PUBLICATIONSRepression of Dissent

Repression of Dissent in June 2022

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Executive Summary

Context: High inflation rates were reported with the worsening economic crisis. Travel costs increased to 128% compared to previous year, while food inflation was 80%. Fuel shortage caused by fall of foreign currency reserves in the country became a major issue, which led to kilometres long fuel queues that people were waiting for days. Several incidents of assaults, police and military violence were also reported at these fuel queues.  Former Minister of Finance Basil Rajapaksa resigned from the Parliament on 9th of June. He acted as the Finance Minister during the economic crisis for less than one year. Sri Lanka’s first pride marches were held on 11th of June in Jaffna in Northern Province and 25th of June in Colombo in the capital of Sri Lanka for the first time in Sri Lanka. The Colombo Pride March was organised by the LGBTIQ+ activists who were part of the anti-government protests in Colombo, demanding the resignation of the ruling government for their corruption and failure to manage the financial crisis. Former central bank governor Ajith Nivaad Cabral was released from a case relating to his involvement in financial irregularities in the Central bank in 2014. Former Minister MP Prasanna Ranatunga was sentenced to two years of suspended imprisonment over an incident of threatening a businessman. Former Minister and a member of Rajapakse family Basil Rajapakse was acquitted from a corruption case on charges of misappropriation of state funds. 

Rising inflation rates in June 2022. Source Central Bank of Sri Lanka

Case updates: When the case of the disappearance of Journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda was taken at the Permanent High Court trial-at-bar for hearing, one of the key witnesses declined the previous statement he had made at the magistrate court several years ago, and stated that he had previously lied due to the influence of Police officers.  He also denied that he had any previous knowledge of Prageeth Ekneligoda. Former Sabaragamuwa Provincial Councillor Hasitha Samantha was acquitted and released from the case of the murder of former Sabragamuwa Councillor Ranjith Nandasena in 1999. Former MP Ranjan Ramanayake was sentenced to a two years of suspended rigorous imprisonment for accusing the judiciary during a television talk show for allegedly predetermining the judgement of an ongoing legal case. In the case of the attack on the protestors in GoGotaGama on 9th May, the magistrate asked the Police why Deshabandu Tennakoon, the Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police (SDIG) in charge of Western Province was not transferred in order to prevent any influences on the ongoing investigations, as  the Attorney General had previously instructed. Tennakoon was the most senior police officer present at the situation who failed to take required actions to prevent the attack. Five politicians including two parliamentarians were arrested in connection with the attack on the protestors, and granted bail. Activist Anurdha Bandara who was allegedly abducted by the law enforcement, released from the case filed against him. 

Repression of Media and Journalists: Jamila Husain, a female journalist working for Daily Mirror newspaper was verbally threatened by the protestors while covering a protest in front of a house of a key government whip. Eastern journalist Shanmugam Thavaseelan was attacked when he was covering the situation of a fuel queue. Journalist Kumanan Kanathipillai was obstructed by the security officers on 7th June 2022, when he was covering a protest against land expansion of a naval camp in Mullaitivu. Journalist and GoGotaGama activist Tharindu Uduwaragedara was summoned to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of Sri Lanka Police over a complaint made by the director- Intelligence of Sri Lanka Airforce 10 months ago and he was questioned over the content of his youtube channel. 

Shanmugam Thavaseelan was attacked by a man. Photo Courtesy: Tamil Guardian

Repression of Freedom of Assembly: The Supreme Court dismissed the Fundamental Petition directing authorities to not to remove the peaceful protest site in Galle face. The Fort Magistrate ordered nine key activists who took part in protests in the Fort and Thalangama areas in Colombo in June to be arrested and to be produced before the court. Velupillai Madawamajor a former tamil rebel and an activist from Mullaitivu was threatened by military at gunpoint on 15th June 2022, when he took part at a protest against land expropriation of a Hindu Temple. A protester who was arrested during a protest demanding fuel was sentenced to 3 ½ years of rigorous imprisonment by the Matara Magistrate Court. He was accused of damaging a Police trishaw, and obstructing the duties of the Police. The Colombo Magistrate court rejected a request made by the Police to issue a restraining order against a protest march conducted by the University students from Viharamahadevi Park to the University Grants Commission in Colombo on 02nd June 2022. Twenty one persons were arrested by the Police for blocking the entrances of the Finance Ministry and the Presidential Secretariat in Colombo  on 20th June 2022 when there was a scheduled meeting with the IMF officials on the day.  Police fired tear gas and water to disperse the protesters near the police headquarters on 09th June 2022. Ceylon Electricity board Engineers union organised an island wide strike over recently proposed amendments to the Electricity Act No. 31 of 2013, that sought to allow certain power plant projects to be implemented without the competitive bidding process. The Fort Magistrate Court issued an order against a protest march scheduled to be held on 04th June 2022 by a group of anti government protesters. Army officials have disrupted a protest held at the Galle Fort ramparts on 30th June 2022, by a group of Lawyers demanding the resignation of the president Gotabaya Rajapaksha. Army claimed that the protest was a disturbance to the view of the batsmen of an ongoing cricket match in the nearby stadium. Three members of the Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF) were arrested by the Sri lanka police over protesting against the expropriation of a land belonging to a Hindu temple in Kuruthurmalai, Mullaitivu on 12th June 2022. In another incident, Police have allegedly intimidated the protestors protesting against seizing of land for the expansion of the existing Gotabaya Naval Base in Mullaitivu on 07th June 2022. Attorney at Law, the convener of the People’s Lawyer Association and GotaGoGama activist Senaka Perera was summoned to the CID on 06th June 2022 for allegedly encouraging some protestors into violence. Activist Chandralal Abegunawardna was summoned to the CID Unit of the Galle police station on 06th June 2022,  over a facebook post that he had previously posted condemning the 9th  May brutal attack on protestors. Adeepa Ekanayake and Prince Jayasuriya, two active members of GotaGoGama, the occupying protest site in Kurunagela were summoned to the office of Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) in Kurunegala on 7ht June 2022. Amal Salinda, a prominent activist of GotaGoGama, the occupying protest site in Colombo was arrested on 20th June, while he was returning after attending a protest organized by student activists and others. Prof. Nedalagamuwe Dammadinna Thero was summoned before the  Gampaha Police station regarding an arson attack to a house and a residence in the backdrop of civilian unrest following 9th May attacks on peaceful demonstrators. Police attempted to raid the office of the Frontline Socialist party in Colombo.

Other incidents: Activist Minshath Mubarak was brutally assaulted by the police while he was in a fuel station in Beruwala on 28ht June 2022. Under emergency laws (Public security ordinance), the Sri Lankan President issued a gazette calling out for armed forces for the maintenance of public order from 22nd June 2022. 

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