PUBLICATIONSRepression of Dissent

Repression of Dissent in Sri Lanka: Oct-Dec 2021.

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Repression of Dissent in Sri Lanka, October – December 2021

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1. Methodology

This report provides some general trends and details of some significant incidents related to the repression of dissent in Sri Lanka in the months of October to December 2021. It is based on 73 incidents related to repression of dissent in Sri Lanka. Section 1 describes the methodology. Section 2 describes the socio-political context and some trends relating to the human rights situation in Sri Lanka during the month. Section 3 provides updates about ongoing legal cases related to dissent. Section 4 provides a thematic summaries of the incidents described in the report. This month’s report is organized under 5 themes: (4.1) Repression of journalists, Mass Media and Social Media, (4.2) Repression of Freedom of Assembly (4.4) Repression of other State officials and (4.5) Repression of dissent through legal and policy actions and (4.6) other incidents. Section 5 includes the list of incidents presented in a table, with a brief description about each incident. This report was prepared mainly based on the information reported in mainstream and social media. Incidents of repression mentioned in this report include arrests, threats, intimidation, investigations against human rights defenders (HRDs) etc. and potential threats such as new repressive laws, appointments, policy decisions etc., which may have a negative impact on freedom of expression, assembly, association and dissent in the future.

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2. Context

Economic crisis and other socio-economic issues:  Inflation rates and food prices rapidly increased in this quarter due to the existing economic crisis and deficit of foreign reserves, creating many socio-economic problems. The food inflation rate increased up to 12.8% in October, 17.5% in November, and 22.1% in December[1]. The food inflation rate was only 3% in January 2021.[2] According to Sri Lanka Central Bank officials, it has printed 1.4 trillion Sri Lankan rupees in the year of 2021.[3]   In December, Fitch Ratings downgraded Sri Lanka’s sovereign rating to ‘CC’ from ‘CCC’, citing a growing risk of debt default in 2022, despite repeated assurances from the central bank that steps will be taken to meet all repayments.[4]

 In October, domestic gas prices were raised from more than 80% of their previous prices[5]. In the meantime, more than 800 incidents of cooking explosions and one death were reported around the country from October to December. Experts stated that these explosions were caused by high pressure in the cylinders due to changes in chemical composition of the domestic gas, for which gas companies should be held accountable. However, a committee appointed by the President claimed that gas explosions were not caused by the changes of the gas composition, but by the poor quality accessories used with gas cookers.[6]

Police obstructed the people attending the SJB protest. Photo Courtesy: Ceylon Today

In this context, the main Opposition party Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) organized a massive protest in Colombo on 16th November under the slogan “Protest against the curse of the Government.”[7] Government attempted to prevent the rally from happening using various strategies. Several trade unions also organized a protest and a strike against a controversial liquid natural gas (LNG) deal with US-based New Fortress Energy which allegedly circumvented standard tender procedure.[8] In the North and East several events organized to celebrate the great heroes’ day (maaveerar naal) were met with various strategies of repression. Teachers, health workers, other government workers, farmers and political parties held a number of protests. Incidents where these events were repressed are detailed in the summary of incidents section. Meanwhile Prime Minister Rajapakse traveling to an indian temple using a private jet at an alleged cost of USD 32 Million came to public criticism, to which the government responded that it was a sponsorship made by an (undisclosed) indian business person.[9]

Legal and policy changes: Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) was downgraded to B status by the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI), a United Nations Institute of National Human Rights Organisation, for HRCSL’s failure to meet requirements of independence and effectiveness indicated in the UN guiding principles for National Human Rights Commissions (NHRCs) known as “Paris Principals.”[10] [11]

Government withdrew their decision to bring an obscene publication act that “prohibits any form of obscene publications, produced through information technology and other media.”[12] In a statement issued to the media, the Ministry of Justice stated that their intention was to strengthen protection to children and women who are facing violence, but not restrict freedom of expression. The statement stated that they will bring the new laws after holding consultations with the relevant stakeholders.[13]  The Ministry of Defence introduced a new and controversial requirement for Sri Lankans to obtain defence ministry approval before getting married to a foreign national.[14] [15]

In October, General Secretary of Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) controversial monk Galabodaththe Gnanasara was appointed as the chairperson of “Presidential Task Force for One Country, One Law” by the President. On 1st November, he stated that proposals made by  Bodu Bala Sena – the ultra-nationalist group that allegedly instigated violence against minority Muslims during multiple riots would be included in a draft Act to be prepared by the committee.[16]

