Human rights row over Mela sponsor links

The Mela attracts big crowds each year. Picture: Toby Williams

The Mela attracts big crowds each year. Picture: Toby Williams

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ORGANISERS of the Edinburgh Mela are being urged to scrap a controversial sponsorship deal with a telecoms giant allegedly linked to a brutal regime in Sri Lanka.

Mobile phone network Lycamobile was one of the main sponsors of this year’s event, but politicians have criticised the deal amid concerns about the firm’s ties to a “government facing serious human rights allegations”.

Mela chiefs have vowed to review the sponsorship agreement ahead of next year’s festival and highlighted their “limited resources”.

A Mela spokesman said they would “carefully consider” the arrangement.

Lycamobile hit the headlines last year after it emerged it had donated £420,000 to the Conservative Party.

It prompted Labour MP Tom Blenkinsop to write to Prime Minister David Cameron, demanding an investigation into the donations received.

This claimed the company had links to Sri Lanka’s controversial president Mahinda Rajapaksa, whose regime sparked international outcry amid claims of war crimes in the civil war with Tamil separatists in 2009.

Lycamobile sponsored the Main Stage and Mix Stage tents for the first time at this year’s Mela – a multicultural festival held every year in Leith.

A festival expert, who declined to be named, estimated the Main Stage alone could cost up to £12,000 for a week’s hire.

Alison Johnstone, Green MSP for Lothian and a member of a human rights body at Holyrood, urged caution before Mela organisers accepted any future deals with Lycamobile.

She said: “The Mela is a really brilliant event, but I would urge organisers to think again before accepting further sponsorship from a company associated with a government that is facing serious human rights allegations.”

Andi Vincent, a civil rights activist from Edinburgh, said Lycamobile was a “strategic partner of the Rajapaksa regime”.

Siobhan Reardon, programme director for Amnesty International in Scotland, highlighted serious concerns about the conduct of the Sri Lankan government during the 2009 conflict.

She said: “Sri Lanka continues to be a grave cause for concern despite continued pressure on President Rajapaksa to take action against the appalling human rights abuses happening every day.

She added: “Earlier this year, the UN Human Rights Council voted to task the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to investigate allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity which took place in the final weeks of Sri Lanka’s armed conflict in May 2009.”

john.connell@edinburghnews.com