A week after two human rights campaigners who are also members of the break-away JVP group, the Movement for People’s Struggle went missing in Jaffna, their families and friends still await information about their whereabouts.
While rights activists held islandwide protests international rights groups too have raised questions about their disappearance.
|Protest in Colombo on Tuesday and in Jaffna yesterday. Pix by Mangala Weerasekra and N. Parameshwaran
Lalith Kumar Weeraraj and Kuhan Muruganathan, went missing ironically on the eve of World Human Rights Day, after they left Mr. Muruganathan’s house in Atchuvely, Jaffna last Friday.
The Government and Police say they are investigating the issue while members of the Movement for People’s Struggle believe they have been abducted.
The group’s spokesman Waruna Rajapaksha said Mr. Weeraraj who was a former JVP organiser for Jaffna had joined the dissident group and continued as the organizer of the Jaffna district.
He said that Mr. Weeraraj along with other rights groups in the past had organized several protests in Jaffna regarding disappearances and the release of Tamil prisoners held illegally. He also said that Mr. Weeraraj had been threatened several times by security forces in the North.
The spokesman said Mr. Weeraraj had been assaulted several times in the north—once during the assault on JVP Parliamentarian Sunil Handunetti in Jaffna, and twice during the Local Government Elections campaigns, in Kilinochchi. He had also been warned by the security forces not to participate in or carry out political activities in Jaffna.
Mr. Rajapaksha said the JVP dissident group had wanted to hold a news conference in Jaffna last Saturday, December 10.
The day before the scheduled news conference Mr. Weeraraj and Mr. Muruganathan had left on a motorcycle from the former’s residence in Atchuvely to make some arrangements.
“While travelling they had been abducted and Lalith’s father received telephone calls claiming that his son had been killed. When Kuhan’s wife realized he had not returned, she had lodged a complaint at the Atchuvely police station,” Mr. Rajapaksa said.
He said Parliamentarian Ajith Kumara had made a complaint with the Inspector General of Police and the Secretary of Defence. “ We believe that the abduction was carried out with the knowledge of the government forces,” he said.
“We also received information from internal sources of the military that both our activist are still alive and have been detained within Jaffna by some para -military group,” the spokesman said. “Lalith and Kuhan do not have a separatist vision but believe in the unity of all communities. The present government is not travelling towards the path of reconciliation, instead want conflicts to prevail among the communities, which would help them to carry out their political agenda. This abduction has been carried out to crush the political activities of people like Lalith and Kuhan,” Mr. Rajapaksha said.
Arumugam Weeraraj and younger sister
Meanwhile, the Movement for People’s Struggle held rallies and protest against the abductions with representatives from foreign rights organizations also participating
The spokesman said while a protest and a rally were held in Colombo on Tuesday and a protest in Jaffna on Friday, more demonstrations were planned for next week with the participation of all political parties.
“Demonstrations will be held in Gampaha, Galle, Matara, Anuradhapura and Badulla, while protests were held in Kandy and Trincomalee,” Mr. Rajapkasha said, adding that protests were also held in France Italy and London in front of the Sri Lankan embassies.
Lalith’s father Arumugam Weeraraj who lives in Sirinivasa watte in Welikanna , Avissawella and works as a labourer in the plantations, told the Sunday Times that his 30-year-old son was the oldest in the family, with three sisters, younger to him.
“With great difficulty I found a job for my son at the Jayawardena pura University as a minor staff employee in the laboratory. He resigned from the job and joined the JVP as he was interested in political activism. When I asked him why he quit his job, he said he was concerned about disappearances of people and wanted to get involved in working towards this end. When my son explained the situation and spoke about the parents and relatives of the missing youths, I did not try to stop his activities because I wanted my son to help the affected people,” Mr. Weeraraj said.
Mr. Weeraraj said his son was fluent in both Sinhala and Tamil and as a result he was able to help both communities regarding disappeared relatives. “Some days before the incident my son came to visit us with another colleague of his and he informed us that he was going to Jaffna and would return after six months. He had also called my youngest daughter the day prior to his abduction. After he went missing we received many threats and warnings ,” he said.
Meanwhile Kuhan Muruganathan’s wife Janatha told the Sunday Times that her 45-year-old husband and Lalith had left their home in Atchuvely, around 5 p.m. “Nobody witnessed the incident therefore we do not have a clear picture. I lodged a complaints at the Jaffna Human Rights Commission and at the Atchuvely police station,” she said.
Police said the motorcycle they were riding was found near a temple close to Mr. Muruganathan’s house in Atchuvely.Meanwhile Army spokesman Brigadier Nihal Happuarachchi said the security forces were not involved in the investigations but that it was being conducted by the police. Police Spokesman Ajith Rohana said that JVP Parliamentarian Ajith Kumara was the first to lodge a complaint with the Jaffna Police on December 11, stating that the two people had left Kuhan’s resident in Atchuvely, Jaffna at 5p.m and had not returned.
“Since the incident took place within the Atchuvely police area, the copy of the complaint was sent to the Atchuvely police station and they have initiated a probe. They have recorded eight statements connected to the incident and so far no one has seen the two being abducted. Everyone says that they went missing. This is the latest information we have regarding the incident.”
He said a special team under the office ln- charge of the Atchuvely police were conducting investigations.
Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said JVP Parliamentarian Ajith Kumara in his Parliament speech had mentioned that both activists had been detained unlawfully and the government was investigating the case.