Pandora papers[17] revealed the information about hidden wealth of former minister and a member of ruling Rajapakse family Nirupama Rajapakse and her husband Nadesan.[18]  Singapore based Asiaciti Trust has managed some of Nadesan’s offshore companies and trusts, with assets valued at about $18 million, according to an ICIJ analysis, while confidential emails said that their wealth exceeds more than $160 million, as of 2011. In October, President Rajapaksha ordered the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) to launch an immediate investigation into the Sri Lankans and the related transactions revealed in the Pandora Papers.[19] In November, the CIABOC officials met with the President and briefed the progress of investigations. A confidential interim report has been reportedly submitted to the President.[20] Also a statement from Nirupama Rajapaksha has not been recorded in the preparation of this interim report.[21] President Rajapaksha’s involvement in an investigation concerning a family member, and not releasing findings of the interim report to the public brings many doubts about the independence of the inquiry conducted.

Acquittal of suspects:

In December, former minister Ravi Karunanayake, former Central Bank Governor Arjun Mahendran and Perpetual Treasury owner Arjun Aloysius were released of 11 of the 22 charges against them in connection with the controversial bond scam case.[22] [23]

In December, the Colombo High Court ordered acquittal and release of interdicted Magistrate Thilina Gamage, the fourth accused in the case filed against him and another three accused for the alleged possession of an elephant calf named ‘Sakura’ without a license.[24] Around 2015-2016, a number of elephants who have been allegedly illegally captured and trafficked were arrested including an elephant belonging to the current President.  In this case, the high court judge held that the prosecution had failed to prove charges against the accused beyond reasonable doubt.

On 10th December, the controversial monk Galabodaaththe Gnanasara thero was released from a legal case for allegedly inciting hate speech against Muslims and disparaging the Holy Quran, after the Attorney General withdrew the charges.[25]  The withdrawal of the case happened immediately after Gnanasara thero was appointed as the chairperson of the controversial “One Law, One Country Presidential Task Force.”

Political Prisoners: In October and December, Tamil Guardian reported that two Tamil political prisoners, detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) for 12 years[26] and 15 years[27] were acquitted and released from Welikada and Negambo prisons.

LGBTIQ community: The Colombo Chief Magistrate has dismissed a case filed against three gay men for homosexuality. The dismissal of Case No. 34131/3/20, was based on a letter by the Attorney General (AG) informing the Police that the AG will not pursue the case.[28] In the same month, the Court of Appeal also granted leave to proceed regarding a fundamental rights petition filed by LGBTIQ rights activists and civil society activists[29]

Deaths in Custody: At least two suspicious deaths in custody were reported in this period. In one case, Sri Lanka Bar Association which received information about the impending extrajudicial killing, reported it to the Senior Police officers, National Human Rights Commission and others. However, the suspect was killed in a Police shooting as predicted earlier, in the pretext of “while being escorted to recover hidden weapons.”[30] Another suspect in Panamure area in Ratnapura district who was arrested regarding a family dispute was also found dead in custody. The residents in the area protested against the Police claiming the death was suspicious, while Police claimed it was a death by suicide.[31]

Other forms of Police brutality: Multiple incidents of Police brutality were reported in this period. In Eravur of the Eastern Province, two Tamil youth were brutally assaulted and arrested by Police for allegedly violating a traffic offence in October. After a video showing the assault circulated in social media the Police officer was arrested and released on bail along with two youth who were arrested.[32] In December, another similar assault was reported from Kegalle in Sabaragamuwa province after a video of the assault was again circulated in Social media.  Police Issued a statement saying that the Police officer had assaulted the person in an attempt to arrest him, and claimed that the person assaulted was a drug addict with an ongoing legal case, and a suspect of an assault case.  Police also noted that they have launched an investigation regarding the incident for the use of excessive force by the Police officer.[33]   In another incident, a driver was assaulted on the roadside by a senior Police officer in Kiriella area, in Ratnapura District in Sabaragamuwa Province. In this case too, a video of the assault has been shared on social media. The victim has been later taken to the Police station, sexually and physically tortured according to a letter submitted to the President by the lawyers representing the victim.[34]  

The video showing a police officer brutally assaulting two Tamil youth on the streets for an alleged traffic offence have gone viral in social media. Photo Courtesy: JDS Lanka.

