Friedrich Ebert Stiftung temporarily closes SL office

Friedrich Naumann Foundation      Germany’s Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) said yesterday its Sri Lanka office has been temporarily closed given the severe and disturbing recent developments. FES is currently assessing the situation and analysing the implications for its work in Sri Lanka which has spanned for five decades.

FES is a private, non-profit cultural institution committed to the ideals and values of social democracy. “The Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) is deeply shocked by these developments and is disturbed by the ongoing campaign against FES and other organisations. As long as the director is on leave, the office will be kept closed until further notice,” a statement by Dr. Michael Langer at FES Headquarters said.

Following are excerpts from FES statement:

We are profoundly concerned about the treatment of the FES Resident Director, Nora Langenbacher, and the ongoing campaign against FES. FES is deeply disappointed given the long and good relations FES has had with Sri Lanka, its partners and all its governments since 1965. We very much regret the unfortunate halt and inconvenience this brings with it for the programs with our partners. Please find below a brief overview what happened:

Visa extension of FES Director refused: On 6 June, a fax from the Department of Immigration and Emigration informed that the visas of the resident representative and her family could not be extended although the Presidential Secretariat had in fact just officially endorsed its support to extend the FES visas until 2015. FES was quite surprised about this, as it has not had any visa problems in 48 years of work, and especially its close co-operation with Sri Lanka Foundation (Institute) SLF/SLFI is evaluated as very successful and beneficial for Sri Lanka.

Passports impounded by immigration authorities: When the FES director went to pick up the passports of herself and her family on 10 June, immigration authorities refused to hand them over and insisted that she has to provide a ticket to leave Sri Lanka in order to obtain her passport. Only upon the intervention of the German Embassy, passports were handed out.

Malicious arrest of FES Director: On 13 June, FES hosted an important Regional Conference on Migration with Minister Sarath Amunugama as a chief guest who, on that day again, publicly assured the great service FES has done to Sri Lanka and that the visa matter will be settled as well. When the FES director returned to the FES office on very short notice, she hit upon a crowd of seven or eight people, two of them dressed as police officers.

One showed a document written in Sinhalese, but did not hand over an arrest warrant. He stated that she had to come to District Court in Colombo 12 immediately because of a civil case, in which a former FES employee seeks an unbelievable compensation of Rs. 200,000,000. The court people threatened the FES Director she might spend the night in jail if she does not follow immediately. In an atmosphere of harassment, she still managed to contact the German Embassy and a lawyer who accompanied her to the court, where she was released on a bail.

Disproportional treatment and harassment of FES director: Deeply disturbed by this treatment of the FES Director, FES Headquarters in Berlin requested its director to temporarily close the office for the safety of all staff on 14 June. A court decision on 19 June took back the paradox travel ban which was placed on the FES Director and allowed her to leave the island. Yet, despite this official court ruling, the FES Resident Director was further prevented to leave until the evening of 20 June.

Treatment of FES upsets bilateral relations: The German Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Westerwelle as well as the German Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Dr. Jürgen Morhard, immediately condemned this obvious harassment of FES sharply in a press release.

Misleading press campaign: In the past weeks we could observe various articles and commentaries in the media, based on speculation and rumours. As a prestigious institution strictly oriented to ethical and legal standards, we emphatically refuse all false allegations and imputations raised for unknown motivations and anonymous or personal interests.

The Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) is deeply shocked by these developments and is disturbed by the ongoing campaign against FES and other organisations. As long as the director is on leave, the office will be kept closed until further notice.

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