The case against Sri Lankan writer Shakthika Sathkumara has been postponed after his appearance at a Magistrate Court on charges of insulting Buddhism in his short story Ardha / Half. The charges relate to the content of the story, which included references to homosexuality, reported PEN International. The artist is scheduled to appear in court on 22 September.
“Expressing artistry which includes LGBTI references is in no way grounds for investigation and prosecution. The charges against Shakthika Sathkumara must be dropped and the Sri Lankan government should obey the international human right to freedom of artistic expression.” said Dr Srirak Plipat, Freemuse Executive Director.
UPDATE: @amnesty Prisoner of Conscience Shakthika Sathkumara's case was postponed till 22 September by the Polgahawela Magistrate Court today. We call on the Sri Lankan authorities to immediately and unconditionally drop all charges against him. #FreeShakthika #SriLanka #Ika https://t.co/Zm02JYxnBj
— Amnesty International South Asia (@amnestysasia) May 19, 2020
Sathkumara has been facing prosecution since 1 April 2019 when he was charged with spreading religious hatred under Section 3(1) of Sri Lanka’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act No. 56 of 2007 (ICCPR Act 2007) and with offending religious feelings protected by Article 291B of the Penal Code. According to Humanist International, he was released from detention on 8 August 2019.
In a statement published on Facebook, the writer expressed his gratitude to his lawyers and friends who supported him in court.
In May 2020, The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued its opinion on the situation of Shakthika Sathkumara, declaring his arrest and four months in detention as arbitrary.
According to PEN International, on 2 December 2019, the writer was reinstated to his position as a development officer at the Maspotha Divisional Secretariat. However, he was warned that he may still face a disciplinary inquiry for his short story.
Freemuse calls for all charges against Shakthika Sathkumara to be dropped and for the Sri Lankan government to respect international human rights laws, especially those that protect freedom of artistic expression.
In 2019, Freemuse continued to document the alarming trend of suppressing LGBTI-themed artworks and expressions. In the State of Artistic Freedom 2020 report, Freemuse highlights that the growth of nationalism combined with support from far-right and religious groups and the resulting shrinking spaces for LGBTI expressions.
You can read Ardha / Half here.