Washington, D.C. – Freedom Now welcomes today’s decision by the Attorney General of Sri Lanka to drop pending charges against Shakthika Sathkumara. Initially arrested in April 2019, the 34 year old author faced up to 12 years in prison for a short story he published on Facebook.
“Today’s decision by Sri Lanka’s Attorney General puts an end to a nearly two year ordeal,” said Freedom Now’s Legal Officer Adam Lhedmat. “Although Shakthika Sathkumara no longer faces a highly disproportionate prison sentence, Sri Lanka continues to misuse the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Act and its judicial system to stifle freedom of expression. We call on the government to ensure it complies with its international obligations and cease prosecution of individuals for exercising their fundamental human rights.”
Sathkumara is an award-winning author and regular contributor to the literary supplements of various Sinhala-language newspapers. Prior to his arrest, he was employed by the Sri Lankan government 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 mentioned the themes of homosexuality in Ardha and an allusion in the story to an instance of possible sexual abuse in a Buddhist temple. Sathkumara 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 have been sentenced to up to 12 years in prison.
After his arrest, Sathkumara was held in pre-trial detention in an overcrowded prison until August 8, 2019 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 did not move past the pre-trial phase. Hearings, originally scheduled to commence in September 2019, were repeatedly delayed by the courts without reason.
In May 2020, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, in response to a petition filed by Freedom Now, determined that Sri Lanka violated international law by detaining Sathkumara for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression.