Transparency International (TI) is alarmed by the intimidation tactics and public allegations threatening civil society organisations in Sri Lanka, and in particular those against the TI chapter, Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL).
TI is gravely concerned about the safety and reputation of TISL Executive Director J.C. Weliamuna and the chapter staff following a negative campaign in the media aimed at undermining the credibility of TISL’s anti-corruption work.
A recent statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission about the government’s alleged intent to arrest Weliamuna has heightened TI concern. Current press reports also describe an intelligence list that includes Weliamuna and other individuals.
Transparency International appeals to the Government of Sri Lanka to take all necessary measures to ensure the safety and security of Weliamuna and all other officials and staff of TISL, and to publicly restate its commitment to the basic right of freedom of expression. Civil society organisations should be allowed to operate without intimidation or retaliation, particularly when promoting accountability, integrity and good governance. Failure by the government to protect these rights severely undermines its credibility as a democratic regime. Sri Lanka is a signatory of the United Nations Convention against Corruption, and has a responsibility under the convention to work in cooperation with civil society in the fight against corruption.
In the past month, the government has increased scrutiny of NGOs, publicly stated that investigations are underway, and is in the process of seeking legal power to act against NGOs. The country’s state of emergency law allows for the arrest and detention of suspects for long periods without trial. Police and troops can also carry out search operations without magistrates’ warrants.
TISL’s critical but constructive, non-partisan and non-confrontational approach is in keeping with TI’s approach worldwide. In advocating for transparency and accountability, TISL’s recent work has addressed corruption within different sectors of Sri Lanka including the public sector, private sector, as well as the NGO sector. In the past, the chapter has collaborated closely with several ministries and government departments, training over 1,500 public officials in 2008 alone, to promote good governance and help them address corruption.
TISL has always played an active and constructive role in advocating for government transparency and accountability, but currently their work and ability to operate are under serious threat. More specifically, over the past year, TISL has faced security threats both to the office and to Weliamuna directly. Weliamuna was the target of a grenade attack in September 2008. Chapter staff has received hate mail and threatening telephone calls.
During the last eight years, TISL has contributed significantly to advancing transparency, accountability, and integrity in Sri Lanka, and has been an outstanding member of the TI movement and demonstrated the highest level of integrity and commitment to TI’s guiding principles of non-partisan, constructive efforts to end corruption.