PUBLICATIONSRepression of Dissent

Repression of Dissent: January 2022

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Summary

Sri Lanka’s economic crisis caused by foreign exchange crisis and indebtedness was gradually worsening with huge inflation, frequent power cuts, fuel shortage and other issues. Sri Lanka fell further below in the Corruption Index from the rank 94 to 102. Like many other cases in the recent past, another corruption case against a Minister was withdrawn after the Commission on Corruption and Bribery withdrew the case. Former Prisons Commissioner Emil Lamahewa was sentenced to death, while the other suspects were acquitted in connection with the 2012 Welikada Prison massacre. Despite the pending verdict, the first suspect Inspector of Police (IP) Neomal Rangajeewa was promoted, indicating possible political interference in the case.

Media rights groups and family members of victims of assassinated and abducted journalists commemorated the Black January campaign demanding justice for killed media workers and other crimes against journalists. Scheduled hearing of the murder of Editor Lasantha Wickramatunge in the People’s Tribunal in the Hague was postponed to May 2022, due to prevailing Covid19 restrictions in the Netherlands. Shani Abeysekera, the former CID Director who directed investigations on key human rights cases including the crimes against journalists faces a legal case for allegedly fabricating false evidence. He filed a writ petition against the Presidential Commission on Political Victimisation for violating a court order. The long detained poet Ahnaf Jazeem who was released after 18 months of detention filed a case against the remand officer for detaining him for another day, despite him having completed the bail conditions.

A social media activist and actor was summoned and questioned for publishing social media content that has been allegedly contemptuous of the government. Police media spokesperson said insulting the President is a punishable offence. A journalist was harassed for taking a photograph of the Court’s name board. Another journalist was obstructed when she was reporting on the weekly fair run by the Municipal Council and she had been asked to obtain prior approval to take photographs of the venue. Journalists were not allowed to be in the court premises when the former defence secretary appeared before the court in relation to Easter Sunday bomb attack. A youtube channel and Youtube company were issued with an order to remove content based on a complaint made by an educational institute.

Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), a leftist political party and its members were subjected to multiple harassment including surveillance, intimidations, egg attacks on its leader, and supporters at two instances. The Police obstructed an event to remember those who were killed by the Sri Lankan military in a massacre that occurred in 1987. The Minister of Justice stated that some labour strikes should be banned and constitutional amendments should be brought to do so.

Local government elections were postponed for another year. The Parliament Secretariat appealed to the Court of Appeal against an order issued by the Right to Information Commission allowing a request made by a journalist on information relating to asset declarations of the members of parliament. The Personal Data Protection bill was tabled in the parliament that restricts RTI and restricts journalists’ access to information. The government gazetted some amendments to the draconian law Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). However the changes were minimalistic, and inadequate and do not address the key issues lying with the PTA, human rights groups said.

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