Families of the disappeared from the Northern Province, gathered in Colombo on 4th August 2014, at 2.30pm, at the Centre for Society&Religion (CSR), which is a Church (Oblates of Mary Immaculate – OMI) run institution situated in the premises of a Catholic Church. The gathering was to share their experiences and struggles with those who have been sympathetic and supportive to them, such as representatives of civil society organizations, Christian clergy, lawyers and diplomats.
Families had met with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Colombo that morning (4th) at around 10am, to follow-up on their previous complaints, as the Government had compelled the ICRC to close their offices in the North.
In addition, following the meeting at CSR, these families were also meant to exchange experiences with a group of mothers from the South whose children have also been killed or disappeared. However, that session had to be cancelled due to the disruption of the CSR meeting by an abusive mob, and refusal of the Police to provide protection to the participants.
Disruption of the meeting:
Around 3.15pm on 4th August, when a mother whose son had disappeared was sharing her story, a mob of about 40 persons, including about 8 in Buddhist Monk robes, forcibly stormed into the CSR building and attempted to break into the meeting room. Many of the organizers and participants tried to block the mob from entering the room, and heated arguments ensured.
The mob hurled abuse and false allegations at the organizers and participants of the meeting, labeling them as LTTE (terrorist) supporters, trying to discredit the Government by way of supporting an international war crimes inquiry.
“We have also lost our children. Why aren’t you listening to our stories? We also want to come and join your meeting. Why are you conducting your meeting inside a room in secret? You take foreign NGO money and bring disrepute to your country, aren’t you ashamed of yourselves? Do you need to stoop to this level to earn a living? You’re partaking in terrorist activity! You’ll are begging money from the West to work with these LTTE families. You are all rogues! In exchange for millions of dollars, you are working against the Sinhalese. Allegations of war crimes affect all the people of Sri Lanka, not just these families. You filthy dogs!” hollered the mob rabidly.
“You’re a bloody Tiger! (Screamed a monk pointing directly at Fr. M. Sathivel, a participant who was in the forefront of stopping the mob from entering the meeting room). Another man pointed at Brito Fernando (who was the main organizer) and said “I know all about this man. He makes his money by collecting 20 rupees each from young girls in Katunayake!”
Thereafter, they directed their focus on the Northern families and with feigned interest for their wellbeing stated, “We feel so sorry for you families. Don’t get hoodwinked by them. They are using you to get dollars from America. They are selling you innocent people’s suffering for money. You’ll were saved by our forces. The Sri Lankan forces. Don’t forget that!”
Some persons in the mob who claimed that they too had family members who had disappeared, insisted on joining the meeting. Organizers and participants explained that this was a private meeting in a private space, and that no one could join forcibly, but that they were willing to meet and discuss with the mob on a mutually convenient date and place.
The children and many women (comprising families of the disappeared) present at the meeting, cowered at the back of the meeting room in fear for their safety. Most of the children were traumatized and weeping, whilst some of the women too were in tears. Some members of the mob were taking photographs of the organizers and participants, which terrorized the participants further, as they feared reprisals for themselves and families.
As the mob refused to leave, the Maradana (Colombo 10) Police was called to intervene by the priest in charge of CSR. Several Police officers, including senior officers arrived at the scene, and tried to mitigate between the mob and the participants and organizers of the meeting. Initially, the Police focused on gathering information on the meeting, at which point the organizers provided basic information regarding meeting. The Police then asked that the meeting be stopped and five representatives from the organizers, including two from the families of the disappeared from the North, come to the Maradana Police station to further discuss and resolve the matter.
But the organizers insisted that the Police first disperse the mob which had invaded a private property by force, and had disrupted a peaceful and legitimate meeting. However, the Police refused, and seemed unwilling to take strong action against the mob, despite multiple appeals by the organizers and one of the diplomats present to do so.
Instead of dispersing the unruly mob or arresting them, the Police asked the organizers to cancel the meeting and send the participants home. They also refused to provide the participants with protection, despite the organizers requesting the Police for protection, whilst pointing out that the Police were duty-bound to do so. The organizers continued to stand their ground and insist that the Police remove the abusive mob from the private premises of the church. The organizers were reinforced by the arrival of several lawyers, Catholic priests and representatives of civil society organizations.
A Buddhist Monk who was in the mob asserted that all the families that had come were those of LTTE members who had been killed. He went on assert that those leading and attending the meeting were terrorists and that it was an illegal meeting, held in a secret lair. He then called on citizens to beat and beat and chase away any persons who are against the country. He also said that traitors should not be allowed to live anywhere and called on the government to take steps to legalize hanging if that was the punishment that should be given to traitors.
