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Amnesty International Joins Appeals for Fr Jim Brown

ICC Note:

In new developments, Amnesty International is now getting involved in the disappearance of Catholic priest Jim Brown, at the same time as security forces prevented parishioners from gathering to pray for him.

by Danielle Vella

AsiaNews (08/30/06) – Amnesty International has thrown its weight behind appeals to the Sri Lankan authorities to find out what happened to Fr Jim Brown, a Catholic priest from northern Jaffna diocese who went missing on 20 August.

In an urgent appeal issued yesterday, the human rights watchdog said it feared that Fr Jim and Vimalathas, a father of five children who went missing with him, “may be victims of ‘disappearance’”. “As Kayts Island is strictly controlled by the Sri Lankan Navy (SLN), there are suspicions that the two men may have been taken into custody,” said Amnesty. But the Navy Commander of the north, Rear Admiral Upali Ranaweera, denies the two Catholics were ever arrested.

Fr Jim was last seen at a military checkpoint in Allaipiddy, where he is the parish priest. Catholic priests in Jaffna claim Fr Jim had received death threats from the commanding officer of Allaipiddy Naval Camp. The commander, named Nishantha, had accused Fr Jim of helping the rebel Tamil Tigers to dig bunkers around his parish church earlier this month, when Allaipiddy became a battleground between the security forces and rebels.

As concern rises about the two men’s safety, the Justice and Peace Commission of Jaffna diocese has launched a prayer campaign at St Mary’s Cathedral. The campaign is now in its fourth day and priests, sisters and lay people flock to the church to pray in those times when the curfew is lifted.

However, members of the security forces yesterday prevented Fr Jim’s parishioners from going. The people of Allaipiddy and Mandaithevu are currently displaced in the Church of Our Lady of Refuge in Jaffna . As they set out in procession to attend the campaign in St Mary’s, carrying pictures of Fr Jim, the security forces stopped them in the main street. “They were told that under the Emergency Regulations, it is unlawful to walk in such a procession and if they did not return immediately they would be arrested,” church sources said.

“Many priests rushed to the scene and asked the forces to understand the people’s feelings because the missing man is their parish priest. But the forces still threatened arrest and photographed the people and the priests.” Finally the priests persuaded the people to return to their camp.

Meanwhile, fears are growing among human rights activists that state-sponsored “disappearances” are making an insidious comeback to Sri Lanka . The AI statement is clear: “There are fears that a pattern of ‘disappearances’ by state agents is re-emerging following the introduction of new Emergency Regulations in August 2005 that granted sweeping powers to the security forces.” It added that 62 cases in the north have been registered by the national Human Rights Commission over the past year.

The church-run Centre for Peace and Reconciliation (CPR) in Jaffna echoed Amnesty’s concerns, saying: “We have seen a sudden increase in the number of civilian people who are arrested and then disappear.” The CPR noted a disturbing refusal of the security forces to assist in inquiries about missing persons. “The security forces are refusing to acknowledge reported arrests and to cooperate,” said the centre. “Our official request to uncover truth regarding the disappearances is rejected by the security forces.”