Church Body Demands Release of Sri Lankan Christian Activist

The World Council of Churches called upon the Sri Lankan government to release Santha Fernando, a noted Christian activist who was arrested last month in Colombo.

Fernando, executive secretary of the Justice and Peace Commission of the National Christian Council of Sri Lanka, was detained at Colombo's international airport on March 27 while he was on his way to address a Christian meeting in India.

In a letter dated April 21 to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, WCC general secretary the Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia demanded an immediate release of the Christian activist.

Kobia expressed "deep concern" and noted that "the actions surrounding the arrest and detention of Mr. Fernando did not follow the procedures prescribed by law."

"As the reasons for his arrest have not been provided, there is thereby a violation of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Sri Lankan Constitution," as well as of international human rights law, he wrote.

According to reports, the Ministry for Defense has issued a detention order for 30 days to keep Fernando in the Terrorism Investigation Division.

"Widely recognized as an Asian ecumenical leader with integrity and a strong commitment to justice and peace," Fernando "remains a victim of unlawful arrest and detention," Kobia said.

The National Christian Council of Sri Lanka had earlier made a similar request to the President demanding Fernando's release.

NCCSL general secretary Dr. Jeyasiri Peiris offered complete cooperation with the investigation and said Fernando "is a person who is least likely to engage in any unlawful or separatist activity."

"We call for prayers for him and his wife and family and the process of investigations. We are appreciative of the various inquiries made about him and thank all for your concern and prayers," Peiris said.

The plea has come in the wake of a humanitarian crisis in north Sri Lanka where tens of thousands of people are trapped in the fighting between the government and Tamil rebels.

Participants of an international ecumenical consultation, of which the WCC was a part of earlier this month, appealed "to the Sri Lankan government and the [rebels] to immediately stop the ongoing military operations to ensure safe passage arranged by credible and neutral agencies for those who are trapped in the war zone."

The Sri Lankan government said Monday that they would stop firing heavy weapons into the northern war zone and that military forces would "confine their attempts to rescuing civilians who are held hostage." However, the government rejected calls for a ceasefire by the Tamil Tiger rebels.

An estimated 50,000 civilians remain trapped in the war zone.