Sri Lanka: Drop investigation into award-winning writer Shakthika Sathkumara
PEN is deeply concerned by the ongoing legal proceedings against award-winning writer, Shakthika Sathkumara, accused of inciting religious hatred and violating international human rights Law under Section 3(1) of Sri Lanka’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act No. 56 of 2007 (ICCPR Act 2007) and Article 291B of the Penal Code. Sathkumara is still awaiting the decision of the Attorney General as to whether he will formally be charged. His last court hearing took place on December 10, 2019. Sathkumara’s next hearing before a Magistrate is scheduled for May 19, 2020. If formally charged and convicted, Sathkumara could face up to 10 years in prison. On December 2, 2019, Sathkumara was reappointed to his position as development officer at the Maspotha Divisional Secretariat, but warned that he may face a disciplinary inquiry. PEN believes that Shakthika Sathkumara is being targeted solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression and calls for the investigation against him to be dropped.
Please send appeals:
- Welcoming the news that Sathkumara has been reappointed as a development officer at the Maspotha Divisional Secretariat, while requesting that the administration does not subject him to a disciplinary inquiry;
- Urging the authorities to drop the investigation into award-winning novelist Shakthika Sathkumara immediately and unconditionally;
- Calling on the authorities to take steps to safeguard freedom of expression in line with international standards and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Sri Lanka is a State Party.
Send appeals to:
Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa
Fax :- +94 112 34 0340
Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa
Prime Minister’s Office
No: 58, Sir Ernest De Silva Mawatha,
Fax: +94 112 575310 / +94 112 574143
Mr. Dappula de Livera
Fax: +94 112 436421
Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka
Dr. Deepika Udagama – Chairperson
Fax: +94 112 505591
Send copies to the Embassy of Sri Lanka in your own country. Embassy addresses may be found here: https://embassy.goabroad.com/
Please reach out to your Ministry of Foreign Affairs and diplomatic representatives in Sri Lanka, calling on them to raise Shakthika Sathkumara’s case in bilateral fora.
Please inform PEN International of any action you take and of any responses you receive.
**** Please contact us if you are considering taking action after 19 May 2020 ****
PEN members are encouraged to:
- Publish articles and opinion pieces in your national or local press highlighting the case of Shakthika Sathkumara and freedom of expression in Sri Lanka;
- Share information about Shakthika Sathkumara and your campaigning activities via social media;
- Promote Shakthika Sathkumara’s writings (an English translation of his short story ‘Ardha’ is available here: http://www.jdslanka.org/index.
php/analysis-reviews/poetry-a-). prose/903-shakthika- sathkumara-shortstory-ardha
Please keep PEN International informed of your activities.
Solidarity is a key component of our campaign. Please send messages to: Emma Wadsworth-Jones email@example.com
Please do not use political symbols or send political content.
Writer Shakthika Sathkumara, aged 33, is the author of seven short story collections, four poetry anthologies, a novel, and at least 17 non-fiction books on literary theory, theater, and Buddhism, in addition to being a regular contributor to several literary supplements of various Sinhala-language newspapers. He has earned recognition at both provincial and national levels for his short stories and poetry anthologies.
On April 1, 2019, Sathkumara was arrested on suspicion that he had committed offenses under Section 291B of the Penal Code and Article 3(1) of Sri Lanka’s ICCPR Act (2007), in connection with a short story that he had published on his Facebook page. The short story, ‘Ardha’ (‘Half’), due to be published as part of a collection later this year, has provoked hostility from Buddhist groups in Sri Lanka. The groups allege that the story is derogatory and defamatory to Buddhism owing to its indirect references to homosexuality within the Buddhist clergy and also due to a different rendering, told by the characters of the short story, of the legendary story of “Siddhartha” in Buddhist literature. Sathkumara maintains that he did not intend to insult Buddhism nor wound the feelings of any religious community in writing his short story, which is written in a post-modernist style.
Article 291 B of the Sri Lankan Penal Code states that ‘[w]hoever with the deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of persons, by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representations, insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both,’ while Article 3(1) Sri Lanka’s ICCPR Act (2007) states that ‘no person shall propagate war or advocate national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence’ and makes any such crime a non-bailable offense which is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
While freedom of expression may be limited for reasons of respect of the rights or reputations of others or for the protection of national security or of public order or of public health or morals, PEN holds that these limitations cannot legitimately be imposed on the expression of ideas about religion. While PEN stands against the incitement of violence or hatreds, having reviewed the content of Sathkumara’s story, PEN does not believe that the story constitutes incitement to violence.
At a hearing held on June 25, 2019, the police informed the court that their investigation had been concluded and the case referred to the Attorney General to render a decision as to whether to file charges against Sathkumara. At its subsequent hearing on July 9, 2019, police appearing before the Polgahawela Magistrate Court informed the court that they had not yet been informed of the Attorney General’s decision. Sathkumara was granted bail on August 5, 2019 by the Kurunegala High Court and was released from prison on August 8, 2019, after bail was duly furnished at Polgahawela Magistrate Court. Sathkumara is required to report to Polgahawela police on the second and fourth Sunday of every month.
On December 2, 2019, after eight months of being placed on administrative leave, Sathkumara was reappointed to his position as a development officer at the Maspotha Divisional Secretariat on the condition that he may face a disciplinary inquiry in connection to his writing of ‘Ardha’. Such a warning comes despite the fact that regulations prohibit the administrative authorities from carrying out a disciplinary inquiry into a non-work related matter, according to his legal team. He is yet to be reimbursed for his loss of earnings incurred during his compulsory leave.
According to Sathkumara’s legal team, at a hearing held at the Polgahawela Magistrate Court on December 10, 2019, the police informed the court that they had not yet received instructions from the Attorney General as to whether formal charges will be filed. The case was adjourned until May 19, 2020.
In a disappointing turn, the hearing of arguments of Sathkumara’s fundamental rights case – which was filed before the Supreme Court by his lawyers on April 29, 2019 in order to challenge the constitutional validity of his arrest, claiming a breach of his right to freedom of expression and freedom from arbitrary arrest – was postponed until July 28, 2020.
Shakthika Sathkumara’s award-winning publications include the short story collections Fourth Generation (2006), Black Dragon (2010), Cactus Thorns (2012), Prosecutor’s Conscience (2015), Sand (2016), and poetry collections including Shot in the Heart (2009), Darkness (2011), and Skyless Moon (2012). Most recently, he has published I Drop a Feather (2016), Radiant Woman (2017), co-authored with Asiri Munasinghe, and Nests (2018).