Five UN rapporteurs raise concerns on harassment of Dharisha Bastians

A group of five UN special rapporteurs have expressed their serious concerns to the Government of Sri Lanka on the continued harassment of journalist Dharisha Bastians, the former editor of Sunday Observer and reporter for the New York Times in Colombo.

In a joint letter to the Government dated 13th July 2020 the Special Rapporteurs said Bastians’ was being targeted for her writing and her work to defend human rights in Sri Lanka.

The letter said the rapporteurs were concerned that the continued harassment of Bastians and the seizure of her computer and exposure of her phone records could endanger and compromise her sources and deter other journalists from reporting on issues of public interest and human rights.

“We are particularly concerned that these measures may be aimed at discrediting her work, in an effort to stop her reporting on Sri Lankan political and human rights affairs,” the special rapporteurs letter to the Government noted.

The five UN rapporteurs noted that throughout her career, Bastians had written extensively on human rights, extrajudicial killings and the legacy of Sri Lanka’s civil war, alleged political corruption, impunity, democracy and political rights in Sri Lanka.

In June 2020 the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) entered the home of Ms. Bastians in Colombo and seized her personal computer in connection with an ongoing investigation carried out over the alleged abduction of a Swiss embassy staffer in Colombo in November 2019. Bastians said the CID had arrived at her residence on two previous occasions to seize her laptop without a court order. Concerns were raised by the Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Sans Frontiers, Amnesty international human rights watch and frontline defenders among other right groups about the seizure of the journalist’s electronic equipment.

The joint letter also noted that “pro-government media have reportedly conducted a smear campaign against Ms. Bastians and her family, supported by attacks on social media, labelling her as a traitor and a criminal.”

The joint letter was issued by David Kaye Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Agnes Callamard,  Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions,  Clement Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders and Joseph Cannataci,  Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy.




  1. This is only after eight plus months after president of SL took office, it is unpredictable on the civic rights of many more who will criticize the government. Rajapaksization of SRI LANKA has begun.

  2. President Gota needs to make his “loin-cloth” brigade aware of the concept of freedom of speech in a democratic country, and the sanctity of a free press. Before the most “fowerpul” country in the world attracts the pent up opprobrium of an already frustrated international community.

    Only the guilty have reason to fear the press. And every person has the right to express an opinion without fear of arrest. The judiciary should be at the forefront in defending those rights.

  3. Why those five UN special rapporteurs do not concern about the West’s human rights abuses, especially the imprisonment of Julian Assange for exposing the West’s war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. The majority of people think that the Westerners are angels and thy will die with the same ideology, especially South Asians. This is the power of systematic propaganda. However, Chinese and South Asians do not have the wisdom, resources or will power as the West when it comes to a systematic propaganda. In September 2019, I had conversations with Chinese and Indians in Shanghai, China. None of them heard about Julian Assange or Edward Snowden.

    Most of the Westerners heard about Sri Lanka’s final war and war crimes, but how many people in Hong Kong or Sri Lanka heard about Julian Assange, Edward Snowden or the British invasions in North America and Australasia on genocide? Those brutal invasions took innocent indigenous people’s lives more than 10 times of Hitler’s killing in Europe. The British settlers were brutal, but they were very cleaver in hiding their atrocities, still Australia hasn’t acknowledged any of its genocides. However, Germans have acknowledged the Nazis’ genocides. In 1953, the German government made payments to the Jewish people as a way of acknowledging Germany’s responsibility.

    Evidence indicates that the British orchestrated genocidal policies and practices surreptitiously on Aboriginal people and their culture. According to Professor Tom Lawson, the British effectively supported the ethnic cleansing of Aboriginal Tasmanians during the period of martial law between 1828 and 1832. Professor Lawson made a compelling case for the Tasmanian genocide. He further states that the colonists’ terms were ‘extermination and extirpation’ when they discussed the colonial invasion of the homelands of the island’s Aboriginal inhabitants (Lawson 2014). Nick Brodie argues that the genocide was highly orchestrated, but deliberately downplayed, in order to eliminate Aboriginal people. Brodie used over 1,000 pages of Colonel George Arthur’s handwritten documents, informing exactly how he executed the genocide in Tasmania (Brodie 2017).

    Arthur leaked stories to the press to gain support from the people. He publicly announced ‘retirement’ for people who continued to support the genocide, and also selective evidence was given to the investigative committee to cover up his atrocities. Arthur also declared that details of the genocide had to become top secret and continued with military offensives against the remaining Aboriginal people (Harman 2018). Most of the Aboriginal people had been forcibly removed from their homeland and killed, or had died from introduced disease (Lourandos 1997). The last Tasmanian Aboriginal, Truganini, watched her people being massacred, her mother killed by sailors, her uncle shot by soldiers, her sister abducted by sealers, and her fiancé brutally murdered by timber cutters. She was raped and exiled. Truganini lived through the mass killing of her own family members, relatives, friends and other Tasmanian Aboriginals (Morris 2017).

    Notably, white Australians did not even rescue one Aboriginal Tasmanian, but Germans had rescued Jews from the Nazis’ genocides. Recently, Israel’s Holocaust memorial council declared Major Karl Plagge righteous among the nations, alongside men such as Raoul Wallenberg and Oskar Schindler, for an elaborate deception that saved about 250 Jewish lives. In 1931, Plagge, an engineer, joined the Nazi party to develop the wealth of Germany, but he became disillusioned due to their racial ideology. ‘He felt he had helped create this monster and that it was his duty to try to help these imperilled Jews.’ About 90 per cent of the 57,000 Jews who lived in Vilnius were murdered, but 10 per cent were saved by Plagge. In 1958, just before his death, he told a friend. , ‘I never felt that this needed special courage. It required only the conviction and strength that anyone can draw from the depth of moral feelings that exist in all humans.’ (McGreal 2005).

    The Nazis may have learned the concept of ‘mass killing’ from the British.

    To the Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, Jews were an inferior race, just as to the British settlers, Aboriginal people were an inferior race. Jews were consistently persecuted during Nazi rule in Germany. Under the Nazi’s regime, Jews became targets for stigmatisation and persecution, just as Aboriginal people were stigmatised and persecuted by the British settlers. Hitler’s ‘final solution’ was eliminating the Jews in Europe by mass killing, just as Britain eliminated Aboriginal people in Tasmania. Hitler was obsessed with the idea of German superiority, and needed more living space to expand the German race (History 2009), just as Britain eliminated Aboriginal people through genocides to expand their race, and justified their actions by the belief of their superiority (Leacock & Lee 1982).

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