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Sri Lanka: Drop investigation into award-winning writer Shakthika Sathkumara

Wednesday 8 January 2020 - 2:00pm

Shakthika Sathkumara

Update - 9 February 2021

The case against Shakthika Sathkumara has been dropped on the orders of Attorney General Dappula de Livera. The proceedings against him have been concluded and no indictment will be filed.

PEN International is delighted that Shakthika Sathkumara is now free, but remains concerned over his treatment by the Sri Lankan government and its punitive use of the ICCPR Act and the Penal Code to silence voices in the country.

Update - 19 May 2020

On 19 May 2020, Shakthika Sathkumara's case was postponed to 22 September. PEN International continues to call for the charges against him to be dropped.

Update #2 to RAN 09/12

PEN International 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 10 December 2019. Sathkumara’s next hearing before a Magistrate is scheduled for 19 May 2020. If formally charged and convicted, Sathkumara could face up to 10 years in prison. On 2 December 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 International 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
Presidential Secretariat
Galle Face,
Colombo 1,
Sri Lanka
Fax :- +94 112 34 0340

Prime Minister
Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa
Prime Minister's Office No: 58, Sir Ernest De Silva Mawatha, Colombo 07 Sri Lanka
Fax: +94 112 575310 / +94 112 574143

Attorney General
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:

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:

Please keep PEN International informed of your activities.


Solidarity is a key component of our campaign. Please send messages to: Emma Wadsworth-Jones

Please do not use political symbols or send political content.


Writer Shakthika Sathkumara 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.

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 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 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.

On 2 December 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 10 December 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 19 May 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 29 April 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 28 July 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).

For more information, please contact Emma Wadsworth-Jones, Asia Programme Coordinator, at PEN International, Koops Mill Mews, Unit A, 162-164 Abbey St, London, SE1 2AN, Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338, email: