Freedom of Assembly

Repression of Dissent in Sri Lanka: 1st July – 30th September 2015

Repression of Dissent in Sri Lanka: 1st July – 30th September 2015 

Summary:

The three month period was marked by two significant events – the Parliamentary elections held on 17th August and the events related to Sri Lanka at the 30th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in September – October 2015.

 

At the elections, the defeat of former President Rajapakse and his allies was re-established when the United National Party led alliance swept into power.  This was widely recognised as stepping stone to more democratic form of governance in the coming years.

 

The Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) which INFORM is also part of, reported 856 election violence related incidents including 146 major incidents with 4 murders. At General elections held in 2010, total number of incidents reported was 414 incidents with 232 major incidents of election violence. The number of incidents reported is increased, though the major incidents of violence have been reduced. This context also needs to be recognized with the dynamics of a post-war society, where nationalist, racist ideologies were popularized with the censorship and sponsorship of the state under the previous regime. Though the regime has been changed, many of the politicians joined the hands with new national government.

 

The attention the shifted to Geneva – where the report of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL) were released on 16th September, after having been deferred from March 2015, at the request of the new Sri Lankan government. The OHCHR and OISL reports highlighted widespread and systemic abuses by both parties to the conflict, continuing violations in 2015, widespread impunity and emphasized that despite positive changes in 2015, the Sri Lankan criminal justice system was incapable of ensuring accountability. Thus, a Special Hybrid Court with participation of international judges, prosecutors, lawyers and investigators was amongst the recommendations that was highlighted. A consensus resolution was adopted by the Human Rights Council, which the Sri Lankan government also co-sponsored. The resolution’s tone appeared to appease the new Sri Lankan government and didn’t give the same emphasis to serious allegations highlighted in the OHCHR – OISL reports. But the resolution contained some significant commitments by the Sri Lankan government towards human rights protection, even though the key OHCHR recommendation of establishment of a Special Hybrid Court was left in ambiguity.

 

As has been the trend, incidents of repression of dissent continued to be reported, especially from the Northern part of the country. But the number of incidents and the intensity was much less than in 2014 and years before. The period also saw some significant breakthroughs and arrests in relation to disappearance of journalist and cartoonist Prageeth Ekneligoda, with several military personnel being arrested. However, there was no progress in investigations, prosecutions and convictions for most cases of repression of dissent in last few years.

English: Repression of Dissent in Sri Lanka by INFORM – July-Sept 2015-English (24Oct2015)

සිංහල: Repression of Dissent in Sri Lanka by INFORM – July-Sept2015-Sinhala (24Oct2015)

தமிழ்: Repression of Dissent in Sri Lanka by INFORM – July-Sept 2015-Tamil (24Oct2015)

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Repression of Dissent in Sri Lanka: 20 April – 31 May 2015

Repression of Dissent in Sri Lanka: 20 April – 31 May 2015 (post-100 days of the new Presidency)

Summary:

Incidents related to repression of dissent continued to be reported under the Sirisena Presidency, despite a general feeling of having more freedom than under the Rajapakse presidency.

In mid May 2015, Police obtained court orders to prevent remembrance events for Tamils killed during the war. Police also interrogated organizers, participants and media at some events, compelled organizers to change venue, and subjected remembrance events to heavy surveillance. Bus owners had also been intimidated not to transport people to such events. Earlier in May, a Northern Provincial Council member was summoned by Police to be questioned in relation to an allegation he had lighted lamps to remember the LTTE in November 2014.

Journalists were arrested and summoned for interrogation, assaulted by a local politician and prevented from covering a meeting related to water contamination. Two academics were assaulted during a May Day rally in Colombo and the Vice Chancellor of the Jaffna University had refused to grant permission to a discussion of a book by an award winning human rights defender and academic, on issues related to the war in Sri Lanka. In India, a film based on the life of slain LTTE TV presenter was banned.

