Repression of Dissent in Sri Lanka, January 2024


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Executive Summary

Context: “Black January” commemorations were held in Jaffna and Colombo urging President Wickremesinghe to bring justice to previous crimes committed against journalists. This year’s theme, particularly focussed on the adverse effects of the Online Safety Bill, while also shedding light on the enforced disappearance of Journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda and the assassination of journalist Lasantha Wickrematunga.

UN experts voiced concern over Sri Lanka’s highly controversial drug response enabled by police. They demanded that the government immediately halt and reassess “Yukthiya Meheyuma” (Operation Justice).

Former Minister of State for Water Supply Sanath Nishantha passed away in a traffic accident and this untimely death caused a social media frenzy where a wave of humorous and ridiculing social media content surfaced alluding to Nishanth’s past questionable conduct and so on. In this context, some of the political colleagues of Nishantha of the same political party tried to frame this social media trend as hate speech and even went to great lengths to justify the newly enacted Online Safety Bill citing this particular social media phenomenon.

Confidence in Democratic Governance Index report of Centre for Policy Alternatives reveals that a majority of Sri Lankans expressed that they are ignorant about proposed legislation; Anti-Terrorism Act and Online Safety Bill.

In a letter to the Minister of Public Security Tiran Alles, the Asia Internet Coalition has stated its major concerns over the recently enacted Online Safety Bill, along with its recommendations.

Journalists, civil society and trade unions together with a number of other stakeholders issued a joint statement to oppose the Online Security Bill. 

In a letter to the President, the Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission shared its thoughts and suggestions regarding the “Commission for Truth, Unity, and Reconciliation in Sri Lanka” bill.

Case updates: Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) filed a petition with the Supreme Court on January 22, contesting the “Microfinance and Credit Regulatory Authority Bill”, arguing that it does not adequately provide a workable plan to allow for the regulation.

The Supreme Court rendered a unanimous decision, for the first time in the history, invalidating former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s decision to pardon former MP Duminda Silva.

SJB Deputy General Secretary Mujibur Rahman petitioned the Supreme Court on behalf of fundamental rights, seeking an injunction against President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s appointment of Deshabandu Tennekoon as Inspector General of Police.

The case regarding the MiG deal was called before the court through a motion and it was revealed that the agreement between the Government of Sri Lanka and Ukraine supposedly signed during the MiG deal has gone missing.

Fort Magistrate Thilina Gamage has ordered the reopening of the investigation in the case against Namal Rajapaksa MP since there was an irregularity of 70 million rupees in the construction of a building belonging to Krish Group in Fort Colombo.

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Repression of Media and Journalists: Journalists Punniyamoorthy Sasikaran and Valasingham Krishnakumar were summoned before the Eravur Magistrate Court for further questioning, over their coverage of a protest held in Batticaloa in October.

Repression of Freedom of Assembly: As per a request made by the Welikada police station Officer-in-Charge, the Colombo magistrate court issued an order restraining a protest organised by the national organiser of the Socialist Youth Association, Eranga Gunasekara and a group of other protestors.

A silent protest held at the Liberty roundabout against the enactment of the Online Safety Bill was disrupted by allegedly pro-government goons.

The police arrested the president of the Vavuniya Association of Relatives of the Enforced Disappeared (ARED) Sivananthan Jenita and Meera Jasmine Charlestine in Vavuniya when they protested during President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s visit.

The Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) suspended 15 of its secretarial employees for taking part in labour union activities.

A group of masked men disrupts a silent protest held at the Liberty roundabout. Photo courtesy: News First

Repression of Activists and Whistle-blowers: Police said that Piyath Nikeshala, a well-known social media activist, has been taken into custody by the Criminal Investigation Department.

It was reported that human rights advocate for the rights of the Malayaga Tamil community Jeewaratnam Suresh has received a threatening phone call from an unidentified number warning him to stop his advocacy or face dire consequences.

Civil society leader Kurusumuthu V. Lavakumar was interrogation by Sri Lanka’s Terrorism Investigation Department (TID) for five hours for participating in a Tamil Genocide Day memorial in 2021.

Repressive Policy and Legal Actions: Despite the opposition’s harsh criticism and concerns raised by civil society and the international community, the controversial Online Safety Bill was passed in parliament with majority votes.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe issued an order directing all members of the Armed Forces to maintain public order in the specified areas. Getting the Armed Forces involved in civilian affairs is deemed to be a strategy to repress dissenting voices.

Other: A truck driver lost his life when a police officer in civvies “accidentally” discharged his firearm during a vehicle inspection. Roshan Kumarathilake, age 41, was identified as the individual in question and he was a carpenter by profession.

Click here to download the full report.


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