PUBLICATIONSRepression of Dissent

Repression of Dissent in May 2020


Click here to download the full Report here.

1. Executive Summary

There were 72 incidents reported during this month of May, reporting more than two incidents per a day. This was a significant increase when compared with the previous months. Another significant difference was 32% of incidents reported from North and East. 14 incidents (19% of total incidents) were reported only from the Jaffna district. In the cases, where information on ethnicity was applicable and available, over 60% of the victims were Tamils. Similarly when gender was considered, 87% were males.Highest number of victims by profession was state officials. Secondly it was politicians and their party members. When the alleged party was considered, the military and police were responsible for the highest number of incidents (37%). Second highest number of perpetrators was politicians (18%). 

Over 20,000 were arrested for curfew related offenses during this month, increasing total number of arrests over 66,000 since 20th March. This led to the overcrowded prisons. Also economic problems increased due to almost two months long curfew which restricted work and economic activities in the COVID19 situation.On 21st May, 3 women died and 9 others injured due to stampede in Maligawatte, when a wealthy businessman distributed money to the poor people in the area. On 5th May, the President’s Secretary P.B. Jayasundara requested state employees to donate the entire or a portion of their salary for the month of May, in a bid to reduce the budget deficit. Though this was voluntary request, at least in several cases salary was curtailed without the consent of the employees, and a trade union filed a court case against salary curtailment. The opposition politicians were questioned and investigations were launched against them over alleged false statements they have made in relation COVID19 situation. However, it seemed that pro-government parties enjoyed immunity despite of them having made such false statements and hate speech comments against minorities. The President started having monthly meetings with the Buddhist monks. On 22nd May, during the meeting of the “Buddhist Advisory Council” held at the Presidential Secretariat, he promised that a Presidential Task Force will be appointed under the Defense Ministry to conduct a comprehensive survey of archaeological sites in the East and to take measures to preserve them. This was criticized by land rights activists for allegedly attempting acquisition of lands of people without adhering to transparent procedures, or providing scientific justification of archaeological claims. Also, several incidents of assaults on civilians by military and Police were reported in North and Eastern Provinces and in the Kalutara district.

While memorial events to remember those who lost during the war were severely restricted in the North and East, GoSL organized ‘National War Heroes Day’ to celebrate war victory. The president also called for the immunity for the war heroes, and threatened to leave global bodies if they pressure for accountability on war crimes. Photo Courtesy: Ada Derana.

In the North people commemorated Mullivaikkal day grieving about their lost loved ones during the last phase of war, while GoSL celebrated war victory at “National War Heroes Day”. The president threatened to leave global bodies if they demand for accountability on alleged war crimes. 177 military officers including Priyanka Fernando convicted by a UK court for threatening Tamil protesters were promoted on this day. President issued a gazette calling for armed forces same as the previous months.

Jaffna university students lit lamps in remembrance of the many lives lost at Mullivaikkal 11 years ago. Jaffna Police arrived at the event asked for the names of students organized the event. Photo Courtesy: Tamil Guardian

In the North and Eastern Provinces, a number of memorial events faced severe restriction claiming COVID19 situation. Jaffna magistrate issued an order against 11 TNPF leaders of TNPF forcing them to self-quarantine the day before the Mullivaikkal Remembrance Day. However, after hearing a successful appeal, the Jaffna magistrate lifted the quarantine order against them. On 18th May, police halted another Mullivaikkal remembrance event organized by ITAK at their office in Batticaloa presenting a court order. In many cases participants of Mullivaikkal remembrance events were threatened of arrest, and their details were noted down by the Police.  Many of these were small gatherings which followed COVID19 health precautions. Contrarily, in Colombo and in NuwaraEliya districts, the funeral of a late cabinet minister was carried out violating the COVID19 health regulations and gathering masses of people along with the patronage of the government. Two persons in Puttalam were arrested for lighting lamps remembering the dead during the war. This was the only such case outside the North and East. 

