NEW DELHI: Was a local employee of the embassy of Switzerland in Sri Lanka briefly abducted by some unidentified men as is being claimed by the Swiss mission? Or are the embassy’s claims untrue as is being claimed by the Sri Lankan government? Amidst the counter-narratives being offered by the two countries, truth has been the obvious casualty. Even more interesting, the staffer remains in the embassy with the Swiss claiming she’s unwell.
The spat began shortly after the swearing-in of Sri Lanka’s new President Gotabaya Rajapaksa last month. The Swiss, in a lengthy statement issued on December 2, claimed that a local employee was “detained in the street and threatened by unidentified men to force her to disclose embassy-related information.” The alleged detention is said to have occurred on November 25. The Swiss government statement also said that it “reported the incident to the Sri Lankan authorities, calling for a swift and thorough investigation”.
The alleged abduction occurred just days after Sri Lankan police officer Nishantha Silva fled the country for Switzerland. Silva had probed several important criminal cases involving killings and torture that reportedly occurred during the tenure of Mahinda Rajapaksa as the island nation’s President. Gotabaya, then his defence secretary, has denied the allegations.
The Sri Lankan police have been seeking access to the staffer; they want to question her about her claims since they have apparently found no evidence that suggests abduction. They maintain that the sequence of events do not match the movements of the embassy staffer.
The Swiss, though, are in no mood to accede to this request, claiming instead that the employee is ill and that she cannot be questioned “on health grounds” and that her health “must take priority”.
So great has been the Swiss government’s concern for their staffer’s health that they reportedly approached the Sri Lankan government for permission to allow her to be flown by an air ambulance to Switzerland for treatment. The permission has been refused as the Sri Lankan authorities want to question her first. Earlier this week, a Sri Lankan court barred her from leaving the country until she records her statement with the police.
Sri Lankan newspapers have reported the country’s new foreign affairs minister, Dinesh Gunawardena, as saying that the sequence of events and timeline related to the alleged incident is an attempt to tarnish new President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s image. The minister said the staffer is yet to file a complaint with the police, underscoring that she would not be allowed to leave the country without the government being provided with her name, her national identity and her statement. There is suspicion that the estimated 25,000-strong Tamil diaspora in Switzerland maybe involved.
Former Sri Lankan foreign affairs minister GL Peiris, who is with the Rajapaksas-led SLPP (Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna), believes the incident has been cooked up to bring disrepute to the country in the run up to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) meet in March next year. The UNHRC is headquartered in Geneva in Switzerland and Sri Lanka has been at its receiving end in the past over human rights violations during its civil war.