After a tense stand-off of more than an hour, the Police managed to evict the mob from the building, and eventually off the premises by about 5.30pm, more than two hours since their barging in.
By this time, the mob itself had lodged a complaint against the organizers, who they claimed had brought down Mahaveerar (LTTE Hero’s) families from the North, to gather information and discredit the Government.
Finally, on the insistence of the Police, a representative from the organizers and several accompanying lawyers went to the Maradana Police, where the mob was also present. The mob whilst continuing to threaten and hurl abuse at the organizers and lawyers, also questioned them as to why representatives from the families of the disappeared from the North had not come with them to the station.
Intimidation prior to the meeting
A mother of the disappeared complained that on the 3rd of August, she had received a threatening phone call from an unidentified person, who had told her that they (the caller) knew she was going to Colombo for a meeting.
Some of the other mothers too had received similar calls from unidentified persons in the days prior to the meeting, and sometimes from callers claiming to be from the Criminal Investigation Division (CID), inquiring after their whereabouts, and that they come meet with the caller at a said location. Yet another mother had CID officers standing outside her house a few days before the meeting, and they had threatened her before she left for Colombo. She had also received similar calls from unidentified persons in the days prior to the meeting. One of the Northern based organizers of the event had received a threatening phone call from an unidentified person, also on 3rd August, asking if he was taking families of the disappeared to Colombo that night (3rd) for a meeting. Another mother complained that whilst she was in Colombo on the 4th, the CID had visited her home in the North and asked after her whereabouts. These mothers have been getting such anonymous calls for at least a month preceding this meeting. The organizers say that this has become a common practice to intimidate families prior to any meeting, protest or even hearing before the Government appointed Commission of Inquiry into Missing Persons.
Further, someone had sent a fax to media institutions, claiming to be sent by the President of the Association for Families of the Disappeared, Brito Fernando, that there will be a meeting at CSR at 2pm on 4th August, for human activists (probably referring to human rights activists), and others from the North and East, to prepare them on how to give evidence before an international investigation on war crimes. The fax goes on to state that a large number of parents and relatives of families of the disappeared at the hands of the Government security forces, would be present at this event, and calls on the media to provide coverage of the event. The fax had been sent at 2.29pm, on 4th August 2014, from a shop titled ‘DS Netcafe & Com’, from number 011-2799110. The fax was signed off by Brito Fernando, President – Families of the Disappeared, but without any signature. Brito confirmed that he never sent out such a fax, and had not asked for any media coverage, as this was meant to be a private meeting.
Around 12noon on 4th August, a man named Mr. Bandara had gone to the venue near Colombo where some of the families from the North were due to stay overnight that day, and inquired from an employee whether there was any meeting planned. He identified himself as from the Police and showed a Police identity card. He had also questioned the employee about the identity of the organizers, including about a Priest from Mannar who was involved in organizing the event. Mr. Bandara had obtained the name and phone number of the employee and had instructed the employee to inform him (Mr. Bandara) if and when the group came to the venue.
Inquiries after the meeting
After the families had left for the North on the same (4th August) night, persons claiming to be from the Police, including at least one person who had shown a Police identity card, had called the venue just outside Colombo, where some of the families from the North were supposed to stay overnight and have another meeting, and asked an employee there if the families were still there. Similarly, after the families left CSR on the 4th night around 7.30pm, the Police had visited CSR and asked the priest-in-charge if the families were still being kept there.
Police offices had also suggested to the priest-in-charge of CSR not to rent out the premises for this type of meetings in the future.
Around 10pm on 5th August, officers claiming to be from the CID of the Police had visited Brito Fernando’s office in Negombo and inquired after him, and as he was not there, said they’d return later.
Around 12.30am on 6th August (just after midnight on 5th August), Dr. Nimalka Fernando, Attorney-at-Law and well know Human Rights Defender (HRD), who was one of the participants of the CSR event, was issued written summons to come for an inquiry on 6th August morning, to the Maradana Police.
When the Police had all day yesterday (5th) to issue summons and visit offices to make inquiries, one can only conclude that the late night visits are additional intimidatory tactics by the law enforcement authorities.
Dr. Fernando’s statement recording of the details pertaining to the 4th incident by the Police took over one hour. She had also mentioned the threats made against her life prior to this incident by two men representing the Missing Soldiers Association. “I stated that since I knew of happened in Beruwala and Aluthgama, fearing disaster, I rushed to appeal to the monks to go away. They then started shouting at me in filth,” said Dr. Fernando. She added that her reasoning for attending the meeting was to encourage these family members, many of who had gone before the Government appointed LLRC, to provide the same evidence to the new Commission appointed by His Excellency.
