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HR complaint against Police for harassing a lesbian

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A 22-year-old woman has filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission alleging that the Welisara- Mahabage Police had aided her parents in unlawfully confining her because she was a lesbian.

Lawyer and Equality Director at iProbono, Aritha Wickramasinghe, whose organisation is supporting the case, said the victim had also claimed that priests had also attempted to subject the woman to forced gay conversion therapy.

The victim had been allegedly harassed in this manner after she had recently informed her parents of her sexual orientation and that she was in a consensual, same-sex relationship. 

According to the victim, the parents had subjected her to severe abuse and thereafter taken her to several Catholic priests in an attempt to forcefully “convert” her into heterosexuality. 

The victim alleges that one of the priests advised her parents to forcefully marry her to a man and to prevent her from continuing her employment, adding that she was locked up at home for several weeks by her parents because she was a lesbian. 

Stating that she was employed as a teacher and financially independent at the time, the victim said her illegal confinement prevented her from working, thereby denying her right to employment and to earn a living. 

After the victim managed to send out an email to a friend about her situation, the friend filed a complaint informing the Welisara Mahabage police that the adult woman was being locked up and abused at home. 

When she was brought to the police station, the victim’s parents had informed the police that she was being confined because of her sexual orientation after which the Police illegally confiscated her personal belongings and attempted to subject her to physical examinations

The victim’s lawyers, who were present at the Police, confirmed that the Police threatened to remand the victim on the grounds that she was a lesbian and confiscated her phone and laptop in an attempt to find “evidence” of her sexual orientation. 

The Police had also attempted to subject the victim to a psychiatric evaluation and a physical examination by a Judicial Medical Officer in order to prove that she suffered a mental illness as a result of her homosexuality.

It is unlawful for the Police to subject persons to such examinations without a Court order and it was unreasonable for the police to confiscate personal property since there was no evidence of a crime being committed by the victim. 

Lawyers present at the Police station also confirmed that the Police advised the parents of the victim to lodge a complaint against their own daughter, stating that she is a lesbian and in a same-sex relationship due to a ‘mental illness’. 

This was in an attempt for the police to obtain a Court order to subject the victim to an evaluation by the JMO.

The victim’s lawyers had confirmed to the Police that Sri Lanka’s Penal Code criminalized only certain sexual acts (irrespective of sexual orientation) and that being a lesbian was not an offence. 

Following pressure from several lawyers highlighting the illegal nature of the confinement and Police behaviour, the Welisara Mahabage Police finally accepted that no offence had been committed and the victim was able to remove herself from her confinement and find safe, alternative accommodation.  

Since 2014, the Attorney General of Sri Lanka has confirmed that discrimination against LGBT people is unconstitutional and that LGBT persons are protected under the right to equality and freedom from discrimination provisions in the Constitution. 

Despite these reassurances from the Attorney General’s Department, police persecution of LGBT individuals continues. (NewsWire)

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