Freedom in Sri Lanka said the documents in Fernando's possession had been downloaded from the internet.

Perera, a Roman Catholic, said the peace council had not initially made a public statement about the arrest, as the National Christian Council was trying to get Fernando released without entering into confrontation with the government. However, it seemed this attempt to secure the official's release had failed, said Perera.

Describing Fernando as a "committed human rights worker", Perera said, "This is the intimidation technique the government uses against those who stand up for peace and oppose war."

In Geneva, the Action by Churches Together International humanitarian alliance reported that the national church council had requested Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa to expedite the case.

The NCC's general secretary, Jayasiri Peiris, described Fernando as, "a person who is least likely to engage in any unlawful or separatist activity". Peiris reported that Fernando is well, and said, "We call for prayers for him and his wife and family and the process of investigations."

The NCC is a member of ACT, which is engaged in humanitarian assistance in Sri Lanka.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]

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