 In a separate incident, MediaLK reported that a mob including the area officer-in-charge (OIC) of Kilinochchi Police attacked diners in a restaurant for not wearing facemasks, while people have asked how they could have food while wearing facemasks. According to a report on MediaLK, the Sri Lankan police have claimed that the raid was carried out due to diners not wearing face masks.[35] [36]

In mid-October, two prisoners in Angunakolapelessa Prison in Hambantota were allegedly beaten by the prison officers. Amila Kumarasinghe and Dulantha Rajapkahsa are the beaten prisoners and Rajapaksha was in critical condition.[37]

Persecution of ethnic and religious minorities

On 6th December, the secretary of the Health Ministry issued a letter instructing the Director of Kurunegala Hospital to reinstate Dr. Shafi Shihabdeen who was arrested in 2019 for allegedly conducting involuntary and illegal sterilization of 4000 women belonging to the Sinhala Buddhist majority.[38] [39] However, the Public service Commission later denied advising to reinstate or to pay salary arrears.[40] In June 2019, the Criminal Investigation Department of the Sri Lanka Police informed the court that there is no evidence to prove such a claim.[41] Arrest of Shafi Shihabdeen occurred in the pre-election period of the Presidential Election 2019. The Opposition leader and other politicians alleged that the government benefited from inciting islamaphobia using the arrest of Shihabdeen.[42] A fact finding mission in Batticaloa conducted by group of female activists concluded that Christian community in Batticalao has been marginalized in number ways including denial of permission to establish places of worship, preventing them from using the public cemetery, denying their children admission to national schools, interruption of prayer meetings, through the use of violence, and perpetration of violence against pastors etc.[43]

Medical doctor Shafi Shihabdeen arrested for allegations of illegal and involuntary sterilization of 4000 women in 2019. Photo courtesy: Hiru News

Media and journalists: Previous restriction on journalists reporting on Parliament that allowed only one journalist from a media institution was reportedly removed on 17th October.[44] Government stated their plans to introduce a code of ethics for journalists. However, media rights advocates demand for strengthening the current system of self-regulation of media without the government control. Government has also expressed their plans to amend and revive the Press Council Act that has been a repressive law for journalists and media workers historically.

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3. Case updates

In December, former Western Province Governor Azath Salley was acquitted and released after being arrested and detained since 16th March 2021, under the provisions of Prevention of Terrorism Act No 48 of 1979 (PTA) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Act No 56 of 2007 (ICCPR) Act. He was accused of making comments that harm ethnic and religious harmony in Sri Lanka in relation to a statement he made at a Press Briefing. The High Court Judge held that prosecution had failed to establish evidence mentioned in the indictment, and ordered him to be acquitted of all charges.[45] The Free Media Movement released a statement stating this incident was “an incident that highlights the attempt by the political forces to abuse the legal process.”[46]

On 15th December, detained poet Ahnaf Jazeem was granted bail by Puttalam High Court, after 578 days of detention by Terrorism Investigation Division (TID) under PTA provisions.[47]   He was arrested on 16th May 2020. For almost one year, even his family and lawyer were not allowed to reach him. On 6th November, the case against Ahnaf Jazeem at the magistrate court concluded in the absence of the defense counsel according to Ahanf’s lawyer Sanjaya Wilson Jayasekera.[48] Ahnaf was initially detained under the PTA by the TID for sharing his poetry with the children at the school he taught at that allegedly encouraged extremism- a claim that was denied by literary experts who analyzed his work. TID of Sri Lanka Police has alleged him of promoting Islamic extremism and violence among the children. [49]

Poet Ahnaf Jazeem with his family after being bailed out. Photo Courtesy: WSWS.org

Detained lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah was not granted bail until the end of the year.  On 9th December, President’s counsel Romesh de Silva requested the Appeals Court to issue an order granting Hejaaz bail. The Attorney General was directed to file the relevant objections before Jan 13, 2022. Legal counsel for detained lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah made an application for bail for their client at the Puttalam High Court (HC) on 8 October.[50] Since High Court judge rejected bail request, as the Prevention of Terrorism Act No. 48 of 1979 as amended (PTA) not permitting the grant of bail, they went to the court of appeal against the decision of High Court Judge.   The petition before the Court of Appeal has been fixed for hearing on Jan 18, 2022.[51] One of the persons arrested in connection of the same legal case- the Coordinator of Save the Pearls organization Mohamed Sulthan informed the Fort Magistrate’s Court that he was tortured in order to implicate Attorney-at-law Hejaaz Hizbullah.[52] [53]

