Repression of Dissent in Sri Lanka: March 2022


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Executive Summary

Sri Lanka’s economic crisis further worsened, with further fall in foreign reserves, and huge inflation. As hospitals ran out of essential drugs, some surgeries were discontinued. End of March also marked the protests in front of the President’s private residence demanding his resignation. There were long queues for fuel and domestic gas due to shortage in supply, where the military were deployed to control crowds. Former finance Minister Karunayake and 11 accused were released from a high profile corruption case relating to the alleged criminal breach of trust with regards to issuance of bonds valued Rs. 36.98 billion during the Central Bank’s 2016 bond auction. 

People stand in a long queue to buy kerosene oil at a fuel station in Colombo. Photo Courtesy: Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters

Case updates: Batticaloa based photojournalist Murugupillai Kokilan Thasan, locally known as the Gokulan was released on bail after 470 days of detention under draconian anti-terror law Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). He was arrested for allegedly posting some photos of LTTE, as he posted some photos of Tamil community members who held a remembrance event to remember their loved ones during the war.  Medical Doctor Shafi Shihabdeen who was a victim of islamophobia and arrested for allegedly conducting involuntary infertility surgeries was released from his case and reinstated in his position in December 2021. However, he had to file a case at the court of appeal to receive his pay arrears. The Court of Appeal ordered the Attorney General to take steps to ensure that his pay arrears have been paid. MP Premalal Jayasekara and two other suspects who were convicted for shooting at Opposition party members killing a person were acquitted from the case, at the appeal case. In January 2015, a group allegedly led by them shot at around 200 Opposition Party members who were setting up a stage for an upcoming election rally. While one person was dead, others sustained injuries as a result. 

Repression of Media and Journalists: The news editor of a national newspaper received death threats over phone for reporting on alleged illegal assets held by senior Police officers. A freelance journalist working at Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation owned by the government was sacked from her job allegedly due to the facebook posts she had published criticising the government. A journalist was threatened by a politician and a brother of a media owner demanding not to release footage of an illegal business.  A journalist was assaulted while reporting a road accident. The President restricted comments in his facebook page. An Opposition party youth wing leader was stopped from doing a facebook live broadcasting by Police during a tense situation that occurred at a domestic gas distribution queue.  

Repression of Freedom of Assembly: Opposition political party JVP alleged that Avant Garde, a controversial security company that has been linked to the ruling government politicians, was involved in allegedly hiring thugs to interrupt a public rally organized by the JVP and their Coalition party NPP. Police obstructed a protest organized by the families of disappeared against a visit by the Prime Minister to Jaffna. Two local councillors who joined the same protest were later summoned by the Police and they were questioned on their involvement with the protest. Police also threatened the organizers and attendees of the International Women’s day protest in Jaffna. Police fired teargas and imposed curfew when a protest was held in front of the President’s private residence in the Colombo suburbs. 

Other: The controversial monk Gnanasara currently holding the position of a chairperson of Presidential Task Force speaking at a press conference, proposed that the President should act like Hitler and should ban the protests and trade union actions. 

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