Funeral of a late cabinet Minister was carried out without adhering to COVID19 health precautions, while legal actions were taken against small groups who organized protests and memorial events. A key Health official were allegedly threatened by funeral organizers. Photo Courtesy:

A former MP of the ruling party called a fact check NGO of being “a secret American conspirator.” Several claims were made by pro-government newspapers and ruling party politicians that investigations have been launched into two petitions allegedly signed by civil society and sent to UN.  Police and NGO secretariat stated that they have launched investigations into NGOs that have been registered during the last regime, without following the due process. On 31st May, a former MP of NFF criticized a workshop conducted for election officers by NGOs, and demanded an investigation to find out details of which NGOs are involved, details of participants etc.

Private sector Media were not allowed to cover the “National war heroes’ day” event, citing COVID19 regulations. However they were allowed to cover larger gatherings such as the funeral of late minister. One journalist was threatened by villagers for photographing a mosque without informing the community members. On 29th May, Police attempted to seize a laptop used by an exiled journalist. Another journalist was threatened by a politician after reporting irregularities in the distribution of government allowance for vulnerable persons in COVID19 situation.  Two were arrested for publishing a video claiming that group of people staying at a temple unable to return their homes due to lockdown do not have access to basic facilities. An inquiry was held against a former minister for allegedly insulting Buddhism.  A confidential secretary of a government company was arrested and granted bail for allegedly leaking a letter warning of a terrorist attack – which defense ministry stated that had no truth. A Tamil politician faced online and offline hate speech after allegedly criticizing LTTE. Another person faced hate speech for criticizing covid19 quarantine process. Government called for the censorship of term Eelam published in a travel quiz of a UK newspaper. The same term was temporarily censored in instagram platform. Contrarily, the term Eelam includes in the name of a pro-government Tamil political party and it is published in government websites.

A lawyer appearing on behalf of the victims, in the 11 youth abduction case against military was threatened online and lodged a complaint in the CID. The house of the lawyer who appeared in defence of the TNPF leaders who were forced to send to quarantine process ahead a Mullivaikkal memorial event was attacked. 

Police launched investigations into a protest conducted by the opposition UNP politicians. An article written by political editor of Sunday Times titled the photo of former UN high commissioner Nanvaneethan Pillai as “Sheep in Tiger Clothing- in a Saree reflecting colours of LTTE flag.” Mrs. Pillai has been critical of abuses of LTTE in the past.

Election commissioner Hoole was subjected to severe criticism and hate speech and called “a conspirator”, “a supporter of separatist forces”, “an utter fool or a suicide bomber” by pro-government politicians and nationalist newspapers. An investigative article published by a website claimed that a senior police officer was transferred after refusing to fabricate charges against a former Police officer who handled key investigations. A statement issued by PHI association claimed that an organizer of the funeral of late cabinet minister has threatened the Director General of Health services.  A divisional secretary stated that he will withdraw from certain duties due to undue influences from a politician. There were few incidents that health workers were assaulted when they carried out their duties. There were also several incidents that forest officers, and Police officers facing threats and assaults when they tried to arrest suspects. A state official was assaulted by an unknown group when he was preparing the list of beneficiaries for 5000 LKR allowance.*

A father of a 14 year autistic child subjected to Police assault was threatened not to take legal actions. A family of COVID-19 suspected death was allegedly threatened by authorities not make the information public.

5. Updates on previous legal cases related to dissent

The legal case regarding the assault on the journalist Upali Thennakoon was taken at the Gampaha High court on 20th May.  Upali Thennakoon was the former editor of Divaina and Rivira, he and his wife were assaulted on 23rd January 2009.  In August 2019, the Attorney General has filed indictments against two officers: Prem Ananda Udulagama and Lalith Rajapakse attached to the Tripoli Military Intelligence Platoon, over the assault of newspaper editor Upali Tennakoon and his wife in 2009. Charges against the suspects have been filed under Section 317 of the Penal Code at the Gampaha High Court for “voluntarily causing grievous hurt” during the incident[1]. One of the accused Udulagama did not appear at the court on the day. As reported by Lankadeepa, the verdict will be declared on 7th July – the next court date. 

The arrested social media commentator- Ramzy Razeek was further remanded by the Magistrate’s Court until 11 June. At the High Court, the hearing on Bail Appeal was fixed for 16th July. He has been in prison for over 50 days[2].