Police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse protesters in two locations. In Jaffna, hundreds of protesters were arrested as protests against rape and murder of teenaged school girl turned violent. Local activists told INFORM that several of those arrested were those not involved in the violence. Police also obtained at least two court orders prohibiting protests in relation this incident. A senior Police officer used abusive language against an elderly woman who was protesting peacefully and trying to engage in a dialog with the police. The same officer also threatened a person who was taking a video of the incident. The Deputy Minister of Justice told media that new laws would be brought in to restrict protests to certain areas only.

A driver of a three wheeler (taxi) who transported a loudspeaker for a protest by university students was arrested and two university students involved in a protest were also reported arrested. A Magistrate also issued summons on 27 politicians aligned to the previous President, for engaging in a protest outside the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption.

English: https://ihrdc.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/repression-of-dissent-in-sri-lanka-20april-31may2015-english23jun2015.pdf

සිංහල: https://ihrdc.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/repression-of-dissent-in-sri-lanka-20april-31may2015-sinhala-23june2015.pdf

தமிழ்: https://ihrdc.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/repression-of-dissent-in-sri-lanka-20april-31may2015-tamil23june2015.pdf

Repression of Dissent in Sri Lanka: 9th January – 19th April 2015

In the first 100 days of the new Presidency, 9th January – 19th April 2015

Summary:

Compared to 2014 and the Rajapakse rule, the intensity and number of attacks, threats and intimidations against dissent has decreased during the first 100 days of Sirisena’s Presidency. However, very little action appears to have been taken to deal with the impunity of past incidents, and alarmingly, there were several incidents of suppression of dissent.

In the hill country, Police were accused of violently dispersing a protest with tear gas, when they had gathered at the Talawakelle Police Custody to condemn the death of a man in the custody of the Talawakelle Police.

In Colombo, civil and political activists distributing leaflets on 19th February were attacked by members of the pro-Rajapaksa National Freedom Front (NFF) at Nugegoda. The leaflets contained the text, “Ten Questions for Wimal Weerawansa and Vasudeva prior to the Yakshagamanaya” and were distributed by members of the Democratic People’s Forum. The Inter-University Students’ Federation (IUSF)’s protest march was attacked on 31st March by the Police and the Special Task Force, with some students injured and hospitalized. The Defense Ministry informed the director of a film about the slain journalist Richard de Zoysa that the subject matter would be inappropriate, as it recalls an unpleasant past, and informed the director that he will not be given permission to shoot the film.

In the North, Sri Lankan military dressed in civilian warned the displaced people in a military run high security zone against discussing their living conditions with the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister, Hugo Swire. A distributor of the Tamil weekly, Ithu Nam Theasam, a pro Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF) paper, was threatened by military intelligence. In another incident in the North, drunk police officers in jerseys stopped three journalists, threatened them with knives and chased after them. Perhaps for the first time in history, a journalist (specifically, a Tamil journalist from North) was arrested and detained by Police for “providing false information for the publication of a news item.” The Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) also summoned the Chairman of the Vavuniya Citizens Committee, while the activist Buddhist monk Ven. Wataruka Vijitha Thero was harassed by police officers.

Journalists of two private TV stations accused each other of illegal entry and assault respectively. Several persons were arrested and equipment was confiscated in Colombo, based on the accusation that they were cooperating with UK-based Channel 4 TV station, which has earlier produced documentaries accusing the Sri Lankan military of war crimes. One of the accused had an overseas travel restriction placed upon them.

It was reported that a journalist was assaulted in Puttlam, in relation to reports of individuals attempting to sell government lands.

While the detention without charge of the Woman human rights defender Balendran Jeyakumari ended on the 10th March, an overseas travel restriction was imposed on her and she was required to report monthly to a police station. Investigations in her case continue. Restrictions on freedom of expression and movement of INFORM’s human rights adviser Ruki Fernando continue, and the investigation against him is also still ongoing.

For full reports with summary of each incident, see:

English:Repression of Dissent in Sri Lanka – 100 days of new Presidency – INFORM report – English (24May2015)

සිංහල:Repression of Dissent in Sri Lanka – 100 days of new Presidency – INFORM report – Sinhala(24May2015)

தமிழ்: Repression of Dissent in Sri Lanka – 100 days of new Presidency – INFORM report – Tamil (24May2015)