Shakthika Sathkumara

Sri Lanka
Date of Birth: 1986
Occupation: Human rights activist
Arrested: April 1, 2019
Charges: advocating religious hatred and insulting religion

Shakthika Sathkumara is an award-winning author arrested in April 2019. He faced up to 12 years in prison on charges related to a short story he published on Facebook.

Sathkumara has written seven short story collections, four poetry anthologies, a novel, and at least 17 non-fiction books on literary theory, theatre art and Buddhism. He is also a regular contributor to the literary supplements of various Sinhala-language newspapers. Since 2012, he has been employed by the Sri Lankan government and just prior to his arrest, he served as an Economic Development Officer at the Polgahawela Divisional Secretariat Office.

In February 2019, Sathkumara published a post-modern short story on his Facebook page entitled Ardha. In the subsequent days, an association of Buddhist monks filed a complaint with police alleging the story insulted and defamed Buddhism and Buddhists. The complaint mentions the themes of homosexuality in Ardha and an allusion in the story to an instance of possible sexual abuse in a Buddhist temple. Sathkumara has maintained that he did not intend to insult Buddhism or any religious community by publishing Ardha.

Sathkumara was arrested on April 1, 2019 and charged under two domestic laws: Section 3(1) of Sri Lanka’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Act which prohibits advocating religious hatred; and Section 291(B) of the Penal Code, which prohibits insult to religion. If convicted under both charges, he could face up to 12 years in prison. After his arrest, Sathkumara was held in pre-trial detention in an overcrowded prison until August 8, when he was released on bail. The conditions of his bail required him to report to the local police station several times a month.

The trial against Sathkumara was subjected to repeated delays and has not moved past the pre-trial phase. Hearings were repeatedly delayed by the courts without reason—for example, Sathkumara filed an interlocutory petition to the Supreme Court alleging a violation of his constitutional rights, and while this petition was initially scheduled to be argued in September 2019, the Supreme Court, without express reason, rescheduled it to be argued in July 2020. The primary reason for the delay was that the indictment against Sathkumara for the charges under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Act has were not certified by the Sri Lankan Attorney General—a requirement for any charge brought under the Act.

In December 2019, Freedom Now filed a petition with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on behalf of Sathkumara. The Working Group issued an opinion in May 2020 finding his detention to be a violation of international law.

On February 9, 2021, the Attorney General declined to certify the indictment against Sathkumara and the charges against him were dropped.

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