Five student leaders including Wasantha Mudalige, the convener of Inter-University Student Federation (IUSF) were granted bail on 11th November.[54] They have been arrested and detained in custody for over 100 days after organizing a protest against the proposed Kotelawala Defence University Bill. They were accused of allegedly injuring (a finger of) the Maharagama Police OIC during the protest, damaging the road by burning a coffin and violating inter-provincial travel restrictions by transporting people to Colombo in vans.[55] 

Author, writer Shakthika Sathkumara’s Fundamental Rights case (SCFR 169/19) against former IGP, former OIC Polgahawela and AG was taken up for argument on 26th October, and then re-fixed for Argument on 22 March 2022.[56]

Journalist Keerthi Rathanayke. Photo courtesy: Lankaenews

On 27th November, detained Lanka-e-News journalist Keerthi Rathnayaka’s bail application was taken up at the court and postponed till 8th December 2021.[57] He has also submitted a Fundamental rights petition at the Supreme Court. In mid-December, Keerthi Ratnayake was further remanded till 15th January 2022 by Colombo Fort Magistrate’s Court. A number of local and international rights groups have condemned the arrest of the journalist.[58]

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4. Summary of incidents

4.1 Repression of journalists, Mass Media and Social Media

Legal and policy: The Media Minister told the media that the Cabinet has approved a proposal to appoint a committee to amend existing laws applicable to journalists and media organisations and to formulate a national media policy that will cover, among other things, media ethics. These laws include the controversial Press Council Law No. 5 of 1973 – a repressive law that has been used against journalists for decades, but currently not being implemented. The Presidential task force one country, one law chairman Ganasara thero requested a report on the criteria used in the preparation of radio programs and the recommendations used in selecting the resource persons for those programs, claiming that extremist thoughts are spread through the radio programmes. Gnanasara Thero having a track record for spreading anti-minority sentiments, INFORM believes seeking such information could be used to screen and restrict dissenting opinions and dissenters at radio programmes.

Physical attacks: Viswalingam Viswachandran freelance journalist was physically assaulted by military personnel for allegedly taking photographs of Mullivaikkal road sign board. The journalist suffered serious injuries. Number of local and international media organizations condemned the incident. In a different case, at least three journalists were assaulted by a group of people while reporting a ferry accident in Batticaloa. Thinakaran reporter Mohammad Yasim’s mobile phone was taken away from him by the assaulted group.

Injuries caused by the Military personnel to the Journalist Vishwalingam Viswachandra. Photo Courtesy: Tamil Guardian.

Verbal threats: Officer-in-Charge (OIC) of the Point Pedro Police Station has allegedly made death threats to the Uthayan newspaper Journalist Jayachandran Sulakshan, when he had visited the Police station to inform them about the misconduct of certain Police officers who have allegedly demanded bribery from some boutique shops. Saheer Ahmed, a Muslim journalist who works for a major television channel based in Ampara has also received death threats from a Police officer from the Akkaraipattu station who has demanded him to withdraw the complaints he had filed at the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka.

Arrests: Journalist Siyath Mendis working for New Citizen website was arrested following a complaint by Kotte Municipal Council officials for allegedly trespassing the cemetary land, while he was actually reporting on removal of monuments in the Nawala Cemetery.

Summons: Editor of Sunday Aruna newspaper, Mahinda Ileperuma was summoned to the CID to provide a statement regarding the lead news item published by the newspaper on 24th October. He was summoned based on a directive issued by the President’s Secretary P.B. Jayasundara to the Inspector General of Police (IGP), as the newspaper carried out an article saying that Jayasundara has influenced to make a 290 million payment through a personal bank account. In a separate incident, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of Police summoned three journalists who had reported on a proposal by the Dambulla Municipal Council to impose a tax on domestic pet dogs. Tamil Guardian reported that Terrorism Investigation Division of Sri Lanka Police has summoned Tamil journalist U.L.Mabruk, a BBC Tamil journalist, to appear before the TID office in Colombo on 8th November. Navarathnam Kapilanath, a Tamil journalist from Vavuniya has also been called by the Terrorism Prevention Division for an investigation on 26th October. Kapilanath has been summoned for an interrogation reportedly regarding an inquiry into a Vavuniya-based social welfare organisation that supports people in poverty.

