This blog post was kindly written by Cardiff Amnesty member Elizabeth who was able to share some good news with us all at our last meeting.
Now for the good news…
We deal with some pretty grim issues in Amnesty, so it’s always encouraging to get some good news: here are a few items from recent months. Many of these people have featured in Amnesty International’s annual ‘Write for Rights’ campaign which we look forward to being involved with again later this year.
Great delight when we heard that Germain Rukuki had been released in Burundi. He’s a human rights activist whose 32-year sentence has just been reduced by the appeal court to one year – he’d already served four, on sham charges including ‘rebellion’ and ‘threatening state security.’ One of the groups he worked for was Action by Christians Against Torture, which was shut down in 2016 for allegedly ‘tarnishing the image of the country.’ (Now we trust that Germain is home with his wife and three young sons: he’d never seen the youngest, who was born after his arrest.
Rather surprisingly, there is good news from Burma, with the release by Presidential pardon of Paing Phyo Min and other members of the Peacock Generation satirical poetry group. He had served two years of a six-year sentence.
In Saudi Arabia, Nassima al-Sada was released on 27th June having completed her three-year sentence – which included a year in solitary confinement – for demanding women’s rights. She has been banned from travelling for five years.
Khaled Drareni, a prominent journalist in Algeria, was sentenced to two years imprisonment for reporting anti-government protests (presumably not for his reports on the pro-government demonstrations!) Good to discover that he was released in February, along with dozens of prisoners of conscience from the protest movement, under a presidential pardon some observers see as an attempt to appease the growing number of protestors.
The fifth case goes back to Write for Rights in 2013 and 2014. Prageeth Eknaligoda was a journalist and cartoonist in Sri Lanka, who went missing in 2010, and he remains disappeared. An outspoken critic of the government, he was investigating allegations that chemical weapons had been used in the civil war against the Tamil population. The reluctance of the police to investigate his disappearance suggests government involvement.
On several occasions I’ve sent cards to his wife Sandya, and various appeals to the Sri Lankan government, most recently in 2018, when Sandya herself received threats. I also wrote to our own government when Commonwealth heads of government were meeting in Sri Lanka in 2013.
Imagine my surprise on a Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago when I received a phone call from Sandya Eknaligoda. She’d been sorting through some cards, found mine, and just wanted to say thank you!
When I’d recovered from the shock, I read up about the current situation, and also contacted the country co-ordinator, Jerry Allen, to find out what Amnesty is doing, but there has been no active campaigning for several years. Jerry did, however, write that there had been nearly 60,000 disappearances, mostly in the Tamil community, and he had seen the impact first hand.
Not until 2015, with a new president, did an investigation into Prageeth’s disappearance begin. The CID identified a number of military intelligence officers as suspects, but the army refused to comply with information requests.
With another new president in 2019, the government targeted the CID. Officers were demoted and transferred. One sought asylum in Switzerland, and the head of the CID was arrested and charged with manufacturing false evidence. All this appears politically motivated. Sandya has written about this to the UN Secretary General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
For more than eleven years, Sandya and their two sons have continued to campaign to find out what happened to Prageeth and many others. If I hear that there’s something we can do to help, I’ll be sure to let you know!
If you would like to get involved with Cardiff Amnesty please do get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org