US Embassy tight-lipped on Kerry’s call for releasing ‘political prisoners’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The US embassy in Colombo declined to say whether it had advised Secretary of State John Kerry as regards ‘political prisoners’ in Sri Lanka prompting him to urge the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration to release them.

The official was responding to a query by The Island in the wake of Justice Minister and President’s Counsel Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe stressing that there hadn’t been any political prisoners though there were over 200 convicted LTTE cadres as well as those facing terrorism charges.

Kerry made his appeal at the Taj Samudra on May 2 soon after having met President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera.

KERRYEmbassy spokesperson said the US response to The Island query would be restricted to a statement attributed to State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki on March 12 on the release of eight Sri Lankan detainees on March 10. Ms Psaki said: “The United States welcomes the March 10 release of eight Sri Lankan detainees, including human rights activist Balendran Jeyakumari, who had been arrested under the previous administration and held without charge. We understand Ms. Jeyakumari has been released on bail pending trial, and we encourage the Government of Sri Lanka to afford the individuals and all detainees due process of law. We applaud this positive step and encourage the government to continue its efforts to ensure human rights and fundamental freedoms for all Sri Lankans.”

Following accusations as regards Balendran Jeyakumari’s arrest early last year, the government told the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) that she had been taken into custody under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) for sheltering an LTTE operative identified as Gopi. The suspect escaped after having shot and injured a police officer in March last year. At the time of the incident, Gopi had been taking refuge at Jeyakumari’s home at Dharmapuram. The army killed Gopi along with two other LTTE personnel in April last year in an encounter in a jungle in Wanni.

Addressing a distinguished gathering at the Colombo Taj, Secretary of State Kerry said that the US wanted the government to release the remaining political prisoners. Kerry offered to send a team of legal experts to advise the Sri Lankan government regarding assessment and release. Many an eyebrow was raised when Kerry compared those who had been categorized as missing in Sri Lanka with the US servicemen reported missing in Vietnam.

Justice Minister Rajapakshe, however, has told The Island: “Fifty four persons who had been convicted on terrorism charges were serving prison terms; indictments were being prepared against 85 persons; cases were pending against 134 persons; eight given bail and 45 convicts released through courts after rehabilitation.”

Justice Minister stressed that the government pursued a transparent policy as regards convicted terrorists, those facing charges and the persons undergoing rehabilitation.