As Rights Record Reviewed Internationally, Sri Lankan Rights Activist Killed

As Rights Record Reviewed Internationally, Sri Lankan Rights Activist Killed

By Elizabeth Breslin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – Returning home from a church service on Sunday, priest and human rights activist Reverend M.X. Karunaratnam was killed by a roadside bomb in a rebel-controlled territory of Sri Lanka.  Rebels claim that a government bomb killed Karunaratnam, while the government denies any involvement.

Karunaratnam was the leader of North East Secretariat on Human Rights, a rights group focused on the rights of ethnic Tamils.  For this reason, many ethnic Tamils believe that the government targeted him specifically.  There are numerous reports which state that the bomb was in fact planted by Sri Lankan Army’s Deep Penetration Unit.

This incident preceded recent criticisms of the Sri Lankan government by international legal group International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP).  IIGEP was formed in 2007 to oversee an inquiry into 16 human rights violation cases in Sri Lanka; it includes members from the United Nations, the European Union, the United States, and other countries.  On Tuesday, the group announced that the Sri Lankan government had not been meeting the IIGEP’s requests and lacked the political will to investigate rights abuses.  Instead of acting on their recommendations, the government had been disrespectful toward the IIGEP and was accusing it of purposely failing in its job by pushing an “international agenda” in an effort to force a United Nations rights monitoring mission on the country.

Reverend Karunaratnam perhaps understood the IIGEP’s frustration when issuing his last report on April 5th, stating: “The local [Sri Lankan] mechanism to ensure good governance with respect for human rights has miserably failed and there is widespread call for the establishment of a UN body to monitor human rights violations.”

For more information, please see:

AFP – Foreign experts step up human rights criticism of Sri Lanka – 22 April 2008

Tamil Sydney – Genocide: Sri Lanka Silences Yet Another Human Rights Activist– 23 April 2008

USA Today – Prominent priest killed in Sri Lanka blast – 21 April 2008

Xinhua News – Human rights panel denies int’l plot to discredit Sri Lanka – 23 April 2008

Papuan Students Released From Jail After Peaceful Demonstration

By Hayley J. Campbell

Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

JAYAPURA, Papua — Today, seven Papuan students were released from prison after they were arrested for unfurling banned flags supporting democracy and Papua’s independence. The students were let go after the Jayapura police station was bombarded with calls from concerned friends and family.

Yesterday, about 500 West Papuan people met in Abepura, Papua’s largest city, to attend the peaceful protest which was reportedly organized by the West Papuan student organization, Front Pepera. In addition, the Indonesian Para-military police and military reported that hundreds of activists were prevented from attending the protest.

The seven arrested students included: Yosias Yeimo 22, Benyamin Sabu 30, Nebon Pahabol 25, Marthen Goo 29, Santon Tekege 27, Emilianus (Demianus) Keiya 27, and Gunawan Inggeruhi 22.

The demonstration centered around Papua’s right to self-determination and independence from Indonesia. Once a Dutch colony on New Guinea’s western end, Papua became Indonesia’s largest province in 1969. Violence erupted in 2003 after President Megawati Sukarnoputri separated Papua into three provinces: Central Irian Jaya (Irian Jaya Tengah), Papua (or East Irian Jaya, Irian Jaya Timur), and West Irian Jaya (Irian Jaya Barat). Indonesian courts declared that the creation of the central province was unconstitutional and in opposition to Papua’s Special Autonomy status.

The seven students were imprisoned after waving the Morning Star flag, which symbolizes democracy and self-determination. A law in Indonesia’s criminal code prohibits the display of the Morning Star Flag in Papua, the South Maluku Republic Benang Raja flag in Ambon, and the Crescent Moon flag in Aceh. All three flags are examples of banned separatist symbols.

Last month, Human Rights Watch, the largest human rights organization, called for the release of nine activists, who were similarly arrested for waving the banned Morning Star flag. “Raising a flag at a demonstration is a nonviolent act, but in Indonesia it can land you in prison,” said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch.

In March, two pro-independence demonstrators were sentenced to 15 and 17 years in prison for preparing flags for the South Maluku Republic. In the last month, the Para-military police have arrested 20 West-Papuans, all of whom remain detained as “political prisoners.”

Police said today that the seven arrested students will be treated as witnesses and will not be charged.

