COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) -- The Sri Lankan government should release two human rights defenders, including a priest, because their arrests are an attempt to silence criticism, human rights groups aid Tuesday.
A joint statement issued by Amnesty International, Forum Asia, Human Rights Watch, the International Crisis Group and the International Commission of Jurists called Sunday's arrest and detention of Ruki Fernando of the Colombo-based INFORM and Father Praveen Mahesan, a Catholic priest, "arbitrary."
Police say they were arrested and detained under the powerful Prevention of Terrorism Act for trying to create communal disharmony and disturbance.
Sri Lanka faces criticism for cracking down on rights activists and has rejected calls for an international inquiry into the conduct of the final months of a decades-long civil war that ended in 2009.
Government forces defeated separatist Tamil Tiger rebels, but have been accused of causing large numbers of civilian deaths during the last few months of the war.
The anti-terrorism act has been widely criticized in Sri Lanka and by United Nations bodies, which say it has resulted in arbitrary detentions, contravened the right to a fair trial and due process, and even led to torture and disappearances.
Fernando, an adviser on documenting human rights issues, and Mahesan of the Center for Peace and Reconciliation have been prominent in promoting human rights and media freedom in the island's north, where the main fighting took place in the civil war.
"The Sri Lankan authorities need to release Fernando and Father Praveen, and end the ongoing state harassment of human rights defenders," said David Griffiths, Amnesty International's deputy director for Asia Pacific.
Sri Lanka faces criticism for cracking down on rights activists and has rejected calls for an international inquiry into the conduct of the final months of the civil war.
Last week, authorities in the northern town of Kilinochchi arrested an outspoken activist, Balendran Jeyakumari, and her 13-year-old daughter, who were campaigning for the release of relatives missing from the war.
Military spokesman Ruwan Wanigasooriya said they were arrested for harboring a former rebel who shot at police.
Fernando and the Praveen were arrested when they visited Kilinochchi to investigate Jeyakumari's case.
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