Sri Lanka: release award-winning writer Shakthika Sathkumara

PEN is deeply concerned by the arrest and ongoing detention of award-winning writer Shakthika Sathkumara .

Writer Shakthika Sathkumara has been charged with 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. Sathkumara was arrested on 1 April 2019 in connection with ‘Ardha’ (‘Half’), a short story published on Facebook, in which he reportedly makes references to homosexuality and child abuse amongst Buddhist monks. According to media reports, a complaint filed by the Buddhist Information Centre claimed that the story was derogatory and defamatory to Buddhism.

Detained pending the completion of the Polgahawela police’s investigation, Sathkumara’s next hearing before a Magistrate is scheduled for 25 June 2019. If the investigation is completed and he is charged under the above provisions of law, Sathkumara could face up to 10 years in prison.

PEN believes that Shakthika Sathkumara is being held solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression and calls for his immediate and unconditional release.


TAKE ACTION

Spread the word

Share PEN’s call to action with friends and colleagues and on social media with the hashtag #FreeShakthika.

Show your support

Join PEN and the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice in showing your support for Shakthika by sharing a photo of yourself with this campaign print-out or your own #FreeShakthika sign. Please include the hashtag and tag @englishpen and @SLCampaign.

Write to the authorities

Please send appeals urging the Sri Lankan authorities to:

  • Release award-winning novelist Shakthika Sathkumara immediately and unconditionally;
  • Drop their baseless investigation of 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:

President
Mr. Maithripala Sirisena
Fax :- +94 112 430590
Email: ps@presidentsoffice.lk

Prime Minister
Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe
Fax: +94 112 575310 / +94 112 574143
Email: wickremesinghe_r@parliament.lk

Minister of Justice & Prison Reforms
Ms. Thalatha Atukorale
Ministry of Justice and Prison Reforms – Sri Lanka
Superior Courts Complex
Colombo 12.
Fax: +94 112 435 294
Email: minister@moj.gov.lk

Attorney General
Mr. Dappula de Livera
Fax: +94 112 436421
Email: administration@attorneygeneral.gov.lk

Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka
Dr. Deepika Udagama – Chairperson
Fax: +94 112 505591
Email: chair.sechrcsl@gmail.com

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.

Please inform PEN of any action you take and of any responses you receive.

Publicity

  • Publish articles and opinion pieces in your national or local press highlighting the case of Shakthika Sathkumara and freedom of expression in Sri Lanka;
  • Promote Shakthika Sathkumara’s writings.

Solidarity

Solidarity is a key component of our campaigns for writers at risk and in detention. Please send messages of support via Emma Wadsworth-Jones (emma.wadsworth-jones@pen-international.org)

We advise that you do not include political symbols or send political content.


Background

Writer Shakthika Sathkumara, aged 33, 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 won 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 voluntarily causes disturbance to any assembly lawfully engaged in the performance of religious worship or religious ceremonies shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year, 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. Sathkumara is currently detained, pending the completion of the Polgahawela police’s investigation.

Sathkumara’s legal counsel has indicated that, even 75 days after his arrest, the police are yet to frame charges against him and no hearing has been held to discuss the merits of the case. Despite this, the Polgahawela Magistrate Court has repeatedly denied bail and refused to disregard the accusations laid against Sathkumara under Section 3(1) of the ICCPR Act (2007). His legal team have therefore filed a bail application with the High Court and filed a fundamental rights case with the Supreme Court, which are expected to be heard on 26 June and 30 September, respectively. In the interim, Sathkumara’s next hearing before a magistrate is expected to take place on 25 June by which time he will have been held in detention for 86 days.

Shakthika Sathkumara’s award-winning publications include the short story collections Fourth Generation (2006), Black Dragon (2010), Cactus Thorns (2012), and Prosecutor’s Conscience (2015), Sand (2016), and poetry collections including: Shot in the Heart (2009), Darkness (2011), andSkyless 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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