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MRG concerned about arrest of Sri Lankan minority activist, calls for immediate release

8 May 2013

Minority Rights Group International (MRG) expresses serious concern about the arbitrary arrest and detention of minority political and human rights activist Mr Azath Salley, and calls for his immediate release.

Mr Salley, a former Deputy Mayor of Colombo and General Secretary of the National Unity Alliance (NUA), was arrested by the Terrorism Investigation Department (TID) on 2 May 2013, under Sri Lanka’s controversial Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). He has been detained for three months under Section 2(1)(h) of the PTA. Section 2(1)(h) states that a person who has committed an offence under the PTA ‘….by words either spoken or intended to be read or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise causes or intends to cause commission of acts of violence or religious, racial or communal disharmony or feelings of ill-will or hostility between different communities or racial or religious groups…’

If Mr Salley is not released immediately, MRG believes that he should be charged with an internationally recognisable criminal offense and be allowed to stand trial where he can defend himself against the accusations.

Mr Salley has been a prominent critic of recent attacks against religious freedom, particularly those targeted against Muslim places of religious worship and establishments. He has been one of the few activists who has openly criticised the role of Sinhala Buddhist extremist groups, such as the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) and Janatha Hela Urumaya (JHU), which have been responsible for recent anti-minority hate campaigns. Mr Salley has also exposed their links to top government ministers.

Mr Salley has been fasting since he was arrested and is reportedly in poor health. He was hospitalized on Monday and is receiving treatment at the Colombo National Hospital.

MRG condemns the arrest of Mr Salley under the PTA and is very concerned about the manner in which the Sri Lankan Government is clamping down on minority activists and political dissent in the country. By using the PTA against its critics, the Government is curbing transparency and fostering a climate of impunity, MRG says.