The Maradana Police had also visited CSR on the morning of 5th August around 11am to take down a statement from the priest-in-charge regarding the 4th incident. However, the Police had asked him to provide details of those who came from the North for the meeting.
Following the statement above, the priest in charge of CSR had also lodged a complaint against a monk from the mob, who claimed to be the Editor of the paper, ‘Dharma Deepaya,’ on the basis of Criminal Trespass, both of the church premises and CSR. The complaint was made to PC Wijewardena Serial Number 45372 of the Maradana Police and a receipt was issued with the reference number M.OIB.160/51.
When Brito Fernando, the organizer of the event went t lodge a complaint to the Maradana Police about the invasion of the mob and disruption of the meeting and the inaction of the Police, the Maradana Police refused to accept the complaint as they were also implicated and requested Brito to lodge a complaint with the Inspector General of Police (IGP).
Police Media Spokesman downplays the illegal invasion and Police inaction
“There had been no such inactivity (by the Police) as they were not aware of the protest when it was initiated. Once we were informed we arrived promptly at the scene. By that time the protestors had already gone inside the premises. Nothing happened even at that time and both parties were taken to the Police” said Police Media Spokesman Ajith Rohana.
This is a totally distorted version of events – the reality being that the Police refused to evict or arrest the invading mob, despite repeated requests by the organizers and participants. It took hours for the large contingent of Police to disperse the relatively small mob from the building and subsequently the premises, despite previous instances of Police dispersing hundreds of students, workers etc.
Ministry of External Affairs defends the mob, police inaction and blames foreign diplomats
In an official statement dated 5th August 2014, the Ministry of External Affairs had tried to blame the organizers, participants and the diplomatic community for the incident. It says that “a certain section of the of the diplomatic corps appears to be involved in a manner lacking in objectivity, in events organized for a particular region and community. This has led to the emergence of a pattern of such potentially volatile situations giving rise to the perpetuation of mistrust amongst communities at a sensitive juncture in the country’s history”.
The Ministry refrains from acknowledging the illegal and forcible invasion of Church owned private premises and building as well as the disruption of a peaceful and legitimate meeting by the mob. It downplays the incident to mere “tensions”, indicating the organizers and participants are also to blame. The Ministry’s statement that the Police had brought the tensions under control hides the refusal of the Police to disperse or arrest the invading mob. It also ignores the refusal of the Police to provide protection to organizers and participants, including elderly women and children, when requested. The Ministry whitewashing of the Police is despite the Police’s demand to cancel the meeting and send the participants home instead of taking action against the mob. The Ministry has even resorted to “urge the diplomatic community to be more conscious of local sensitivities” instead of urging Buddhist Monk led mobs not resort to criminal activities to air whatever their grievances, and the Police to take strong action against those criminal activities.
False and defamatory allegations made by the mob (Dead and Missing Person’s Parents Front) at their Press Conference on 5th August, 2014
- That the mob didn’t break into the meeting nor did they disrupt the meeting, and that they approached the organizers peacefully to make an appeal to them, but that the organizers responded angrily and threateningly
- That all the families of the disappeared that attended the CSR event on the 4th were Mahaveerar (LTTE Hero’s) families
- That each family was paid hundreds of thousands of Rupees to give evidence via the internet to foreign organizations/NGOs
- That the meeting was a clandestine meeting held to gather wrong evidence against the Sri Lankan government and the military
- That Nimalka Fernando and Brito Fernando are amongst those who had worked against the sovereignty of the country
- That Ruki Fernando had recently given protection to LTTE cadres who were spearheading the re-emergence of the LTTE in the country
- That Fr. M. Sathivel has been driven out from the Christian Church and has no place to stay and that he had tried to assault some of the monks at CSR and that he was mainly responsible for the situation to get heated
- That the Peratugami political party (whose representative Pubudu Jagoda was at CSR), has, from its inception been pro-LTTE and pro-Tamil diaspora
- That Bishop Rajappu Joseph has supported the LTTE for decades, and that he had taken leadership to send letters to the Geneva Council against the Government and the security forces, and that he and his assistant Fr. Sebamalei were involved in coordinating these events and sending people to attend such events
- That lawyer J. C. Weliamuna is a traitor that always betrays his profession
- That US Embassy money and vehicles were being used to transport these families from the North to Colombo
- That testimonies of Mahaveerar (LTTE Hero’s) families was immediately communicated to US and Geneva via Skype
The Buddhist Monk demanded that all the participants from the North and diplomats must be questioned. The Monk also demanded that External Affairs offices of the government must observe all discussions between Sri Lankan citizens and foreign diplomats.
