Sinnathamby Krishnarajah was arrested on October 25, in Kilinochchi, a town in the north of Sri Lanka.
His “crime” was to photocopy forms printed from the internet to be used for making affidavits to a United Nations investigation of war crimes committed during the war between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
The LTTE, which had been fighting for an independent Tamil state in the north and east of the island, were defeated in May 2009. Since then, Tamil areas have been under military occupation by the Sri Lankan army.
Krishnarajah had wanted to lodge an affidavit about his daughter, who had been reported missing in the final stages of the war. He also made some copies of the form for friends and relatives to report on other missing people.
Krishnarajah was taken to Colombo by the Terrorist Investigation Division of the police. The Sri Lankan government has threatened to charge with treason anyone who makes a submission to the UN investigation .
The Sri Lankan Army has ordered the operators of internet cafes to alert them to people making submissions to the UN investigation. It is covertly scanning emails to detect messages sent to the investigators.
The investigation was set up as a result of a decision by the UN Human Rights Council in March. It is intended to investigate the crimes of “both parties” during the war.
Tamils regard the UNHRC resolution as inadequate, because it makes no mention of the national oppression of the Tamil people. Indeed the word “Tamil” does not appear in the resolution.
The right of Tamils to national self-determination is implicitly rejected when the resolution reaffirms its “commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka”.
Nevertheless, many Tamils have welcomed the chance to give evidence to the investigators on war crimes committed by the Sri Lankan army.
The Sri Lankan government is trying to intimidate and obstruct Tamils from giving such evidence. It has banned the UN investigators from entering Sri Lanka. It has arrested people such as Krishnarajah who try to make submissions.
It has also introduced new restrictions on travel. All foreigners must now get military approval to visit northern Sri Lanka.
On October 16, Beth Crawford, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation representative in Sri Lanka who had been planning to attend a World Food Day event in Kilinochchi, was turned back at a military checkpoint. The FAO has been assisting in the recovery of farming and fishing after the war.
The new restrictions will obstruct these efforts. Already malnutrition in northern Sri Lanka is worse now than during the war. A lot of farmland has been taken over for military bases, and fishing is also severely restricted.
The blocking of outside aid for the rehabilitation of agriculture and fishing will make the situation even worse.