Restriction of media: The journalists were not allowed to enter the Puttalam High court premises when the court case on the arrest and detention of prominent human rights lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah was being heard at the court, citing Covid19 as the reason. The media was not allowed to enter court premises of Chavakachcheri magistrate court in Jaffna when a top army official Major General Duminda Keppetiwalana was appearing as a suspect of a well-known case on disappearance of 24 youth in Navatkuli camp in the year 1996. The journalists were restricted from entering Baddegama local council meeting premises on an order made by the President of the local council citing Covid-19 situation. The Budget statement of the local council was presented on the day.

Online surveillance and regulation: Lasantha Ruhunage, prominent journalist and media rights activist reported that he had been continuously receiving missed calls from the phone number 077 3037462 in a suspicious manner. He claimed that he suspects that his movements are being monitored using his mobile phone signals. Tamil Guardian reported that Instagram has disabled the Tamil Guardian account, without any notification or prior warning. Referring to previous requests made by CID of Sri Lanka Police to take down Tamil Guardian Twitter account in the previous year, Tamil Guardian believes this disabling of social media account was based on a request made by Sri Lankan authorities. Meanwhile various fake news were published in social media accusing that Sri Lankan Muslim journalists have not reported on Sri Lankan who was killed in a blasphemy attack in Pakistan. These posts sought to incite ethnonationalist prejudice towards the Muslim journalists in Sri Lanka. Prominent journalist and former BBC reporter Azaam Ameen who has sometimes published news that are critical of government was targeted in this discrediting campaign, despite him having reported the incident and condemned it.

Other: The journalists and guests who attended an opening ceremony of the Mullaitivu Press Club office have been subjected to surveillance by military, Police and state officials. Daily Mirror journalist Nirmala Kannangara has received a letter of demand from Litro Gas company, asking for one billion rupees of compensation for publishing a news report regarding the gas explosions.

4.2 Repression of Freedom of Assembly

Court orders: In early October, a farmers’ protest in Medamulana in Hambantota was stopped on a Court order issued by the Walasmulla Magistrate court.  On 4th November, Mawanella Pradeshiya Sabha Deputy Chairman K.G. Piyatissa and a group of his supporters assaulted a group of teachers and parents who had been demonstrating support to the ongoing teachers’ labour strike and protest on wage anomalies. In December, another court order was issued banning the human rights day event on prisoners’ rights organized by the Human rights office of Kandy (HROK) under the alleged accusation of “causing disunity among ethnic groups”.

Police barriers on the Puttalam-Anuradhapura main road, Kala Oya Bridge while Police attempted to block and turn away the SJB political supporters who were travelling to join the mass rally in Colombo. Photo Courtesy: Sri Lanka Brief

On 16th November, Chief Opposition Party Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) organized a mass protest in Colombo against ongoing socio-economic problems in the country. In several areas of the country, the protestors attending the protest were blocked and turned away by the Police. On 11th November the Medical Officer of Health (MOH) in the area revoked the previously given permission to have the meeting on Hyde Park Ground, citing Covid19 as the reason. The Police have obtained multiple court orders against a protest rally scheduled to be staged by the chief opposition political party Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) on the following day. Court orders have been obtained against the protest from the Hulftsdorp Magistrate’s Court, Mahara Magistrate’s Court, Kaduwela Magistrate’s Court and the Homagama Magistrate’s Court, while the Maligakanda Magistrate’s Court, the Gangodawila Magistrate’s Court and the Colombo Chief Magistrate have refused to issue court orders banning the protest. Police claimed that the protest could not be held without the approval of the Director General of Health Services due to covid19 pandemic. Later, the Public Security Minister Sarath Weerasekara stated about their plans to take legal actions against the protestors who participated at the mass rally organized by Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB). He said that protestors who took part would be identified from the videos published in the media.

Interrogation of protest participants: In mid December, Kanagalingam Srimathan  Former Secetary to the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP Sivasakthi Anandan was interrogated by Terrorism Investigation Department (TID) about the protest held in Vavuniya in the previous week, organized by families of disappeared marking the international Human rights day.

Repression of memorialization:  A number of events were reported in relation to the repression of Maaveerar-Naal, the great heroes’ day in which Tamil rebels and others who died during the last phase are remembered. 