For more information, please see:
Radio New Zealand International — Seven students in Papua released following arrest over democracy protest — 23 April 2008

Scoop, Independent News — Students Detained & Demonstration In Jayapura — 23 April 2008

Radio New Zealand International — Students detained and demonstration in Jayapura — 22 April 2008

InfoShop News, Independent News — West Papua: Seven Students are released by Police in Jayapura — 22 April 2008

Reuters, Asia –- Free Peaceful Protesters in Papua –- 19 March 2008

BRIEF: 48th Saudi Execution in 2008

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – On April 22, the Saudi Interior Minister announced that Hamoud al-Ansi, convicted of murder, was beheaded in the eastern Saudi city of Dhahran.  Ansi was convicted for stabbing another man to death during a conflict about land.  According to the Associated Press, his execution brings the total to 48 in 2008.

In addition, on April 18, two Syrian nationals, Firas Faycal Al-Aghbar and Firas Hussein Maktabi, were beheaded in the northwestern city of Tabuk.  They were convicted on drug trafficking charges for receiving a shipment of hallucinogenic drugs.

Saudi Arabia follows a strict interpretation of Sharia, or Islamic law, under which those convicted of murder, drug trafficking, rape or armed robbery are executed in public with a sword.

According to an Amnesty International report on capital punishment, Saudi Arabia executed the third highest number of people in 2007.  China, who executed at least 470, was first; followed by Iran (317).  In 2007, Saudi Arabia executed 143 people, which was a drastic increase from the total in 2006 (37).  The report also notes that Saudi Arabia was one of three countries who executed child offenders in 2007.  Also, in 2007, at least 76 of the 143 people executed were foreign nationals.

For more information, please see: – Saudi Arabia Executes Convicted Murderer in 48th Beheading this Year – 22 April 2008

Kuwait Times – Syrian Protesters Stage Sit-in Against Saudi Executions – 22 April 2008

Amnesty International – Death Penalty: World Trend Down but Secrecy Surrounds China Execution Figures – 14 April 2008

BRIEF: Warrantless Raid on Gay Community in Kyrgyzstan

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan – Bishkek police raided the community center of Labrys, an organization which supports lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in Kyrgyzstan, on April 8th.  Without a warrant, three police officers forced their way into the building, which also serves as a shelter for LGBT people and women suffering from domestic violence.

According to Labrys staff, they looked through private files and demanded to see documents regarding Labrys’ registration, statutes, and rent statements.  The officers threatened to arrest those present if they did not fully cooperate.  The police chief eventually joined the officers and said that the only way they would leave was if Labrys staff sent them copies of administrative and financial documents the next day, so Labrys staff agreed.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a statement last week demanding that the Kyrgyz police stop harassing the gay community.  According to Scott Long of the HRW LGBT Rights Program: “Police should protect organizations defending human rights, not use their power to harass and intimidate them. The raid sends a chilling message to anyone marginalized or stigmatized.”

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – Kyrgyzstan: Halt Anti-Gay Raids – 17 April 2008

BRIEF: Three Police Officers Convicted of Malasebe Murder

SUVA, Fiji — Three of the eight Fiji Police Officers charged with the murder of Tevita Malasebe were found guilty today.  The High Court found Corporal Lole Vulaca and Constable Rusiate Korovusere guilty of murder and found Sergeant Pita Matai guilty as an accessory to murder.  The High Court found that there was insufficient evidence to convict the five other men who had been charged with the murder.

The three men who were convicted were those officers who had actually gone to Malasebe’s house last June and were the ones, the court found, that actually assaulted the rugby player.  The court acknowledged that the other five accused men may have been present at the time, but this alone was not enough to secure a conviction.

The verdict itself came three hours after Judge Justice Nazhat Shameem handed the case over to the assessors.

Fiji Human Rights Commissioner Shamima Ali said that the conviction came as a huge relief.  She expressed her gratitude that justice had been done, but also expressed her hope that the court will now look into the death of Nadi teenager, Sakiusa Rabaka, who was also allegedly killed while in official custody.

Three men who were found guilty are scheduled to be sentenced tomorrow.

For more information, please see:
Radio New Zealand International — A Fiji Human Rights Commissioner welcomes guilty verdict — 22 April 2008

Radio New Zealand International — Police officers convicted of Malasebe murder — 22 April 2008

Fiji Broadcasting Corporation Limited — Malasebe’s accused sentencing today — 23 April 2008