Catholic Priests concerned about attempts to arrest Fr. Jeevantha Peiris

A group claiming to include 1,640 Catholic Priests, Sisters, and Brothers from 23 congregations expressed serious concern yesterday (31) about the potential arrest of Catholic Priest from the Diocese of Ratnapura (Sabaragamuwa Province), and human rights defender Fr. Jeevantha Peiris. 

This statement came after the Colombo Magistrate Court issued a travel ban on Fr. Jeevantha and several others involved in the protests on 25 July, and a church being visited by local police on 27 July, where they had told the priest resident there that they had received orders from Colombo to arrest Fr. Jeevantha.

“All of us have been supporting the recent ‘aragalaya’ (people’s protests) and many of us have joined in the protests. Fr. Jeevantha has been one of the prominent persons involved in the ‘aragalaya’ and inspired and encouraged many of us. Fr. Jeevantha is the parish priest of a small, remote, isolated, and poor parish, and his work has gone beyond traditional religious activities and extended to addressing socioeconomic concerns, especially the education of children. For many years, he has been supporting a diverse range of protests for rights and justice in different parts of the country including the North and East, and involved in supporting those whose rights have been violated, including victims of police torture.

“27 July, the day a church was visited by police officers looking for Fr. Jeevantha, was a day of repression. Veranga Pushpika, an active protestor at the Galle Face, a former student activist and journalist, was abducted from a bus in broad daylight by men in civilian clothes. The Police later acknowledged his arrest, but had not given clear indication of his whereabouts to lawyers and the Human Rights Commission (HRCSL) for several hours. Four protestors who had handed over to the Police large amounts of money found at the President’s House on 9 July, were also arrested. Police had tried to obstruct lawyers from meeting these arrested persons. 

“Persons in civilian clothes, claiming to be policemen, had visited the office of Xposure News, demanded the security guard to identify persons in photos and to see CCTV footage and monitored the entrance for around one hour. Xposure News had provided extensive coverage of the raid on Galle Face protest site and violence in nearby places and one of their journalists was amongst the journalists attacked in the early hours of 22 July. A complaint had been made by the Young Journalists Association to the Human Rights Commission (HRCSL), about the imminent arrest of investigative journalist and human rights defender Tharindu Uduweragedera, who was summoned for questioning by the Criminal Investigation Department few weeks back,” the statement added.

The statement called on the Government to stop the repression of those involved in and supporting the “aragalaya”, and focus on listening to grievances and aspirations of people and take actions to address both immediate and long-term problems. 

“We are happy to see the support extended by ordinary people against the state repression. We will do our best to support the ‘aragalaya’ and protect those involved, and we appeal to our fellow citizens, as well as foreign governments and international organisations, to do the same,” it concluded.