Armed and uniformed soldiers blocked Tamil people from entering the remains of a destroyed LTTE cemetery located in Chatty, in Jaffna.   Photo Courtesy: Tamil Guardian.

Disruption to religious events: On 19th November, Police requested Mannar magistrate court to impose a blanket ban on religious services from 20th November to 27th November, at the St Sebastian Cathedral as well as other temples and churches. Police justified the request claiming that LTTE cadres could be remembered at these events, while the court rejected the request for such a ban. On 26th November, Sri Lankan military disrupted religious services at the St Joseph Church in Koolamurippu, blocking entry to the shrine and telling worshippers and the priests to move the service to another day as it could not be held on the day since it was the day before Maaveerar Naal (Great heroes day) in which Tamil people remember the fallen Tamil rebels. The religious services were held with a one hour delay, after Police was contacted and clarified that there was no such a ban. Around 19th November, a Mahaveerar-Naal monument (a lamp) built to pay tribute to the lost Tamil rebels  was destroyed by an unknown group in Manthai-West Divisional secretariat area in Mannar.

Other Court orders: On 17th November, Mankulam magistrate court in Mullaitivu issued an order banning the commemoration of Maaveerar Naal. On 19th November, multiple Police stations in Mullaitivu requested the Mullaitivu magistrate’s court to impose a ban on the celebration of the Maaveerar Naal. Though the court initially imposed a ban, they later amended the judgment on 24th November allowing the events to happen, saying that remembering the dead is human nature. On 21st November, Batticaloa Magistrate Court issued an order banning seven individuals, including Tamil MPs from participating in any commemoration events to mark Maaveerar Naal from November 20th to the 27th November, following a request from Kokkdaichcholai police. Around 22nd November, the Chavakachcheri Magistrate Court, Mallakam Magistrate Court,Point Pedro Magistrate Court and Jaffna magistrate court in Jaffna dismissed applications filed by Sri Lankan police seeking bans on the Maaveerar Naal events within their respective jurisdictions. Police attempted to use both the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and current Covid-19 regulations to justify their request. On 18th November, a court in Vavuniya banned 8 Tamil civil society members from attending commemorations events for Maaveerar Naal, following a request from Sri Lankan security forces. The court order states the named individuals must stop any commemorative activities related to Maaveerar Naal between the 20th and 29th November and have been ordered to appear in the court on the 6th of December.

Police officers manhandled and arrested ITAK youth member Peter Illancheliyan. Photo Courtesy: Tamil Guardian

Arrests: In late November, Special Task Force (STF) troops allegedly arrested a Tamil youth in Mannar for posting a photo relating to Maaveerar Naal on his Facebook page. The post allegedly pays tribute to fallen Tamil rebels. On 26th November, Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (ITAK) Political party member Peter Ilancheliyan was arrested by the police while attempting to commemorate the Maaveerar Naal in Mullaitivu beach.

Photographing as intimidation: On 26th November, participants who took part in the protest in which ITAK member Peter Ilancheliyan was arrested were photographed. Photographing is a means of intimidation as such photographs have been used to identify and arrest persons who took part at protests and events. Around 25th November, the Sri Lankan military allegedly harassed and photographed Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF) members who had been preparing the Maaveerar Naal site in Point Pedro. The military have written down vehicle numbers and threatened TNPF members despite, Point Pedro Magistrate Court dismissing applications filed by police seeking a ban on Maaveerar Naal events. TNPF members also reported that as they returned to their respective vehicles, soldiers on motorcycles threatened to follow their cars.

Military Officers took photographs of TNPF members preparing the Maaveerar Naal site. Photo Courtesy: Tamil Guardian.

Other incidents relating to Maaveerar Naal: Mallakam District Court has summoned Valikamam East Pradeshiya Sabha chairman Thiyagaraja Nirosh and deputy chairman Kapilan over Maaveerar Naal commemorations. Sri Lankan military set up the checkpoints across the North-Eastern provinces in an attempt to intimidate and restrict those who organize events to remember fallen Tamil rebels during Maaverar Naal celebrations. Number of these new checkpoints increased a lot near Mullivaikkal where the last phase of Sri Lanka civil war occurred killing thousands of civilians.

