Swiss embassy employee in Sri Lanka arrested after claiming she was abducted, sexually assaulted and interrogated

Sri Lankan police arrested a local Swiss embassy employee after she claimed she was abducted by government officials, interrogated and sexually assaulted before being released. 

Calling her claims “fabricated”, authorities arrested her on Monday evening on grounds of “stoking anti-government sentiments and fabricating evidence to be used in a court proceedings.” 

The alleged victim, who works at the embassy’s visa department, claimed she was abducted by CID officials in a white van on November 25, and held for hours, while her abductors sexually abused her and tried to force her to disclose embassy-related information. 

According to the victim, her abductors particularly wanted information about a senior police official, Nishantha Silva, who fled the country seeking asylum in Switzerland soon after Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected president last month. 

Mr Silva was heading an investigation on the current president on alleged charges of murder, abduction and torture of journalists and civilians who spoke against the government during his time as defence secretary for ten years under his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa’s presidency, until 2015.

The government has now ordered airport authorities to block police officers seeking to leave the country without permission.  The president’s media unit on Tuesday called the abduction a “total fabrication.” 

Mr Rajapaksa was quoted in a statement as saying: “It is very well established by now that the alleged abduction is a total fabrication. Irrefutable evidence such as Uber reports, telephone conversations and CCTV footages point to this fact. 

"The Embassy official must have been compelled by some interested parties to bring myself and my government into disrepute. It is not clear why the alleged victims acted in such a manner.” 

The Criminal Investigations Department said that the events and timeline presented by the Swiss embassy on the abduction did not correspond with the actual movements of the alleged victim on the date of the purported abduction. 

“Witness interviews and technical evidence including Uber records, CCTV footages, telephone records and GPS data don’t match,” said foreign affairs minister Dinesh Gunawardena. 

The alleged abduction comes just nine days after the country voted in Mr Rajapaksa, who faces several international war crimes and human rights charges for allegedly ordering abductions, rape and extra-judicial killings in his tenure as defence secretary during the country’s war against the Tamil Tiger terrorists that ended in 2009. 

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“White van” abductions were a hallmark of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s regime. The new president has also previously been accused of white van abductions, where critics of his brother were interrogated, tortured and if lucky, released. 

Some prominent journalists including political cartoonist and columnist Prageeth Eknaligoda disappeared and are believed to be dead after being abducted in white vans during Mahinda’s rule. 

Two men who claimed to be white van drivers accused the newly elected president of ordering the white van abductions at a press conference just before the presidential elections last month, were also arrested this week.

One of the alleged former white van squad driver claimed they abducted, tortured and murdered their victims before feeding them to crocodiles. Mr Rajapaksa has denied all allegations. 

The Swiss embassy called the alleged abduction of their employee “grave and unacceptable."

On Tuesday the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) criticised the lack of due process in the case. 

The FDFA in a statement said it is “concerned about this development and calls on the Sri Lankan judicial authorities to ensure better protection of its employee’s personal rights in any further proceedings and compliance with national law and international standards.” ends

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