Context: Hearing the petition against the proposed private member bill seeking to decriminalise homosexuality Supreme Court ruled the proposed bill is “not inconsistent with the Constitution ”, showing the green light to the proposed decriminalisation process. Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) filed a petition with the Supreme Court, challenging the Anti-Corruption Bill, highlighting several key concerns including its impact on whistleblowers, the right to information and the freedom of expression etc. The Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, Ali Sabry stated that Sri Lanka will apply for the GSP (Generalised Scheme of Preferences) + trade facility for the European Union market under the revised criterion for the period between 2024 and 2034. Three commissioners of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka complained to the constitutional council against its chairperson, Justice Rohini Marasinghe for allegedly acting in an arbitrary manner.
Case updates: the Mullaitivu Magistrate Court summoned the naval intelligence officer over threatening the Tamil Guardian Journalist Shammugan Thavaseelan in April 2019. The Colombo Fort magistrate’s court ordered to revoke the travel ban imposed on former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and three others in connection with the magisterial inquiry into the attack on Galleface protesters last year. A writ petition filed by several parties including the Ministers and government Parliamentarians against Police and military heads for their alleged failure to prevent violence following the attack on Galle Face protesters on May 9, 2022 was withdrawn by the petitioners following an undertaking given by the authorities to have a fresh inquiry. Dr. Shafi Shihabdeen who was previously unjustly suspended from his work, based on the allegations made by nationalist media for allegedly conducting illegal sterilisation surgeries without the consent, resumed his work at the same hospital. Colombo District Court has ordered the extension of an injunction order issued against the YouTuber and political vlogger Darshana Handungoda until May 24. The case against former Minister Mervyn Silva threatening journalists after forcibly entering state owned television channel premises in 2007, began its hearing 15 years after the incident.
Repression of Freedom of Expression: The Stand-up Comedian Natasha Edirisooriya was arrested by the Criminal Investigation Department and charged under ICCPR Act and other laws for allegedly insulting Buddhism. Bruno Divakara, the owner of the SL Vlog was arrested in relation to the same incident. Police spokesman SSP Nihal Thalduwage stated that attendees to the same comedy show will also be questioned and their statements will be recorded. The Criminal Investigation Department summoned the Youtuber Dharshana Hadungoda and recorded a statement regarding a video he had published regarding the compensation to the victims of X-press pearl ship maritime disaster.
Aragalaya Activist Morin Noor protesting alone seeking justice for assault she faced on 9th May 2022, while taking part at the Galleface Aragalaya protests. Photo Courtesy: Anuradha Bandara.
Repression of Freedom of Assembly : A restraining order was issued by the Colombo Fort magistrate Court against an event organised to remember the first year anniversary of the 9th May 2022 attack against peaceful anti-government protesters in Galle Face, Colombo during anti-government protests last year. Police arrested Morin Noor, a woman activist of Aragalaya and a victim of the 9th May attack who marched demanding justice for the assault, and arrest she faced last year. An event remembering victims who died in the last phase of the Sri Lankan war held in Colombo was disrupted by a group of ultra-nationalist Sinhala-Buddhists led by Buddhist monks. Police disrupted a protest organised by medical students of Colombo university on 16th May, a protest organised by Kelaniya University students on 18th May, and a protest organised by University of Peradeniya students on 23rd May, by firing tear gas and water at the protesters. On 11th May, Police and military were deployed surrounding the University of Colombo premises, as intelligence information had been received that student activists were going to have a meeting there.
Repression Activists and Whistleblowers: Piyath Nikeshala, an active member of the Aragalaya movement was assaulted by a group led by a local politician and then arrested while receiving treatment at the National Hospital. Pathmanathan Sirojan, a staff member of the AHAM Humanitarian Resource Centre in Batticaloa was arrested by the police during a commemoration event held in Naripulthottam, Batticaloa for having a banner that contained the phrase “Tamil Genocide Memorial Day.” Human Rights lawyer and human rights activist Priyalal Sirisena has received death threats from an unknown caller on 25th May. A social activist in Colombo, Sujith Annamalei made a police complaint after a nationalist monk named Balangoda Kasappa Thero while speaking at a press conference, accused him of being a part of an agenda to destroy Buddhism and culture, and demanded Police to arrest him.
Repression of state officials: A prison officer and his family members were threatened by unidentified armed men, who demanded him not to interfere with drug trafficking in the prison premises. On 24th May, Parliament passed a motion to remove Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL) Chairman Janaka Ratnayake from his post.
Former chairperson of the Public Utilities Commission who challenged the key government politicians in several instances was sacked from his position, through a motion passed in the parliament. Photo Courtesy: News wire
Legal and Policy Actions: Opposition political parties criticised the proposed Broadcasting Regulatory Commission Act (BRCA) as an attempt to instigate fear among journalists, and media institutions. Proposed BRC has powers to take legal action against journalists resulting their imprisonment, and impose fines, cancel licences and take other actions against the media institutions and journalists. Supply and distribution of petroleum products and fuel, and electricity supply and health services were declared as essential services. Declaration as Essential Services is a common tactic by the state to discourage the trade union actions such as worker strikes. President also issued the monthly gazette notification calling out for the armed forces under the public security ordinance. This provides additional powers to the military to intervene in civilian affairs.
Other Incidents: While addressing the media, former Minister Mervin Silva threatened exiled religious leader pastor Jerome Fernando of physical assault, and accused him of being a part of a foreign conspiracy.