Priest allegedly harassed for leading memorialization efforts

Father Elil Rajendram is being harassed by the Police over his efforts to help families memorialize their loved ones lost during the armed conflict, Amnesty International said today.

Father Elil Rajendram has been the subject of repeated Police inquiries and harassment for his efforts to help families memorialize their loved ones lost during the armed conflict.

A commemorative event to mark the eighth anniversary of the end of Sri Lanka’s armed conflict was scheduled to take place on 18 May, near a monument erected previously by civil society activists near St. Paul’s Church in Mullivaikkal East – an area in Sri Lanka’s Northern provinces devastated by conflict. Local family members had carved stones with the names, ages and dates of loved ones’ deaths to be placed in a field near the statue.

On the evening of 16 May, Father Elil Rajendram was summoned for questioning by the Mullaitivu police.

Police requested a ban on the planned gathering, claiming that the stones might include the names of members of the Liberation Tiger of Tamil Eelam and thus pose a national security threat. On 17 May, the Mullaitivu Magistrate placed a two week ban on memorialization activities at the monument, ruling that they were a threat to “the country’s integrity, national security and the peace of the nation.” On 18 May, the Magistrate agreed to a scaled down event at St. Paul’s Church, but denied public access to the stones.

On 19 May, Father Elil Rajendram, a Tamil speaker, was summoned to the police station in Vavuniya, about 75 km. from Mullaitivu, where he was made to sign a statement in Sinhala, a language he cannot read. Police pressed him to hand over a list of the names of the dead to be sent to the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) for review to ensure that none of that had been members of the LTTE, and was asked whether he himself supported terrorism.

The third summons, issued on 20 May, directs father Elil Rajendram to report to the Special Crimes Division of the Mullaittivu Police on 22 May at 9:30 am “to attend an inquiry and submit a statement” regarding the statue and the carved stones. The Police rescinded the order after a Government Minister intervened, but the Deputy Inspector General of Police called Father Elil Rajendram and again demanded the list of the names.

If the authorities conclude that any LTTE members’ names are on to the stones, Father Elil Rajendram risks arrest under Sri Lanka’s draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), where he’ll be at risk of torture in police custody, which remains pervasive.

Amnesty International is concerned about Father Elil Rajendram’s safety and also about undue restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and association of families seeking to remember loved ones lost in Sri Lanka’s armed conflict. (Colombo Gazette)