Sri Lanka: Drop investigation into award-winning writer Shakthika Sathkumara

PEN remains deeply concerned by the ongoing legal proceedings against award-winning writer Shakthika Sathkumara.

Shakthika Sathkumara was arrested on 1 April 2019 in connection with ‘Ardha’ (‘Half’), a short story published on Facebook. According to media reports, a complaint filed by the Buddhist Information Centre claimed that the story was derogatory and defamatory to Buddhism. Sathkumara stands accused of inciting religious hatred and violating international human rights law under Section 3(1) of Sri Lanka’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act No. 56 of 2007 (ICCPR Act 2007) and Article 291B of the Penal Code. If formally charged and convicted, he could face up to 10 years in prison. 

Sathkumara was granted bail by the High Court on 5 August 2019 and released from prison on 8 August 2019 after more than four months in detention.

Sathkumara’s next hearing before a Magistrate is scheduled for 10 December 2019 – Human Rights Day – where he awaits the decision of the Attorney General as to whether formal charges will be filed against him. PEN is calling on the Sri Lankan authorities to drop the investigation. Please join us.

TAKE ACTION

Please send appeals urging the Sri Lankan Attorney General to:

  • drop the investigation into writer Shakthika Sathkumara;
  • take steps to safeguard freedom of expression in line with international standards and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Sri Lanka is a State Party.

Send appeals to:

Attorney General

Mr. Dappula de Livera

Fax: +94 112 436421

Email: administration@attorneygeneral.gov.lk

Send copies to the Embassy of Sri Lanka in your own country. Embassy addresses may be found here: https://embassy.goabroad.com/embassies-of/srilanka.

Please reach out to your Ministry of Foreign Affairs and diplomatic representatives in Sri Lanka, calling on them to raise Shakthika Sathkumara’s case in bilateral fora.

Publicity

PEN members are encouraged to:

  • Publish articles and opinion pieces in your national or local press highlighting the case of Shakthika Sathkumara and freedom of expression in Sri Lanka;
  • Share information about Shakthika Sathkumara and your campaigning activities via social media;
  • Promote Shakthika Sathkumara’s writings (you can find an English translation of Sathkumara’s short story Ardha, here.

Solidarity

Solidarity is a key component of our campaigning work for writers at risk. Please send messages of support for Shakthika Sathkumara to cat@englishpen.org.

Background

Writer Shakthika Sathkumara is the author of seven short story collections, four poetry anthologies, a novel and at least 17 non-fiction books on literary theory, theatre art and Buddhism. He has earned recognition at provincial and national levels for his short stories and poetry anthologies. Sathkumara is a regular contributor to the literary supplements of various Sinhala-language newspapers. Sathkumara works as an Economic Development Officer at the Polgahawela Divisional Secretariat Office.

On 1 April 2019, Sathkumara was arrested on suspicion that he had committed offences under Section 291B of the Penal Code and Article 3(1) of Sri Lanka’s ICCPR Act (2007), in connection with a short story that he had published on his Facebook page. The short story, ‘Ardha’ (‘Half’), due to be published as part of a collection later this year, has provoked hostility from Buddhist groups in Sri Lanka who allege that it is derogatory and defamatory to Buddhism owing to its indirect references to homosexuality within the Buddhist clergy and also due to a different rendering, told by the characters of the short story, of the legendary story of “Siddhartha” in Buddhist literature. Sathkumara maintains that he did not intend to insult Buddhism nor wound the feelings of any religious community in writing his short story, which is written in a post-modernist style.

Article 291B of the Sri Lankan Penal Code states that ‘[w]hoever with the deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of persons, by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representations, insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both,’ while Article 3(1) Sri Lanka’s ICCPR Act (2007) states that ‘no person shall propagate war or advocate national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence’ and makes any such crime a non-bailable offence which is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

While freedom of expression may be limited for reasons of respect of the rights or reputations of others or for the protection of national security or of public order or of public health or morals, PEN holds that these limitations cannot legitimately be imposed on the expression of ideas about religion. While PEN stands against the incitement of violence or hatreds, having reviewed the content of Sathkumara’s story, PEN does not believe that the story constitutes incitement to violence.

At a hearing held on 25 June 2019, the police informed the court that their investigation has been concluded and the case has been referred to the Attorney General to render a decision as to whether to file charges against Sathkumara.  At its subsequent hearing on 9 July 2019, police appearing before the Polgahawela Magistrate Court informed the court that they had not yet been informed of the Attorney General’s decision. Sathkumara was granted  bail on 5 August 2019 by the Kurunegala High Court and was released from prison on 8 August 2019, after bail was duly furnished at Polgahawela Magistrate Court. The conditions of his bail are a 100,000-rupee (about $US575) cash guarantee and two sureties worth 200,000-rupees. Sathkumara will also have to report to Polgahawela police on the second and fourth Sunday of every month. Sathkumara’s next hearing before Polgahawela Magistrate Court is on 10 December 2019. A fundamental rights case filed by Sathkumara’s legal team is expected to be heard by the Supreme Court on 30 September 2019.

Shakthika Sathkumara’s award-winning publications include the short story collections Fourth Generation (2006), Black Dragon (2010), Cactus Thorns(2012), Prosecutor’s Conscience (2015), Sand (2016), and poetry collections including: Shot in the Heart (2009), Darkness (2011), Skyless Moon (2012). Most recently, he has published I Drop a Feather (2016), Radiant Woman (2017), co-authored with Asiri Munasinghe, and Nests (2018).

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