Swiss raise alarm over ‘attack’ on Sri Lanka embassy employee

Switzerland says its embassy staff was ‘detained against her will’ and calls on Sri Lanka to investigate the incident.

Sri Lanka
The employee had been abducted on Monday and allegedly questioned about a police officer who reportedly sought Swiss asylum [File: Lakruwan Wanniarachchi/AFP]

Swiss authorities have hit out at the detention of an employee of the country’s embassy in Sri Lanka, branding the development “grave and unacceptable”.

A spokesman for Switzerland’s Department of Foreign Affairs said in a statement on Wednesday that the embassy employee was “detained against her will on the street and threatened at length” in an attempt to pressure her into releasing information.

“Switzerland views the incident as a very grave and unacceptable attack on one of its diplomatic missions and their employees,” the spokesman said.

Switzerland reported the incident to Sri Lankan authorities, the spokesman added, and have called on them to launch an investigation into it.

Sri Lanka’s ambassador to Switzerland was meanwhile, summoned to the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Airports on alert

According to the complaint by the embassy, the employee was abducted on Monday and allegedly questioned about a police officer who reportedly sought Swiss asylum after fleeing Sri Lanka amid fears for his safety after the election of Gotabaya Rajapaksa as the country’s president earlier this month.

The officer, Nishantha Silva, had earlier been involved in a series of investigations into criminal allegations, including high-profile killings and corruption, some of which were against Rajapaksa.

The investigations concern events between 2005 and 2015, during which time current Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa – Gotabaya’s brother – served as president.

The Sri Lankan government put airports on alert after the police officer fled the island in a bid to stop fellow officers leaving without permission, police said on Tuesday.

Police Spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said the names of 704 Criminal Investigation Division (CID) officers had been sent to immigration authorities.

“The move is to ensure that no officer leaves the country without following the proper procedure of obtaining permission for overseas travel,” he said.

Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his brother, former leader Mahinda Rajapaksa who was appointed as the new prime minister [Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters]

Alleged abuses

The Rajapaksa family’s decade of control over Sri Lankan politics from 2005 to 2015 – a period in which Gotabaya Rajapaksa served as defence secretary – saw several critics of the government abducted, tortured and killed.

Other alleged human rights abuses also saw as many as 40,000 people killed by security forces in the final days of the country’s civil war in the north, as Tamil rebels took shelter among civilians, according to figures compiled by the United Nations.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa has dismissed allegations of human rights abuses under his watch as “baseless” and in the lead-up to the November 16 presidential vote stressed his role in bringing to a close the bloody 26-year civil war between government forces and the Tamil rebels in 2009.

The new president also pledged to fight corruption, kick-start the country’s stuttering economy and improve security in the wake of a series of bombings on Easter Sunday that killed more than 260 people, responsibility for which was claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, or ISIS) armed group.

The government, however, blamed a local Muslim group for the attacks, the worst bombings in Sri Lanka since the end of the civil war.

Opponents have expressed fear that the return of the Rajapaksa family to the top echelons of Sri Lanka’s politics could spark a crackdown on critics and the majority Sinhalese island’s minority populations.

Source: News Agencies