4.3 Repression of State officials

Control of opinions expressed in Social media: Public servants have received a gag-order from the State Ministry of Home Affairs ordering them to refrain from criticising the Government and its policies through social media platforms.  They have been warned of disciplinary action if they violate the directive.

Termination from official positions: Around 23rd of October, the Ministry of Agriculture in a statement said that Professor Buddhi Marambe has been removed from all the posts he held in the Ministry of Agriculture for being critical of the organic fertilizer policy of the Government based on instructions from the Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage. On 24th December, Prof. Uditha K. Jayasinghe secretary, Ministry of Agriculture was also reported to have been sacked from his position after he made the controversial statement on imminent food shortage in Sri Lanka due to unplanned inorganic fertilizer import restrictions.

Interrogation: On 22nd November, Former Executive Director of the Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) Thushan Gunawardena was summoned and interrogated again at the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) regarding the massive garlic scam in the state owned enterprise, Lanka Sathosa. He was summoned in connection with a complaint lodged by the Trade Minister Bandula Gunawardna.

Prof. Buddhi Marambe was sacked from the positions he held at the Ministry of agriculture after criticizing the government’s organic fertilizer policy. Video: Sirasa Newsfirst. 26th Oct 2021

Attacks on Police officers during duty: On 3rd October, in Matara, an Additional Secretary of the Ministry of Defense allegedly obstructed a police officer on duty in the southern expressway Aparakka entrance. When the Police officer had asked for the license of the Additional Secretary, he had assaulted the police officer. Also the police officer has been transferred immediately after the incident, as a further reprisal for his action.  In Colombo, around 30th October, two Police sergeants were assaulted by a mob, when they attempted to control a clash between two parties.  Both officers have been hospitalized after the assault, while one Police Sergeant has been in critical condition. Around 7th November, Police officers who had been carrying out an alleged drug raid were assaulted at kahatagasdigiliya, Thurukkagama area in Anuradhapura.

Other incidents: On 17th November, Ampitiye Sumanarathana, a Buddhist monk who visited the Divisional Secretariat (DS) office in Manmunai South West, Paddipalai in Batticaloa, threatened the officers including the Divisional secretary. He had visited the DS office regarding a land dispute.

4.4 Repression of dissent through legal and policy actions

Gazettes calling on the armed forces to maintain public order were reissued in October, November and December. The gazettes provided the military with additional powers to intervene in civilian affairs. At the end of October, a long list of work was declared as essential services by the President. These include services related to Port Authority, supply and distribution of all fuels, public transport, work at District and Divisional Secretariats, state banking and insurance services, Waste management services, supply, storage and distribution activities of food, beverages, all offices under Provincial Councils, all work related to health services, and postal services. Declaring government services as essential services has been a known tactic to stop protests and trade union actions in the government sector in Sri Lanka.

On 27th October, the controversial monk Galagodatte Ganasara thero, the General Secretary of ultra-nationalist Buddhist organization Bodu Bala Sena was appointed as the chairperson of the Presidential Task force One Country, One Law – a committee appointed by the Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa. The Task Force plans to draft a new act titled “one country one law” and while also reviewing existing laws.  As gazetted, the task force works with a focus on fair administration of justice, its implementation and protection under the law, ensuring non-discrimination.  Apparently Task Force works with view of abolishing special laws concerning ethnic and religious minorities such as Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act. Taking his track record into consideration, his appointment seems as a conscious attempt to create laws and policies that are hostile Muslims and other minorities. As mentioned in the section on other incidents, one person who made a representation at the Task Force consultation held in Mullaitviu presenting a dissenting opinion was later interrogated by the Terrorism Investigation Division of the Police.

In 2018 Galagodaththe Gnasara Thero was sentenced 6 years in jail for the contempt of court, after threatening a HRD and a victim inside the court premises.  Photo Courtesy: Colombo Gazette.

After the meeting of the special committee for Covid19 president’s media division issued a press release on 10th November about increasing the number of the corona positive cases and revealed their plans to make vaccine cards mandatory to access into public places. In the absence of a central public database on vaccination, this could be misused to repress protests against the government. 