Most of the persons mentioned such as Bishop Rayappu Joseph, Fr. Sebamalei, Fr. Sathivel, Dr. Nimalka Fernando, Brito Fernando and Ruki Fernando are persons who have been supporting families of disappeared persons in their struggles for truth and justice. They have been engaging with the Sri Lankan government, various domestic mechanisms to address disappearances such as the National Human Rights Commission & several Presidential Commissions of Inquiries and the international community on behalf of victims of human rights violations. Photos of Fr. Sathivel, Ruki Fernando and Acting Deputy Head of the United States Embassy in Colombo were also shown during the press conference.
False/inaccurate reportage of the incident and blaming, discrediting and intimidating victims by the Government and the Police
Sri Lanka’s Consul General in Sydney, Australia, Mr. Bandula Jayasekera appeared to have sided with the mobs and joined in condemning the organizers and families of the disappeared. His tweets are as follows;
“Let us remind those so called civil society, oh sorry uncivil that Maveers were #coward#terrorists who killed innocent people in #SriLanka.”
“Guess who is supporting #terrorist families now after that terrorist Velu? @Abeynayake, @kadawara Terrorists who killed our people.”
The Rivira too has deliberately misrepresented the facts and painted the organizers and families of the disappeared as organizing to bring the Government to disrepute by preparing to give evidence before an international investigation.
There was also media coverage of the incident. The United States Embassy in Colombo, Embassies of France, Germany and Switzerland, Lawyers Collective and the Centre for Policy Alternatives issued statements condemning the incident.
It appears that the intent of the government and Police is to defend the abusive mob that trespassed on the private premises of a Church, disrupting a legitimate and peaceful meeting, and terrorized and traumatized families of disappeared persons, including elderly women and children. And now, instead of condemning and focusing on legal action against the mob, the government and the Police appears determined to shift the blame on to the organizers, participants and even diplomats present and intimidate and harass the organizers and participants.
 Photographs and video footage from the incident –https://www.dropbox.com/sh/rosyeveh1ecla5q/AAAgkxZ_qvNvMiIMw3CYxPi1a, http://srilankabrief.org/2014/08/monks-led-mob-captured-on-camera/ and www.twitter.com/DushiYanthini
See video clips at https://www.dropbox.com/sh/rosyeveh1ecla5q/AAAgkxZ_qvNvMiIMw3CYxPi1a
 See video clips at https://www.dropbox.com/sh/rosyeveh1ecla5q/AAAgkxZ_qvNvMiIMw3CYxPi1a
 See video at http://www.vikalpa.org/?p=21431
 Fake fax – https://twitter.com/JDSLanka/status/496285201228898304
 Jehan Gunasekara, Police deny US allegations, Daily Mirror (Print version) of 6th August, 2014, page 2.
 Ministry of External Affairs website, http://www.mea.gov.lk/index.php/en/component/content/article/1-latest-news/5065-external-affairs-ministry-statement-on-the-meeting-at-csr-on-4th-august
 Daily Mirror, Video: Move to give online evidence: DMPPF – http://www.dailymirror.lk/news/50658-move-to-give-online-evidence-dmppf.html
 Colombo Telegraph –Sri Lankan diplomat sides with protestors at disrupted missing peoples event – https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/sri-lankan-diplomat-sides-with-protestors-at-disrupted-missing-peoples-event/
For example, see http://www.dailymirror.lk/news/50612-csr-meeting-triggers-tense-situation.html, http://www.ft.lk/2014/08/05/choking-civil-society/, https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/sri-lankan-diplomat-sides-with-protestors-at-disrupted-missing-peoples-event/, http://colombogazette.com/2014/08/04/mob-threaten-families-of-the-missing/, http://www.asianmirror.lk/news/item/2493-pro-govt-mob-disrupts-meeting-attended-by-us-embassy-political-chief and http://www.tamilguardian.com/article.asp?articleid=11726. Local TV stations such as Sirasa, MTV, Shakthi and Swarnavahini also covered the incident in the news broadcasts on 4th August night.
See http://srilanka.usembassy.gov/pr-4aug14.html, http://www.dailymirror.lk/news/50650-france-germany-uk-and-switzerland-condemn-disruption.html, http://www.humanrights.asia/news/forwarded-news/AHRC-FST-057-2014 and http://www.cpalanka.org/condemnation-of-violent-attack-on-discussion-with-families-of-the-disappeared/