COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lankan anti-terrorist police have arrested two prominent human rights activists in the government's latest crackdown on rights defenders, colleagues and a media advocacy group said Monday.
Both Ruki Fernando, an adviser for the Human Rights Documentation Center, and Catholic priest Praveen of the Center for Peace and Reconciliation have been prominent in promoting human rights and media freedom in the island's north, where government forces defeated separatist Tamil Tiger rebels in 2009.
Sunil Jayasekara of the Free Media Movement, a local rights group, urged authorities to release them immediately.
Police spokesman Ajith Rohana said the two were being detained under anti-terror laws for trying to create communal disharmony and disturbance. He said they were being questioned and an investigation is continuing.
Sri Lanka faces criticism for cracking down on rights activists and has rejected calls for an international inquiry into the conduct of the final months of the civil war.
The United States has sponsored a third resolution on Sri Lanka at the U.N. Human Rights Council calling for an international probe of alleged war crimes if the nation fails to conduct one of its own.
Last week, authorities arrested an outspoken activist, Balendran Jeyakumari, and her 13-year-old daughter who were campaigning for the release of relatives missing from the war, in the northern town of Kilinochchi.
Military spokesman Ruwan Wanigasooriya said they were arrested for harboring a former rebel who shot at police and fled when they tried to catch him. He said one policeman was wounded.
Jayasekeara said both Fernando and the priest Praveen were arrested in Kilinochchi when they visited the area to gather more information on Jeyakumari.
The United States expressed concern over the arrests and detention of the activists and urged authorities "to ensure that all those detained are given transparent and due legal process, including full access to legal counsel."
"Both previous and on-going human rights concerns have led many in the international community to push for a U.N. Human Rights Council resolution on the situation in Sri Lanka. With these latest actions, we remain convinced that continued scrutiny by the Human Rights Council is necessary," the U.S. Embassy in Colombo said in a statement.