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Tamil priest arrested

Plea for help: Peter Arndt (front third from right) at last year’s networking meeting of the Asia Pacific Forum of Justice and Peace Workers in Kandy, Sri Lanka. Ruki Fernando, under arrest with Fr Praveen Mahesan in Colombo, is in the middle row centre in a black T-shirt.

Plea for help: Peter Arndt (front third from right) at last year’s networking meeting of the Asia Pacific Forum of Justice and Peace Workers in Kandy, Sri Lanka. Ruki Fernando, under arrest with Fr Praveen Mahesan in Colombo, is in the middle row centre in a black T-shirt.

By Paul Dobbyn

BRISBANE archdiocese’s Catholic Justice and Peace Commission has joined other organisations in seeking the release of a Tamil priest and a human rights activist who have been arrested in Sri Lanka’s north and imprisoned in Colombo.

The arrests of Oblates of Mary Immaculate Father Praveen Mahesan and activist Ruki Fernando have come as Sri Lanka faces censure in the United Nations over human rights violations.

CJPC executive director Peter Arndt has sent letters to leaders including Colombo Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith urging intervention to free the men.

Mr Arndt met Mr Fernando last September during a networking meeting of the Asia Pacific Forum of Justice and Peace Workers in Kandy, Sri Lanka.

The two travelled together for about a week to different centres in the country’s north which remains unsettled in the wake of a decades-long civil war.

Mr Arndt has been in contact with the human rights activist since then, especially on matters relating to protection of Tamils being deported from Australia to Sri Lanka.

“Reports are that Fr Praveen and Ruki were arrested by police in Kilinochchi under the Prevention of Terrorism Act on the night of Sunday, March 16,” he said.

“They were arrested on the basis of spreading information which would harm the peace of Sri Lanka.

“They have now been moved to Colombo.”

Mr Arndt said to date no legal or Church representatives had been allowed access to the imprisoned men.

As well as contacting Federal and local politicians about the situation, Mr Arndt has helped organise prayer and action resources to highlight the men’s situation.

These are being sent around the archdiocese and to other dioceses.

The UN Human Rights Council’s 25th Session, currently in progress, is considering investigating human rights abuses in Sri Lanka, particularly a war crimes investigation into the country’s civil war.

It is estimated that about 40,000, mainly Tamil civilians died in the final few months of the war.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, in her recent address to UNHRC commented on the response of the Sri Lankan Government to calls for an independent inquiry into war crimes committed during the civil war.

Ms Pillay reiterated her recommendation “that the time has come for the council to establish its own international inquiry mechanism (in Sri Lanka) which I believe can play a positive role where domestic mechanisms have failed”.

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