The case against Shakthika Sathkumara was taken at the Polgahawela magistrate court on 19th May. The case was postponed to 22nd September. Fundamental Rights petition filed by Sathkumara is scheduled on 21st July. He had been arrested in April 2019 for writing a short story related to Buddhism and detained for 4 months before being given bail.

A Fundamental Rights Petition was filed on 5th May on behalf of lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah who was arrested last month for his alleged connection to Easter Sunday attack. The Bar Association and many local and international organizations and activists have condemned his arrest which was done without following due process and denying his legal rights.  The Petition was filed by senior Attorney-at-Law Gowry Shangary Thavarajah citing Acting IGP C.D. Wickramaratne, Director of CID SSP W. Thilakaratne, Chief Inspector Karunatilaka of the CID, OIC of the SIU Unit 3 Deepani Menike, OIC of the CID Mihindu Abeysinghe, as well as the Attorney General Dappula de Livera as Respondents[3]. On 18th May, when the petition was taken before a 3 judges panel, Additional Solicitor General Nerin Pulle appearing on behalf of the AG requested further time to present facts concerning the case. President’s counsel Ikram Mohomed appearing on behalf of the petitioning party also requested fair time to meet with Hejaaz Hizbullah currently under arrest. Subsequently the next hearing of the case was scheduled for 1st June 2020[4]. Additionally 3 Junior Counsel of detained Attorney-at-Law Hejaaz Hizbullah also filed FR applications on 21st May[5]. The Habeas Corpus petitions filed by family members regarding his arrest were withdrawn by family members voluntarily[6].  Meanwhile 3 children- students of the Al-Zuhairiya Arabic School in Karaitivu filed Fundamental Rights petitions before the Supreme Court alleging that officials who identified themselves as Policemen forcibly took them from their parents in the middle of the night, into undisclosed locations. They have been questioned whether they have received armed training at their schools which they have refused, and were coerced to sign false documents[7] [8].  The children are those funded by Save the Pearls a charity of which Hizbullah was a trustee, together with other Muslim Community leaders[9]. The Executive Director of a charity Muslim Hanz was also questioned over the incident.[10]

The petition against Galabodaththe Gnanasara Thero and others for contempt of court for forcefully carrying out the funeral rituals of a Buddhist monk at the controversial Neeraviyadi Hindu temple premises in Mullaitivu despite of a court order issued preventing them from doing so was taken before the Court of Appeal on 13th May. The case was postponed until 16th September.  Galabodaaththe Gnansara Thero is the Buddhist monk who leads the extremist group Bodu Bala Sena (BBS)[11].

The case against Ranjan Ramanayake for contempt of court was taken at the Supreme Court on 29th May. The case is about his statement to the media on 21st August 2017, alleging that “the majority of judges and lawyers in Sri Lanka are corrupted.” At the time of the statement, Ramanayake was the Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Social Empowerment and Welfare. The complaint against him was made by a retired military officer named Sunil Perera. The court asked the former MP to file objections explaining why the court should not punish him. The next court date is 6th July 2020[12].

Five FR petitions were filed by several activists and Muslim Politicians challenging the government decision on compulsory cremation[13].  The hearing of the petition was postponed until 22nd July 2020,[14] and it seemed that the urgency of the matter was not considered.  The case filed against the secretary of Mass Media Ministry for canceling the broadcasting license of CSN TV channel for not adhering to transmission regulations[15] was amicably settled[16]. The case was concerning offering monopoly of broadcast rights of Cricket to CSN for three years without giving opportunity to other channels to bid.  In June 2012, the BBC quoted the then Chairman of Sri Lanka Cricket Upali Dharmadasa as saying that CSN was owned by then President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s sons[17].

6. Statistical Analysis

In total 72 incidents during the 31 days period covered in this report from 1st-31st May 2020, reporting more than 2 incidents per a day.  When we compare this with previous months, this is almost the double of the number of incidents reported each month since January 2020.

Month Number of days Number of incidents Incidents per day
January 31 23 0.74
February 29 40 1.38
March 31 23 0.74
April 30 32 1.07
May 31 72 2.32
Total 152 190 1.25

Table 2: Number of incidents reported monthly (January-May 2020)

The increase of number of incidents was significant soon after the curfew was lifted.

