Repression of Dissent in May 2022


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Context: The Prime Minister Rajapakse was forced to resign from his position following an attack launched by pro-government supporters against the protesters in the anti-government protest site in Colombo city. Following the attack, agitated anti-government mobs attacked those who assaulted the demonstrators, a number of houses and property belonging to government Politicians were damaged and 10 individuals including a member of parliament (MP) were killed during the mob attacks. The Police arrested over 1500 individuals including several politicians for alleged involvement in the violence occurred on the day. Victims of war including those killed by the government military were remembered at the anti-government protest site. The 10 years commemoration of late Rugby Player Wasim Thajudheen was held at the Galleface protest area. He was killed in 2012, following a brutal assault due to an alleged dispute with Rajapakse family members.

Case updates: On 12th and 13th of May, the case of murdered journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge was heard at The Permanent People’s Tribunal (PPT) on the Murder of Journalists in Hague. On 17th May, two Fundamental Rights petitions filed challenging former President Maithripala Sirisena’s decision to grant pardon to Ven. Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thero was also fixed for support by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court (SC) has issued an interim order against the presidential pardon given to former MP and Chairperson of the housing development authority Duminda Silva in June 2021, who was convicted for murder for shooting dead a rival politician and three of his supporters in 2011. The Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) filed a fresh indictment against Former Minister Johnston Fernando on 30th May 2022 for the case of using government employees for election campaigns that he and three others were released on 28th January.  

Repression of media journalists: Digital Journalist Buwanka Perera was among the group of people who were arrested during a protest held on 4th May 2022 near the Parliament premises. On 14th May 2022, the Sri lankan forces allegedly obstructed Mullaitiuv based journalist Shanmungam Thavaseelan while he was covering preparations of annual commemoration for remembrance of victims of war in Mullivaikkal. Three ruling party  Parliamentarians have physically assaulted, verbally threatened and  forcefully taken away the mobile phones  of two Parliament correspondents, on 17th May 2022. The Vlogger and Youtuber Darshana Handungoda was summoned to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) on 25th May 2022 over the certain revelations he made on social media. Eastern journalist Shaheer Khan Farookh was assaulted by a group of people while he was  covering a clash between police and residents in Palamunai area in the Easten town of Akkaraipattu in Ampara district on 05th May 2022. Mohammed Bhuhari a freelance journalist was subjected to an attack while he went to record a crowd queuing outside a petrol station in the Eastern town of Muttur in Trincomalee district on 21st May 2022. Three admins of a social media group including Wasundra Gamage a female TV presenter from state owned media channel Rupavahini Corporation was arrested by CID  in relation to violence erupted following the pro-government attack on GoGotaGama anti-government demonstrators on 9th May. Pushpa Weerasekara, a well-known freelance journalist and a prominent activist associated with GotaGoGama protest site in Kurunegala and her husband were summoned to the Wariyapola Police Station on 16th May 2022 to be questioned on an  “arson investigation” . 

Repression of freedom of assembly: On the 9th May 2022, the ruling party Sri Lanka Podujana peramuna (SLPP) following a meeting to support former Prime Minister (PM) Mahinda Rajapakse at the Temple Trees, attacked the peaceful anti-government demonstrators who were near the Temple Trees and then in the Galleface. Police requested the court to issue an urgent order to remove the huts built by demonstrators claiming that they obstruct the access to the Presidential Secretariat and private companies in the area. Another protester, Susantha Rambukwella a Library Assistant of the Kanthale Mahaweli Pura Vidyalaya in the eastern province was arrested by the Kanthale polie on  16th May 2022. Police arrested Prabodha Lakshan an employee working in the Lanka Naigai (pvt) Ltd in Katunayake Export Processing Zone on 13th  May 2022 night for taking part in the protests. On 19th May 2022, Police fired tear gas and water to disperse the protestors at a protest organised by the Inter-University Student Federation (IUSF) . On a request made by the Fort Police. the Colombo Fort Magistrate has issued an order on a protest march by students of the Higher National Diploma (HND), banning them from entering certain roads in the Colombo Fort, state institutions or damaging property and obstructing duties of Police. Despite the court order,  as the students marched in protest on 21st May, police used tear gas and water cannons. Riot Police have used tear gas and water cannons to disperse another protest organised by the Medical Faculty Student Activist Committee in Colombo on 29th May 2022.  On 12th May 2022, a travel ban was issued by the Colombo Magistrate Court to seven people who were eyewitnesses including those injured during the 9th May pro-government mob attack, as per the request of the Attorney General, claiming they need to be present  in Sri Lanka for further investigation. Activist and president of the Sri Lanka Information Technology Professionals Association, Indika Gamage was arrested by the Matale police on 27th May 2022 in relation to the attack on protestors on 9th May.  Dewalegama Premarthana Thero was summoned to the Weeraketiya police station on the 26th May 2022. He was questioned over the destruction of the parents grave of the president Gotabaya Rajapaksha and several other incidents that occured in the 9th May 2022. .  Nuwan Neelamuni and  Harshana Neelamuni environmental activists were arrested by the Ambalangoda police on 26th May 2022. They both were actively involved in the anti government protests. The Colombo Magistrate Court has issued an order to remove all the structures, vehicles and belongings to the protesters who have staged protests opposite to the Temple Trees on 4th May 2022.  Saman Kumara Ranthilaka, a youth from Pannala in Kurunegala district was arrested by the Yakkala Police in Gampaha district, along with another person  on 1st May 2022. These two were arrested for taking part and speaking to the media at an anti-government protest. YouTuber Rathidu Senarathna alias “Ratta” was arrested by the Slave Island Police on 30th May. Ratta was arrested over allegations that he had violated a court order issued against a protest he took part in. A group of protesters protesting against the shortage of gas in the Dematagoda area in Colombo were assaulted by a mob led by a local politician. A person who shared the incident live on facebook was also assaulted.  Amila Mendis of Wāriyapola, a youth activist who actively took part in Kurunegala GotaGoGama protest campaign was arrested and detained by the police following a complaint made by the Mayor of Kurunegala on 16th May. 

Other incidents: Arumugam Balasubramaniyam, a government youth service officer from Hatton in the Central Province of Sri Lanka was arrested for criticising the mob attack on Galleface demonstrators backed by the state using his facebook page. He was granted bail after being presented before the Hatton District Court.

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