ProtectDefenders.eu received information regarding threats and intimidation against human rights defender Jeewaratnam Suresh in Sri Lanka.
On 16 December 2023, human rights defender Jeewaratnam Suresh, a strong advocate for the rights of the Malayaga Tamil community, received a threatening phone call from an unidentified number warning him to stop his advocacy or face dire consequences. The threats are linked to a fundamental rights petition filed by the human rights defender in March 2023 seeking improvements in housing rights for the persecuted Malayaga Tamil community. In December 2023, the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka found in favour of the petition, mandating Sri Lankan authorities to provide house numbers/addresses to persons living in plantations. As a result of the human rights defender’s engaging in follow-up advocacy to ensure effective implementation of the court’s decision, he has received threats, warning him to cease his work on this issue.
Jeewaratnam Suresh has been threatened in the past due to his engagement in human rights advocacy on the rights of the Malayaga community. In November 2023, Jeewaratnam Suresh organized a peaceful protest in the Mavathagama Ptiyakanda rubber estate, Kurunegala, advocating for land and adequate housing rights. Hundreds of protesters, including human rights defenders and journalists, were present during this protest. After the protest, a person claiming to be an intelligence officer called a family member of Jeewaratnam Suresh and inquired about his activities and whereabouts. In July 2023, Suresh played a key role in the Maanbumigu Malaiyaha Makkal – a symbolic walk that retraced the challenging journey endured by the first group of Malayaga Tamils who were brought from India to Sri Lanka under British Colonial rule, to work on plantations in the hill stations of Sri Lanka. During the walk, the human rights defender received several phone calls from intelligence officers seeking information as to his plans, whereabouts and also on the progress of the walk.
Furthermore, in October 2023, ProtectDefenders.eu received information regarding the persecution and reprisals perpetrated by Sri Lankan authorities against peaceful protesters in Madhavanai and Mayilathamadu, Batticaloa, who are demonstrating against the ongoing encroachment of their pastureland. The authorities have responded to their expression of dissent, protests, and the exercise of the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly with assault and intimidation.
Sri Lankan police employed excessive force against a gathering of peaceful protesters who had convened to express solidarity with minority Tamil livestock farmers and their families from Madhavanai and Mayilathamadu in Batticaloa. These farmers had been engaged in a continuous protest for 24 days, highlighting their concerns regarding the government’s failure to address the issue of land encroachment by illegal majority Sinhalese settlers from districts like Ampara and Polonnaruwa, which share a border with Batticaloa. During this protest, the police resorted to indiscriminate beatings, specifically targeting peaceful protesters, including human rights defenders and families of the disappeared.
ProtectDefenders.eu is concerned by the continuing reprisals against peaceful protesters, including human rights defenders, especially in the North and East of Sri Lanka. There are daily reports of harassment of human rights defenders, peaceful protesters, civil society activists and journalists in the country as reprisals for their genuine work. Minority Tamil and Muslim human rights defenders, especially those operating in heavily militarized, conflict-affected regions, are particularly vulnerable to reprisals.