HR SITUATION SLPUBLICATIONSRepression of Dissent

Repression of Dissent in April 2022

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Summary

In April, Moody’s Investors Service (“Moody’s”) downgraded Sri Lanka’s debt ratings to Ca from Caa2, due to debt servicing suspension on external public debt repayments. On the night of 31st March, and early morning of 1st of April, amid worsening economic crisis, thousands of protestors protested in front of the President’s private residence in Colombo. Protestors were tear gassed, attacked with water cannons and assaulted by Police. Around 54 protestors including journalists were arrested and detained by the Police. Later anti-government protesters started occupying the Galleface Green urban park located in front of the Presidential secretariat in Colombo and the site was named as the GoGotaGama (GGG/ GoGotaVillage). Protesters demanded the resignation of the President and the government.  

Case updates: The Puttalam High Court granted bail to three accused of the case against Lawyer Hejazz Hisbullah. Hizbullah in a tweet said that the accused were arrested to falsely implicate him in the case of Easter sunday bomb attack case. 7 people who had been arrested and detained for around 7 months under the prevention of terrorism act (PTA) were acquitted and released.  They were arrested for holding a memorial event in memory of those who lost during the war. 

Repression of Media and Journalists: At least 6 journalists covering the protest in front of the President’s private residence were physically assaulted and arrested by Police, while around 9 journalists and hundreds of protesters have been assaulted. CID of Police interrogated a photojournalist for over 4 hours, regarding the same protest.  A director of the President’s Media Division threatened journalists who were reporting on the damages that occurred during the protest. The Inspector General of Police ordered an inquiry against a private Television channel for distributing updates about a protest for allegedly instigating public outrage.  Intelligence officers visited houses of two journalists in Batticaloa over social media posts regarding the anti-government protests. Police obstructed the journalists from attending a press conference organized by a Tamil political party in the North. Social Media was restricted on the instruction of Director General of TCRC who had acted upon a request made by the Ministry of Defence, however the decision was withdrawn after the Public Utility Commission and Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) intervened. 

njured journalist Sumedha Sanjeewa in Mirihana protests was carried to the court without any treatment. photo Courtesy Ada Derana

Repression of Freedom of Assembly: The government issued a gazette order banning the public from gathering at public places at a time protests against the government were being organized around the country. President also declared a state of public emergency, which allows the arrest and detention of individuals without a warrant and provides more powers to the military and Police. Police fired tear gas and water cannon attacks on protesters at multiple protests. These included the Protest in front of President’s private residence in Colombo,  a protest in front of Prime Minister’s private residence in Tangalle, a protest organized by IUSF in front of Parliament roundabout, a protest organized by Peradeniya University students, a protest organized by residents in Rambukkana, a protest in front of SLPP office in Kalutara and several other protests organized near the private houses of Parliamentarians. One protester was shot dead and several others were injured in Rambukkana protest, while the Police alleged that protestors attempted to fire a fuel bowser.  Pro-Government protesters attempted to interrupt a candlelight vigil conducted by anti-government protesters. The Police requested a court order against the protest conducted in front of the Temple trees: the Prime Minister’s official residence in Colombo. Police also requested a court order against a protest organized in front of Fort Railway station. However the request was declined by the court. In Rideemaliyadda in Badulla district, the chairperson of the local council assaulted a protester causing a tense situation.   Banners with photographs of murdered, assaulted and disappeared journalists during the previous Rajapakse regime were removed the Presidential Secretariat officials. Police assaulted a protester in front of the Temple Trees. A social media activist engaged with #GoHomeGota2022 facebook group was abducted and then called to be arrested by Police. A former athlete working in a government institution received verbal threats for supporting anti government protests. Parliamentarian Rasamanickam received a court order preventing him from participating in protests. Batticaloa magistrate court banned a memorial event organized in memory of Annai Poopathy, who died in 1988 in a hunger strike in protest of atrocities committed by Indian Peace Keeping Forces. A Senior Police officer assaulted a bus driver who protested against the fuel hike. 

Other incidents: Police arrested and took legal action against a Police officer who took part at the anti-government protests wearing his uniform. The Army commander requested the Inspector General of Police to launch an inquiry against the Police officers who interrupted and questioned the masked armed military men, riding motor bikes with no vehicle registration numbers in a manner intimidating the protesters. 

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