Repression of Dissent in Sri Lanka July 2022


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Executive Summary

Context: Continuing trend of higher inflation was reported the same as the previous months, contributing to hunger, lack of nutrition and other issues. Food inflation increased to 90%, while non-food inflation reported as 46%, along with 85% of households reporting loss of income due to the economic crisis. On 9th July, the protestors stormed into several major government buildings including the Presidential secretariat, official residence of the President and the Prime Minister and started occupying them demanding the resignation of the ruling government. President Gotabaya Rajapakse resigned from his position after fleeing to Singapore. Then Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe, a close ally of the Rajapakse family, became the incumbent President. Under his regime, a wave of arrests, intimidation, and attacks were launched cracking down the anti-government protesters, and dissent.

Demonstrators protest inside the Presidential Secretariat premises, after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled. July 9, 2022. Photo Courtesy: REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte

Updates on Court cases: Police informed the court that extracts relating to the investigations on senior Police officer Tennakoon’s failure to issue due orders to prevent attack on protesters, were submitted to the Attorney General Department. Two fundamental Rights petitions were filed by Transparency International Sri Lanka and a few individuals against 13 respondents including high profile politicians and top state officials, for their alleged responsibility for the economic crisis. After the President Rajapakse fled the country, after petitioners sought an order to prevent others from fleeing the country, the Supreme Court ordered foreign travel ban on former Finance Ministers Mahinda Rajapaksa and Basil Rajapaksa, former Central Bank Governors Ajith Nivard Cabral and Professor W. D. Lakshman and other senior financial officials.

Repression of Media and Journalists: On 22nd July early morning, the military raided and took over the Presidential secretariat, and surrounding area. At least five Journalists covering the military raid were assaulted, some were detained and tortured, their phones were confiscated and videos were deleted by military. Persons in civilian clothes, claiming to be policemen, had visited the office of Xposure News, demanded the security guard to identify persons in photos and to see CCTV footage and monitored the entrance for around one hour.Eight journalists from Sirasa TV NewsFirst were allegedly attacked by the Sri Lanka Police Special Task Force while they were live broadcasting a tense situation that occurred in the Prime Minister’s private residence on 09th July 2022. Another journalist Pradeep Sanjeewa Wickramasinghe reporting for Derana TV has experienced breathing difficulties and was hospitalised after facing dozens of tear gas attacks while covering protests.

Repression of Freedom of Assembly: On 21st July, the protestors publicly announced that they are ready to hand over the Presidential Secretariat premises to the authorities. While everything was ready to hand over the building, the sleeping protestors occupying the Presidential Secretariat, and those who were in the huts set up on the road sides were brutally assaulted with batons by the military in the early morning of 22nd July 2022, without any prior warning. More than 50 people were injured and at least 9 others including a lawyer and a few journalists were arrested. Colombo Fort magistrate issued an order preventing protestors from gathering around 50 metres radius from the SWRD Bandaranike statue located inside the occupying protest site. On 7th July 2022, the Fort police obtained a court order against a protest demonstration by a group of religious leaders demanding the resignation of the President. Former Parliamentarian Hirunika Premachandra and 11 others were arrested by the Police for staging a protest opposite the president’s house in Colombo on 06th July 2022. On 31st July 2022 a student activist and an undergraduate student of the University of Kelaniya, Management Faculty was abducted by unidentified people. He was left out at a roadside, after being interrogated about well known student leaders. Cinnamon Gardens Police in Colombo went to the court seeking a restraining order against a protest organized by student activists, which the court rejected. On 8th July, with effect from 9pm in the night, Police imposed curfew in multiple areas of Colombo District. Sri Lanka Bar Association stated in a letter and said that the Inspector General has no power to impose such a curfew on oppression of the fundamental rights of the people. On 25th July, a travel ban was issued against six prominent activists who have been involved in the Galle Face protest site. On 28th July, another travel ban was issued against 21 protesters who were involved with the Galle Face protest site. Pathum Kerner, a social media activist who claimed to have introduced #GotaGoHome hashtag was arrested on 28htJuly 2022 for allegedly gathering protesters for a protest that happened in front of the Parliament. On 27th July 2022 a special police team raided a church in Ratnapura searching for Fr. Amila Jeevantha Peiris, who was a prominent figure in the anti-government protest site in Colombo. Colombo Magistrate court issued arrest warrants against two prominent anti-government protest leaders Lahiru Weerasekara and Tempitiye Sugathananda Thero who were at the forefront of GotaGoGama protests. Protesters who were attempting to march towards the Galle Face through the lotus road were blocked by the Sri Lanka Navy and video footage showed that the navy soldiers were attempting to attack the protesters with batons on the evening of 22nd July 2022. On 28th July, another Galle Face protester named Ismat Maulavi got arrested. Thugs have attacked and destroyed the anti-government protest site located in the Embilipitiya on 21st July 2022. The police arrested four people who counted and handed over the money to the authorities that was found in the presidential residence after protesters stormed into the Presidential residence on 9th July 2022. Police arrested Udeni Kalutanthri, former port union vice president of Samaghi Sevaka Sangamaya on 29th July for allegedly stealing the president’s flag on 09ht July 2022. Sahan Ranjaka Weerawardana, a young social media activist was allegedly detained and assaulted by Sri Lankan Air Force troopers, during the military raid on 22nd July. Journalist and student activist of the Inter-University Student Federation Veranga Pushpika was abducted by the police while he was returning on a bus after taking part in a demonstration held in Colombo. Police carried out searches at the office of the Frontline Socialist Party on 29th July. A teacher named A. M. Kumara Addarege in Badulla district was suspended from duty over a facebook post he had published supporting people’s protests against the government.

IUSF protestors being attacked by water cannons by the Police. Photo Courtesy: REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte.

Legal and Policy actions : In early July, a gazette notification was issued declaring several services as essential services. Such declarations are a well known tactic to prevent trade union actions. The proclamation of the state of emergency, announced by the President on 17th July and it was passed in Parliament with a majority of votes on 27th July 2022. Curfew was imposed in the commercial capital of Colombo for several days. President issued a gazette calling out for armed forces for the maintenance of public order from 22nd July 2022.

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