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

By | November 15, 2019 at 4:07 pm | No comments | News

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.

 

Shahidul Alam writes to Shakthika Sathkumara

It was on this very day, on PEN’s Day of the Imprisoned Writer, on the 100th day I was behind bars, when I heard through the deafening shouts of other prisoners also trying to hear and be heard, that Arundhati Roy had written to me. That letter made a world of difference to me and to my fellow prisoners. It meant that despite what governments might do to us, despite their hope that we shall just curl up and be quiet, despite the many ways through which they try to buy our silence, we continue to speak, through words, photographs, cartoons and poems. I was strengthened, as I hope you will be, by the knowledge that there are countless others out there who continue to stand by our side. Come what may.

As I write these words, thirty-five thousand feet above the ground, I have no idea of how or when or if, you will get to read this, but the words are not just for you, Shakthika. They are for you, for me, and for free spirits everywhere who continue to value justice and believe in the dignity and freedom of fellow human beings.

We both know what it is like to be behind bars. To be deprived of freedom. To be denied the touch and the warmth of our loved ones. To be free to walk in the rain, to sing out loud, to hold a child. But what value is ‘freedom’ if it is not a freedom to be different, to question, to go against the grain? Our quest cannot simply be to return from this obscene incarceration, to a more comfortable confinement which lacks independent thought and expression.

It took time for Arundhati’s letter to reach me, but I knew it had been written, and even that unread letter nourished me and my fellow prisoners. I wonder what happens to unread letters? To the love, the warmth, the longing they carry. Words surely have a wormhole of their own and cannot be constrained by the physical limitations repressive regimes try to corral us with.

I hope that on Human Rights Day, the day of your next hearing, they will drop the proceedings that unjustly bind you. That you can return to work and to us knowing you have been vindicated. We will be there with you in spirit, as we are with you now. I used to feed sparrows in my jail cell. They had the freedom to fly in and out. I hope you know that even in these strange countries where we live and these countries that we love, where sparrows have greater freedom than poets and philosophers and artists who dare to think differently, you are not alone.

There are others in your island and others across the sea, who continue to raise their voice in solidarity. They raise their voice for justice, for freedom, for equality and for the right to think differently. They raise their voice for you.

With a warm hug,

Shahidul

 

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.

© PEN Canada 2019 · 401 Richmond St. W., Suite 258, Toronto, Ontario, M5V 3A8 · Phone: 416 703 8448
· Charitable Business Number 88916 2541 RR0001