Period Number of days Number of incidents Incidents per day
Before Curfew (1st Feb- 19 Mar) 48 days 54 1.13
During Curfew (20th Mar – 10th May) 52 days 52 1.0
After Curfew (11th May – 31st May) 21 days 61 2.90
Total 121 days 167 1.38

Table 3: Number of incidents before and during curfew

The number of incidents reported from Northern and Eastern provinces again increased to 32% of total incidents. This amount was 20% during February-April.  The month of May is an important period to people in the North-East region every year, because of the Mullivaikkal remembrance events related to large numbers of deaths of civilians during the war and the end of the war. It is also important for the GoSL as celebration period of the war victory. Repression of memorialization in the North and East region as reported each year might have resulted the increase of number of incidents from the North and East. However, when looked at the total number of incidents, an overall increase of the incidents island wide could be noticed. 

Location Number Percentage
Colombo 16 22%
Gampaha and Kalutara 5 7%
Jaffna 14 19%
Other districts in North and East (Except Jaffna) 9 13%
Other areas 15 21%
Not Applicable 7 10%
online 6 8%
Total 72 100%

Table 4: Geographical distribution of the incidents

The highest number of incidents reported from a single district was reported from District of Colombo as usually. That was 16 incidents and 22% of the total incidents. The highest number of incidents is usually reported from Colombo since it is the administrative and financial capital of Sri Lanka which also includes the highest population.  Jaffna district in the Northern Province was the second highest district in terms of number of incidents reporting 14 incidents, two incidents less than Colombo.

Type of violation Number Percentage
Physical attacks 11 15.3%
Arrest 3 4.2%
Attempted arrest and threat of arrest 4 5.6%
Obstruction to event 4 5.6%
Surveillance 4 5.6%
Verbal or written threats including online hate speech, insulting statements   20 27.8%
Death threats 3 4.2%
Hate speech 2 2.8%
Hacking and online censorship 3 4.2%
Investigations 7 9.7%
Court orders 3 4.2%
Legal, institutional and policy related incidents 3 4.2%
Questionable appointments 1 1.4%
Others 4 5.6%
Total 72 100.0%

Table 5: Type of violation

The highest percentage of incidents (27.8%) reported was related to verbal or written threats including online hate speech, and insulting statements. These included 27.8% of the total incidents.  Another 6.9% of incidents included death threats and hate speech. Second highest percentage of incidents (15.3%) was reported in relation to physical attacks.  9.7% of incidents were related to starting inquiries, questioning, and making home visits to the houses of activists in relation to ongoing inquiries. 4.2% of incidents were related to arrests, while 5.6% were related to attempt to arrest or threat of arrest. In 5.6% of incidents events were obstructed, while another 5.6% of incidents were related to surveillance of participants in public events. 4.2% were about repressive court orders, while another 4.2% were related to other legal, institutional and policy related incidents. Another 4.2% were related to online censorship and one incident of hacking into am media website.  Another incident (1.4% of total) was related to a questionable appointment. There were 6% of other incidents.

Ethnicity of the victim Number Percentage
Sinhala 15 31%
Tamil 30 63%
Muslim 3 6%
  48 100%

Table 6: Ethnicity of the victims

Details of Ethnicity were applicable and available in 64% (46 in number) of the total incidents. Out of these incidents more than 60% were minority ethnic Tamils. 6% were Muslims. 31% were Sinhala.

Gender of the victim Number Percentage
Male 33 87%
Female 5 13%
  38 100%

Table 7: Gender of the victims

Details of gender were applicable and available in 53% (38 in number) of the total incidents. When gender of the victims was considered, 87% were male. Only 13% were female.

