Amnesty International has declared short-story writer Shakthika Sathkumara a ‘prisoner of conscience and urged the Government of Sri Lanka to effect his immediate release.

Starting from July 30, Amnesty International also launched an international letter campaign in order to help Shakthika to obtain bail at his next hearing.

Amnesty International said Shakthika Sathkumara faces up to 10 years in prison if found guilty as he is charged under Section 3(1) of ICCPR Act and Art. 291(B) of the Penal Code of Sri Lanka, which deals with propagating hatred and incitement of racial or religious violence.

“Detained for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression, Shakthika Sathkumara is a prisoner of conscience and must be immediately and unconditionally released and all charges against him dropped,” Amnesty International said.

Shakthika Sathkumara has spent nearly four months in remand after he was arrested by Polgahawela Police on April 1 for publishing the short story ‘Ardha’ (Half) on his Facebook page. The complaint against the writer said his work was defamatory and derogatory to Buddhism.

The Attorney General has repeatedly objected to offering bail for the writer when the case came up at the Kurunegala High Court. Persons arrested under the ICCPR Act can only obtain bail through an application at the High Court.

Sathkumara’s lawyers recently got leave to proceed in a fundamental rights petition challenging his arrest.

The hearing is coming up on August 6. During the hearing for leave in the writer’s case, Supreme Court Justice Prasanna Jayawardane urged Senior State Counsel Ganga Wakishtaarachhi to “convey to the Attorney General” that the “State must be more tolerant” in such cases.

However, when the writer’s case came up before the Polgahawela Magistrate’s Court on July 23, Sathkumara was re-remanded until August 6, because police had not received instructions from the Attorney General.

Several local and international organisations including CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance and the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), have called for Sathkumara’s release. Worldwide writers association PEN INTERNATIONAL has also issued a call to action against the jailing of the award-winning writer.

PEN believes that Shakthika Sathkumara is being held solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression and calls for his immediate and unconditional release.
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