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Day of the Imprisoned Writer 2019 - Take Action for Shakthika Sathkumara

Tuesday 29 October 2019 - 5:45pm

Shakthika Sathkumara, writer and poet

Award-winning writer and poet, Shakthika Sathkumara, faces legal proceedings that could see him sentenced to up to 10 years in prison, should the Attorney General decide to press charges. On 1 April 2019, Sathkumara was detained pending a police investigation into allegations that his short story ‘Ardha’ (‘Half’) incited religious hatred. Sathkumara spent over 120 days in detention before his release on bail on 8 August 2019. His next hearing before a magistrate is scheduled for 10 December 2019 where he awaits the decision of the Attorney General as to whether formal charges will be filed against him.

Having reviewed the content of Sathkumara’s short story, PEN International does not believe that the story constitutes incitement to violence and thus concludes that he is being targeted solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression and calls on the Attorney General of Sri Lanka to drop the case.

Take Action: Share on Facebook, Twitter and other social media using the hashtag #ImprisonedWriter

Please send appeals urging the Attorney General of Sri Lanka to:

  • Drop the legal proceedings against writer Shakthika Sathkumara;
  • Take steps to safeguard freedom of expression in line with Article 14(1)(a) of the Sri Lankan Constitution and international standards, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Sri Lanka is a State Party.

Send appeals to:

Attorney General
Mr. Dappula de Livera
Fax: +94 112 436421
Email: administration@attorneygeneral.gov.lk

Send copies to the Embassy of Sri Lanka in your own country. Embassy addresses may be found here.

We also encourage you to 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.

Publicity

We encourage PEN members to continue to:

  • Publish articles and opinion pieces in your national or local press highlighting the case of Shakthika Sathkumara;
  • Share information about Shakthika Sathkumara and your campaigning activities via social media; please use #ImprisonedWriter;
  • Organise public events, press conferences and demonstrations;
  • Promote Sathkumara’s writings (an English translation of his short story ‘Ardha’ is available here.

Please let PEN International know about your activities and send us reports about the actions you take.

Social Media:

Please use the hashtag #ImprisonedWriter.

Share information about Shakthika Sathkumara and your campaigning activities for him via social media.

Suggested tweets:

  • Drop the charges against #ShakthikaSathkumara #ImprisonedWriter
  • On Day of the #ImprisonedWriter join PEN and take action for writer #ShakthikaSathkumara #ImprisonedWriter {insert RAN link}

Background

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, theatre 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. Sathkumara works as an Economic Development Officer at the Polgahawela Divisional Secretariat Office. He is currently on compulsory leave and has not been re-instituted.

On 1 April 2019, Sathkumara was arrested on suspicion that he had committed offences 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 offence 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 25 June 2019, the police informed the court that their investigation has been concluded and the case has been referred to the Attorney General to render a decision as to whether to file charges against Sathkumara. At its subsequent hearing on 9 July 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 5 August 2019 by the Kurunegala High Court and was released from prison on 8 August 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. Sathkumara’s next hearing before Polgahawela Magistrate Court is on 10 December 2019 where he expects the Attorney General to confirm whether formal charges will be filed against him.

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 29 April 2019 in order to challenge the legal validity of the charges being laid against him under the Sri Lankan Constitution– was postponed until 28 July 2020.

For further details contact Emma Wadsworth-Jones at PEN International, Koops Mill, 162-164 Abbey Street, London, SE1 2AN, UK Tel: +44 (0) 20 7405 0338 email: emma.wadsworth-jones@pen-international.org