August 30th is the International Day of victims of Enforced Disappearances, but in Sri Lanka, it was a month when families of disappeared persons and those supporting them faced threats, intimidations, restrictions and false accusations by Buddhist Monks led mobs, Police and the state media. Police blocked a peaceful march on the International Day of victims of Enforced Disappearances in the Northern town of Vavuniya. Tamil families of disappeared in Mannar were intimidated, urging them not to testify to the Presidential Commission looking into Missing Persons. At the beginning of August, a Buddhist Monk led mob stormed a private meeting of families disappeared persons at a Church run centre in Colombo. The organizers called the Police, but the Police refused to guarantee security for the meeting and participants. The Police insisted that the meeting be stopped and participants from North are sent home. Initially, the Police also refused to disperse the mob, and only did so at the strong insistence of the organizers and participants. This event led to a chain of events, with Sinhalese newspapers and the mob making a variety of false allegations against participants and organizers, including accusing them of being linked to terrorism. One of the human rights defenders present, Rev. Fr. Sathivel, faced a series of threatening incidents. The Ministry of External Affairs warned diplomats about attending such events, but didn’t condemn the disruption of the meeting by the Buddhist Monk led mob.
A Deputy Inspector General of Police who had refused to release suspects of anti-Muslim riots in June 2014 faced death threats. A school teacher who had filed a lawsuit against a government politician also faced death threats. A Tamil Provincial Councillor from the North, who had been prominent in human rights campaigns, also complained about surveillance and threats.
Freedom of Expression has continued to be violated. A Tamil journalist in Vavuniya received death threats, and the Coordinator of the Jaffna Press Club was interrogated by the Police and accused of being a part of the LTTE by Sinhalese newspaper. An Indian academic-activist attending an international symposium on post war developments was also interrogated, and was detained when he tried to visit the Eastern Province prior to the symposium. There were reports of Muslim journalists being branded as “anti-Sinhalese and anti-Buddhist Jihadists. A New York Times reporter complained that his visa had been put on hold since June. Journalists were prevented from covering court hearings when the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence was being cross examined. An inquiry was ordered for singing the National Anthem in Tamil at a school in Colombo.
Freedom of Assembly and Association was also under attack. The National Peace Council (NPC) reported that 4 inter-religious reconciliation events were subjected to surveillance. Two events of the NPC in Southern and Central Provinces were subjected to monitoring by Police and two events in the East by the Military. Trade Union meetings and actions also faced obstacles. Senior government officials said NGOs pose a threat to security and that new laws will be brought into monitor and control foundations and non-profit organizations.
Student activists were arrested and suspended in two universities. When student activists protested against the arrest and detention of two Tamil university students under anti-terror laws (one was arrested after he had been injured during an assault by a mob), the Minister for Higher Education accused the main Student Union of inciting racial disharmony. Opposition political parties faced continuous and systematic intimidation and attacks in the lead up to the Uva Provincial Council elections.
In a number of incidents, Police, Military, and government politicians appeared to be directly responsible in repressing dissent. When dissent was being crushed by non-state parties, the Police appeared to side with the perpetrators, rather than enforce the law.
Photo – Grounviews.org