Repression of Dissent in Sri Lanka, February 2024


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Executive Summary

The month of February witnessed a few high-profile cases that managed to stand out from the rest and those cases provide a clear snapshot of the current human rights status of Sri Lanka. However, these high-profile cases should not overshadow the ongoing human rights compromises that take place at the ground level and they are equally worthy of the attention of the global human rights community.

Context: It made headlines when the Online Safety Bill was passed with revisions and Speaker Hon. Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena signed to enact the controversial bill.

Deshbandu Tennakoon was appointed as the 36th Inspector General of Police in Sri Lanka. He was earlier appointed as Acting IGP and the duration of that interim designation came to an end on the 28th of February.

In a letter to the Hon. Speaker of Parliament Mahinda the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka wrote that the Supreme Court is specifically entrusted with the authority to assess any bill in terms of its consistency with the Constitution, including the Fundamental Rights Chapter of the Constitution.

The Commissioner General of Elections Saman Sri Ratnayake declared the date to conduct the Presidential Election will be decided between September 18 and October 18.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe recently found himself in hot water for this controversial appointment of Ratwatte, as there have been severe accusations levelled against him for his problematic conduct over the years.

Families of the Tamil individuals who disappeared in Kilinochchi commemorated seven years of continuous roadside demonstrations to demand information about the whereabouts of their loved ones who forcibly disappeared.

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Case Updates: Vavuniya High Court judge ruled the Sri Lanka Army and several other former officials must be accountable for the disappearance of a Tamil youth upon arriving at the Omanthai checkpoint. At the time, the Sri Lankan Army was commanded by a former Presidential candidate who later became an opposition MP, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, while Major General W.U.B. Edirisinghe served as the Vanni Commander.

The Supreme Court of Sri Lanka has ruled that the Fundamental Rights (FR) Petition, which Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP M. A. Sumanthiran filed in opposition to the Speaker’s signing of the Online Safety Bill into law, be dismissed.

Challenging the FR petition filed by Archbishop Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith requesting an order to prevent the appointment of Acting IGP Deshabandu Tennakoon to the post of Inspector General Police, seven Buddhist monks submitted a motion to the Supreme Court.

The Cabinet of Ministers approved bringing reforms to the recently passed controversial Online Safety Act. According to the Cabinet Spokesman Minister Bandula Guanwardena, proposals have been received from relevant experts in the field regarding the Online Safety Act.

A petition under the Fundamental Rights Act has been filed in the Supreme Court, requesting an order instructing the Constitutional Council to approve the President’s suggestion to name Nissanka Bandula Karunaratne, the current President of the Court of Appeal, as a justice of the Supreme Court.

Cabinet Minister of Environment Keheliya Rambukwella was arrested over his alleged complicity in the procurement of substandard medicine.

Galagodaatte Gnanasara Thero on February 15, at Colombo High Court expressed his regret and apologised to the Muslim community for any inconvenience caused by the statement he made regarding the Kuragala temple in a public press conference.

Repression of Media and Journalists: A group of journalists staged a protest in front of the district secretariat after they were denied access to cover the Batticaloa District Coordination Committee meeting.

When attempted to cover a group of civilians visiting a temple situated within the ‘High-Security Zone’ in Palali Vasavilan, Jaffna, three Tamil journalists – Prabhakaran Dilaksan, Sundarampillai Rajeskaran, and Chinnaiya Yogeswaran – were threatened by the Sri Lankan army.

Repression of Freedom of Assembly: Claiming Independence Day a black day, a protest was held by Jaffna University students and northern political leaders at Kilinochchi Manamadu on Independence Day, which was dispersed by the police using tear gas and water cannons.

Seven of the twenty-one temples in the high-security zone in Jaffna have been given restricted access by the Sri Lankan army; where visitors were required to use army vehicles and provide their residential addresses to enter the temples.

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Repression of Activists and Whistle-Blowers: Environmental activist and President of the Organisation to Protect Sapugaskanda, H.M.R.W. Herath was brutally assaulted by three individuals in Wadakada, Polgahawela.

Repression of State Officials: The 51-year-old Public Health Inspector, Roshan Kumara Withanage, was shot dead at his residence in Elpitiya.

Repressive Legal and Policy Action: On 03rd February, the President issued a gazette notification declaring all services connected to the supply of electricity and petroleum as essential services.

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