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The Catholic Church has defended the people of Sri Lanka throughout its troubled history. Credit Patrick Nicholson/Caritas

The Catholic Church has defended the people of Sri Lanka throughout its troubled history. Credit Patrick Nicholson/Caritas

The Catholic Church in Sri Lanka has expressed concern over the arrests of two prominent human rights activists, Fr. Praveen Mahesan and Ruki Fernando, under anti-terrorism laws.

The two were detained at the weekend in Kilinochchi, a small town in the north of the island. Under the legislation, they can be held for 18 months without trial and can be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison.

A statement by Fr. George Sigamoney, Executive Secretary of the Justice, Peace and Human Development Commission of the Sri Lankan Catholic Bishops’ Conference, said:

“We are seriously concerned about the arbitrary arrest and detention of a Catholic priest Rev. Fr. Praveen Mahesan OMI and Mr. Ruki Fernando under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) on 16th March 2014 in Kilinochchi.

“Our information is that Fr. Praveen Mahesan and Mr. Ruki Fernando who are well known human rights defenders were in Kilinochchi to see to the welfare of families of missing persons, including Mrs. Balendran Jayakumari and her 13-year old daughter who had themselves been arrested under the PTA a few days earlier for purportedly harbouring a suspect in a shooting incident in Kilinochchi where a police officer was apparently injured.

“We are told that Fr. Praveen Mahesan and Mr. Ruki Fernando are presently being held at the TID Headquarters in Colombo.

“We would call on the law enforcement authorities to provide them access to their families and their lawyers while in detention.

“At the same time, we would urge the authorities to follow due process in the investigations, to conduct the inquiries in a transparent manner which extends fair treatment to the detainees and ensures their safety and, finally to speedily conclude the investigations.”

UPDATE: Rev Fr Praveen Mahesan and Ruki Fernando have been released without charge from custody. Caritas Sri Lanka said it was thankful to the international advocacy effort aimed at ensuring those detained were treated fairly.