Smear campaign by Sri Lankan State radio station against HRD Nimalka Fernando

November 17, 2013

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), expresses its great concern about the smear campaign and threats suffered by Ms. Nimalka Fernando, attorney-at-law, women’s rights activist and President of the International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR) in Sri Lanka. [Ms. Fernando was also a convener of the alternative summit to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), which is taking place in Sri Lanka from November 10 to 17, 2013 amid strong criticism of the country’s human rights abuses.]
According to the information received, on November 4, 2013, Nimalka Fernando was defamed on a radio programme called Rata Yana Atha (“the way the country is forging ahead”) on the Commercial Channel of the State-owned Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC). On that day, the radio show, entitled “Stoning the Sinner Woman”, was presented by Hudson Samarasinghe, Chairman of the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation, who broadcast fragments of an interview Ms. Fernando had previously granted to HIRU TV on November 3. Ms. Fernando was described as a 59-year old divorced woman who had served 30 different organisations, and “since 1989 carried tales”.
A number of listeners subsequently phoned the radio to react, and some of them threatened Ms. Nimalka Fernando in those terms: “If we do something to them the government will be blamed by the human rights people. We should use a lorry and cause an accident”, “There is something call cleaning in the army. […] We should hand her over to the cleaning system” or [SIC] “We use insecticides to eliminate the spread of mosquitoes. Some mosquitoes develop a resistance to such spray. These people are like that. We have to find a method to destroy them”. Ms. Fernando was also called a prostitute.
Mr. Samarasinghe did not stop the callers in their offensive and violent statements against Ms. Fernando, and even seemed to encourage them. Subsequently, Ms. Nimalka Fernando lodged a complaint to the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRC-SL) and the Inspector General of Police (IGP), requesting an investigation for criminal offence and violation of her fundamental rights, and demanding that the tapes be secured for proof together with information of the callers and their telephone numbers.
[This is not the first time Nimalka Fernando has been subjected to a smear campaign in a State media. For instance, in March 2012, Ms. Fernando, along with three other human rights defenders, was accused of being a traitor and working against the interests of the country to obtain “dollars”. In addition, the Minister of Public Relations threatened Ms. Fernando and the other defenders involved to “break their limbs” in public if they were to dare to set foot in the country].

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