Repression of Dissent in Sri Lanka: February 2022


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Executive Summary

Frequent power cuts, shortage in fuel and gas caused by Sri Lanka’s economic crisis became further worse in the month of February. With high foreign debt, low foreign reserves and the long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and financial mismanagement of the authorities led to Sri Lanka’s financial crisis. Several high profile politicians including government Ministers were acquitted from corruption cases.  The 49th UNHCR Session of the Human Rights Council began on 28th February. A report issued by the OHCHR in February expressed deep concern over a number of violations in the country. While the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) amendment was recognized as an important step, the report also pointed out that the changes are inadequate as the most problematic provisions of the Act have been left intact.

Arrested journalist Keerthi Rathnayake was released on bail. He was arrested in August 2021. Hearing of the case of a disappeared journalist in 2010 was postponed  until April 2022. Human Rights lawyer Hejaaz Hisbullah was granted bail after 20 months of detention under PTA. The suspects who were handed over for attacking the JVP leader with eggs were reported to be missing in Police custody. Media rights activist and senior journalist made a complaint for the second time about the threats he has been facing, as the Police had conducted no investigation since his complaint in December 2021.

Repression of Media and Journalists: Punniyamurthi Sasikaran, a journalist based in Batticaloa was issued a court order banning him from reporting a protest on independence day that he was not even aware of. Batticaloa based journalist and media rights activist Selvakumar Nilanthan was interrogated by the CID of Sri Lanka Police. Journalist Chamuditha Samarawickrma’s residence was subjected to a stone and excrement attack. Tamil journalist Lakshaman Devapatheeran working for IBC Tamil website was assaulted by political supporters led by a State Minister.

Repression of  Freedom of Assembly: Minister Tissa Kuttiarachchi made a controversial statement claiming that people should assault the trade union activists.  Police raided an NGO in Kilinochchi named District  office Fisheries Solidarity (DIFSO), when they were planning a protest. The President declared Electricity and Health services as essential services. Declaration as essential services has been historically used as a measure to prevent and restrict trade union actions. Court issued two enjoining orders against the nursing trade union and its President just before a trade union action that they were planning. An activist TID of Sri Lanka Police to get details of the participants who attended a remembrance event held on 18th May last year. A quarry company employees organised a counter protest against a protest organized by villagers on environmental destruction caused by the granite cutting in the area. Police dispersed a protest conducted by the Ceylon Workers’ Red Flag Union in Kandy.

Repression of Civil Society: Shehan Malaka Gamage activist who raised his vioce for justice to Easter Sunday Bomb attack was arrested by CID of Police. The president of Right to life of Organisation (Tamil Thesiya Valvurimailyakkam) V S Sivakaran residing in Mannar, was summoned to TID head office in Colombo and interrogated for 5 hours. Activist Manorama Weearsinghe was also summoned by the CID, without mentioning why he was summoned. Unidentified persons have searched personal details of secretary of Committee to Protect Rights of Prisoners (CPRP) Sudesh Nandimal. Police offices from TID have visited several non governmental organizations and requested them to provide details of the staff and funders.

Other incidents: Military officers in civil clothes visited the residence of poet Ahnaf Jazeem who had been previously arrested under Prevention of Terrorism (PTA) and currently granted bail. Land commissioner Keerthi Gamage stated that a powerful politician in Hambantota district has been attempting to sack him from his position. The Prime MInister and ruling government ministers have discussed the importance in taking actions against company chairpersons at government owned Litro Gas company and the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL) for criticising the government at media interviews and press briefings. Gazettes calling on the armed forces to maintain public order were reissued in February, providing the military with additional powers to intervene in civilian affairs.The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) has summoned Kumara Joseph, a civilian over a facebook comment made on a facebook post by Rev. Fr. Cyrill Gamini. Despite the comment not including any hateful ideas, he was questioned over 5 hours.a group of unidentified persons who identified themselves as state intelligence had attempted to abduct Nishanthan, the Youth Wing Assistant Secretary of  the political party – Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (ITAK), using a white van Matale District MP, the Minister of Ports and Shipping Pramitha Bandara Tennakoon stated that the Trade Unions and other opposite political parties are sort of epidemic in Sri Lanka.The Minister of public Security Sarath Weerasekara’s Son Sachithra Adheesha Weerasekara has posted a facebook post referring to the stone and excrement attack on the veteran journalist Chamuditha Samarawickrama’s residence. Sri Lanka Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement claiming that the testimony given by the former Human Rights Commissioner and current Chairperson of the Neelan Tiruchelvam Trust Ambika Satkunanathan at the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights on 27 January, 2022 was misleading one.

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