Type of victims Number Percentage
Journalist 6 8%
Civil Society Activist 7 10%
Civilians 8 11%
Protesters 1 1%
Student Activist 2 3%
State officials 20 28%
Lawyer 2 3%
Politicians 6 8%
Party members 10 14%
Other 10 14%
  72 100%

Table 8: Category of victims

The highest percentage of victims 28% were state officials.  14% were political party members, while 8% were politicians. In the North and East, number of members of TNPF who participated in remembrance events faced reprisals, while opposition politicians in other areas were also victimized. 7 cases were related to civil society activists and organizations. 6 were related to journalists. 2 were related to student activists.  Another 2 were reprisals against lawyers. In 8 incidents civilians were the victims. There were also another 10 incidents affecting multiple parties, sectors or national wide.

Perpetrator/ Responsible party Number Percentage
Military and Police 27 37.5%
Government and officers 4 5.6%
Politicians 13 18%
Business persons 4 5.6%
Court 3 4%
Unknown 2 3%
Others 19 26.4%
  72 100.0%

Table 9: Alleged perpetrator or responsible party

The military and police were responsible for highest percentage 37.5% of incidents.  In 18% incidents Politicians were responsible. Government and other officers in the government were responsible in 5.6% of the incidents. In 5.6% of incidents business persons were responsible. In 4% of incidents courts were responsible. In another 3% of incidents responsible persons were unknown. There were 26% of incidents where the responsible parties were others.

Click here to download the full Report here.


[1] AG forgoes filing charges against 6 military personnel in Upali Tennakoon assault case. FT. published 8 August 2019. Last accessed 15th June 2020.

[2] Amnesty International South Asia. Tweet. Published 29th May. Last accessed 15th June 2020.

[3] Fundamental Rights petition seeks to extricate detained lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah. FT. published 7th May 2020. Last accessed 15th June 2020.

[4]  හිජාස් හිස්බුල්ලාගේ පෙත්සම ලබන ජුනි 01 වැනිදා සලකා බැලේ Lankadeepa. published 18th May 2020. Last accessed 15th June 2020.

[5] FT. Three Juniors of Hejaaz file FR petitions Published 22nd May 2020. Last accessed 5th June 2020.

[6] හිජාස් හිස්බුල්ලා වෙනුවෙන් පියා – සහෝදරයා ගොනු කළ පෙත්සම් ඉල්ලා අස්කර ගනිති Lankdeepa. published 27th May 2020. Last accessed 15th June 2020.

[7] Hizbullah Fixed, Police Lied To BASL President. Colombo Telegraph. Published 7th May. Last accessed 15th June 2020. And Three Children allege CID officers tried to coerce them to implicate Madrassah in arms Training. Economy Next.  Published 13th May. Last accessed 15th June 2020.

[8] Tweet Justice4Hejaaz. Published 14th May. Last accessed 15th June 2020.

[9] Tweet Justice4Hejaaz. Published 14th May. Last accessed 15th June 2020.

[10] අසාර් නගර්හි රාජ්‍ය නොවන සංවිධානයක අධ්‍යක්ෂවරයාගෙන් රහස් පොලිසිය ප්‍රශ්න කරයි. Published 8th May. Lankadeepa. Last accessed 15th June 2020.

[11] අධිකරණයට අපහාස කළේ යයි ඥානසාර හිමිට එරෙහි නඩුව කල් යයි Lankadeepa. Published 13th May.   Last accessed 15th June 2020.

[12] රන්ජන්ට එරෙහි නඩුවේ වාචික දේශන කල්යයි  Lankadeepa. Published 13th May.  Last accessed 15th June 2020.

[13]. Petitions challenge Sri Lankan government’s compulsory cremation rule. The Hindu. published 14th May 2020. Last accessed 5th June 2020.

[14] සිරුරු ආදාහනය කිරීමට එරෙහිව බදියුදීන්ලාගේ පෙත්සම ජූලි 22 දාට.  Published 27th May.  Lankadeepa. Last accessed 15th June 2020..

[15] CSN broadcasting license cancelled for not adhering to transmission regulations. Ministry of Information and Mass Media.  published on 28 October 2016. Last accessed 5th June 2020.

[16] සී.එස්.එන් නාලිකා නඩුව අභියාචනාධිකරණයේදී සමථයකට.  Lankadeepa. Published 26th May.  Last accessed 5th June 2020.

[17] Carlton Sports Network to resume broadcasts soon – Rohan Welivita Economy Next. published 27th May. Last accessed 5th June 2020.


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