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Arrest of Sri Lankan rights activists, including a priest, is condemned

The Sri Lankan government should release two human rights defenders, including a priest, because their arrests are an attempt to silence criticism, human rights groups aid Tuesday.

A joint statement issued by Amnesty International, Forum Asia, Human Rights Watch, the International Crisis Group and the International Commission of Jurists called Sunday's arrest and detention of Ruki Fernando of the Colombo-based INFORM and Father Praveen Mahesan, a Catholic priest, "arbitrary."

Police say they were arrested and detained under powerful anti-terror laws for trying to create communal disharmony and disturbance.

Sri Lanka faces criticism for cracking down on rights activists and has rejected calls for an international inquiry into the conduct of the final months of a decades-long civil war that ended in 2009.

Government forces defeated separatist Tamil Tiger rebels, but have been accused of causing large numbers of civilian deaths during the last few months of the war.

The U.N. Human Rights Council is reviewing Sri Lanka's record, including the issue of missing persons and its failure to investigate war crimes allegations against both government soldiers and Tamil Tiger rebels.

The United States has sponsored a third resolution on Sri Lanka at the rights council calling for an international probe on alleged war crimes if the island nation fails to conduct one of its own.