4.5 Other incidents

Legal actions taken against alleged false statements: In late October, the Director of the State Intelligence Service (SIS), Major General Suresh Sallay has filed a complaint with the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) alleging that leading Catholic priest, Reverend Father Cyril Gamini had made a false accusation against Sri Lanka’s Intelligence Units for allegedly providing financial and other forms of assistance to Zaharan Hashim, the suicide bomber of the Easter Sunday bomb attack. On 15th November, the CID recorded a statement from Rev. Fr. Cyril Gamini over some comments he made at an online event, following the complaint made by the Director of the State Intelligence Service (SIS), Major General Suresh Sallay. Reportedly, he was questioned for approximately 7 hours. On 2nd November, Sri Lanka Telecom- the government owned Telecommunication Company filed a legal case against Samgi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) Member of Parliament (MP) Manusha Nanyakkara regarding a statement he made regarding the deletion of database belonging to the National Medicines and Regulatory Authorities (NMRA) hosted by Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT). SLT affirmed that MP’s statement brought damage and irreparable loss to the company. Based on a complaint made by SLT, CID of Sri Lanka Police has initiated an investigation and recorded a statement from the MP.

Fr. Cyril Gamini at the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of Police. Photo Courtesy: The Island.

Justice and accountability: On 9th December, Former Admiral of the fleet Wasantha Karannagoda was appointed as the governor of the North Western Province. He was a suspect in the case of abduction and disappearance of 11 Tamil youths. On 13th October, the Attorney General informed Colombo of a permanent high court trial at the bar to withdraw the indictment against former Navy Admiral of Fleet Wasantha Karannagoda. On 1st December, Former President Maithreepala Sirisena filed a motion to dismiss the case of compensation to Easter attack victims’ families and injured people. The massacre occurred at the time of his presidency.

Repression of Politicians who express dissenting views: Opposition Parliament Minister Manusha Nanayakkara was assaulted by Minister of Public Security Sarath Weerasekara in the lobby of the parliament. This incident occurred after MP Nanayakkara had made a statement in the parliament accusing MP wijesekara of his involvement with a corruption case to remove two containers illegally from the port. A local politician in Maskeliya local council was assaulted by another politician for speaking about illegal constructions in the area.  In late October, Former Minister of Parliament Patali Champika Ranawaka said in the parliament that his mobile phone was tapped and his whatsapp phone conversations were also tapped during 2018 – 2019 by the CID of Sri Lanka Police. He got to know of these incidents after CID questioned him based on information in his Whatsapp conversations.  MP Ranawaka further pointed out that his mobile service providers gave information to the CID without a court order. Parliamentarian Minister Tissa Kuttiarachchi verbally abused leading opposition party Parliament Minister Rohini Kaviratna, and the wife of leader of the Opposition party with sexiest rhetoric during a parliament debate.

Repression of Civil Society and activists: The Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksha in his Budget proposal speech in the parliament has a made a statement labelling the social activists as foreign forces that are detrimental to the country. For a long time, respective governments, politicians and government media have made similar statements othering and inciting hostile attitude towards NGOs and civil society by labelling them as foreign agents that should not be trusted.

Head of student discipline of the Ruhuna University Mangala Chathura de Silva addressing a group of University students has said that state intelligence officers have been secretly employed as spies among the students and university community to gather information. This comment seemed to have made in order to discourage students from engaging in student activism.

Threatening victims and complainants: Pararajasingam Sujeevan, a student at the University of Jaffna and journalist, has been summoned by the Sri Lankan Terrorism Investigation Department (TID) for an interrogation to be held on 17th December. He has been summoned for making a complaint to the Human Rights Commission in Jaffna regarding a press briefing conducted by a Buddhist monk in June in which he accused a Tamil journalist of attempting to revive the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).  Former combatant who made a representation at the Presidential Task Force on One Country One Law when it held its consultation in Mullaitivu said that he has been summoned and interrogated at the Terrorism Investigation Division due to the statement he made at the consultation. He has spoken about the Public’s right to memorialize those who lost. In late October, in Negambo area in Gampaha district, a victim of a rape case was threatened with death by the perpetrator. He had visited her house with a machete and threatened her with death. 

Other incidents: Two brothers aged 19 years (about to sit for AL) & 21 years have been subjected to police inquiry as the phrase “maaveerar Karnan” referring to a character in the Mahabharata epic had been painted on the trishaw. Possibly the term has been mistaken for Maaveerar Naal (the great heroes day) in which fallen Tamil rebels are remembered. Arrested persons have been held in police custody for 24 hours. After HRCSL and the media intervened, they have been fined for a traffic offense and released. Police had reportedly said that military and intelligence had informed them phrase could incite racial tension and encourages terrorism.

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