Sri Lankan ‘Terrorist Investigation Department’, which receives direct instructions from SL presidential sibling and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, in recent days has been monitoring, intimidating and ‘interrogating’ Eezham Tamil Catholic priests, who have been with their people in Vanni during and before the genocidal onslaught on Vanni. One of the six priests, who were detained in military-controlled barbed-wire camps in Menik Farm in 2009, Fr. A. Anton Stephen, was questioned by the TID officers at the Bishop’s House as the TID of the occupying Colombo was speculating that he is one of the key witnesses submitting an eyewitness account to the three member OHCHR investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL) panel tasked to produce a report on the investigation process in Sri Lanka after collecting direct reports from individuals, organisations and governments.
Fr Anton Stephen, who is the parish priest of The Holy Family Church at Malvam, situated near Uduvil in Valikaamam, Jaffna, was summoned for an interrogation-styled interview by the Sri Lankan TID at the Bishop’s House on Tuesday.
The parish priest was questioned on what he had witnessed during the final days of war. The interrogation was based on his poetry. But, they were also questioning him on whether he was in touch with external actors who were seeking information on the final days of Vanni war.
Anonymous callers believed to be SL TID operatives have been harassing Fr Stephen on his phone line and all the movements of a section of Catholic priests, who were earlier in the war zone, are being systematically monitored and their phones are being tapped, the source further told TamilNet.
On August 20, the SL TID interrogated another priest, Fr. Maulis, who was in Vanni before the genocidal onslaught. The SL TID was intimidating the priest with an allegation of investigating ‘LTTE connection’ when he served in Vanni, the Bishop’s House source further said. Fr. Maulis is the parish priest of St. Thomas Church in Point Pedro in Vadamaraadchi in Jaffna.
Both the priests have refused to talk to media, journalists in Jaffna said.
The priests are not targeted because of their religion. They are targeted because they are Tamils who have stood with their people at the grassroots level, the source at the Bishop’s House further said adding that there is a section of Catholic Priests who are also ‘collaborating’ with the Sri Lankan TID.
In the meantime, the text of the opening statement to be issued at the 27th Session by the new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein from Jordan, circulated in Geneva on Saturday said: “I am alarmed at threats currently being levelled against the human rights community in Sri Lanka, as well as prospective victims and witnesses. I also deplore recent incitement and violence against the country’s Muslim and Christian minorities.”
He mentioned Sri Lanka after Syria, Iraq, Israel-Palestine conflict, Libya, Ukraine, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Congo and North Korea.
He was urging the Sri Lankan authorities “in the interests of justice and reconciliation” to cooperate with OHCHR process to report on the investigation on Sri Lanka.
Mr Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein also adds: “I must emphasise that the detention of asylum seekers and migrants should only be applied as a last resort, in exceptional circumstances, for the shortest possible duration and according to procedural safeguards. Australia’s policy of off-shore processing for asylum seekers arriving by sea, and its interception and turning back of vessels, is leading to a chain of human rights violations, including arbitrary detention and possible torture following return to home countries. It could also lead to the resettlement of migrants in countries that are not adequately equipped.”