Repression of Dissent – August 2014

Summary:

August 30th is the International Day of victims of Enforced Disappearances, but in Sri Lanka, it was a month when families of disappeared persons and those supporting them faced threats, intimidations, restrictions and false accusations by Buddhist Monks led mobs, Police and the state media. Police blocked a peaceful march on the International Day of victims of Enforced Disappearances in the Northern town of Vavuniya. Tamil families of disappeared in Mannar were intimidated, urging them not to testify to the Presidential Commission looking into Missing Persons. At the beginning of August, a Buddhist Monk led mob stormed a private meeting of families disappeared persons at a Church run centre in Colombo. The organizers called the Police, but the Police refused to guarantee security for the meeting and participants. The Police insisted that the meeting be stopped and participants from North are sent home. Initially, the Police also refused to disperse the mob, and only did so at the strong insistence of the organizers and participants. This event led to a chain of events, with Sinhalese newspapers and the mob making a variety of false allegations against participants and organizers, including accusing them of being linked to terrorism. One of the human rights defenders present, Rev. Fr. Sathivel, faced a series of threatening incidents. The Ministry of External Affairs warned diplomats about attending such events, but didn’t condemn the disruption of the meeting by the Buddhist Monk led mob.

A Deputy Inspector General of Police who had refused to release suspects of anti-Muslim riots in June 2014 faced death threats. A school teacher who had filed a lawsuit against a government politician also faced death threats. A Tamil Provincial Councillor from the North, who had been prominent in human rights campaigns, also complained about surveillance and threats.

Freedom of Expression has continued to be violated. A Tamil journalist in Vavuniya received death threats, and the Coordinator of the Jaffna Press Club was interrogated by the Police and accused of being a part of the LTTE by Sinhalese newspaper. An Indian academic-activist attending an international symposium on post war developments was also interrogated, and was detained when he tried to visit the Eastern Province prior to the symposium. There were reports of Muslim journalists being branded as “anti-Sinhalese and anti-Buddhist Jihadists. A New York Times reporter complained that his visa had been put on hold since June. Journalists were prevented from covering court hearings when the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence was being cross examined. An inquiry was ordered for singing the National Anthem in Tamil at a school in Colombo.

Freedom of Assembly and Association was also under attack. The National Peace Council (NPC) reported that 4 inter-religious reconciliation events were subjected to surveillance. Two events of the NPC in Southern and Central Provinces were subjected to monitoring by Police and two events in the East by the Military. Trade Union meetings and actions also faced obstacles. Senior government officials said NGOs pose a threat to security and that new laws will be brought into monitor and control foundations and non-profit organizations.

Student activists were arrested and suspended in two universities. When student activists protested against the arrest and detention of two Tamil university students under anti-terror laws (one was arrested after he had been injured during an assault by a mob), the Minister for Higher Education accused the main Student Union of inciting racial disharmony. Opposition political parties faced continuous and systematic intimidation and attacks in the lead up to the Uva Provincial Council elections.

In a number of incidents, Police, Military, and government politicians appeared to be directly responsible in repressing dissent. When dissent was being crushed by non-state parties, the Police appeared to side with the perpetrators, rather than enforce the law.

English: Repression of Dissent in Sri Lanka – August 2014 – English (26Sep2014)

 සිංහල: Repression of Dissent in Sri Lanka – August 2014 – Sinhala (26Sept2014)

தமிழ்: Repression of Dissent in Sri Lanka – August 2014 – Tamil (26Sept2014)

 

 


 

To see older Repression of Dissent Reports, please see the Reports page

Sri Lanka remembers Sunila Abeysekera one year on

On 9th September 2014, Sri Lankas activist community came together for a commemoration lecture for the beloved Sunila Abeysekara. Sunila, a founding member of Inform, was an award-winning human rights defender, and worked tirelessly for justice, advocating and working with victims of human rights abuses. Sunila passed away on 9th September 2013.

Inform, Rights Now, and Women and Media Collective hosted the memorial event at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute. To a full room of friends, family, supporters and colleagues, Dr Nimalka Fernando gave the keynote lecture:

“State Responsibility to protect Human Rights Defenders” 

(original transcript of speech available on Groundviews)

Invitation to the commemoration lecture

Invitation to the commemoration lecture

 

 

Repression of Dissent – July 2014

Summary

July is known as “Black July” in Sri Lanka, due to the anti-Tamil pogrom of 1983, where thousands of Tamils were killed and their properties destroyed. It was a turning point in the ethnic conflict, which saw support for Tamil militancy increase and the birth of Tamil Diaspora. This year’s July, saw a commemoration of “Black July” being interrupted by Police. An event to commemorate the worst riots since then, in June 2014 against Muslims in Aluthgama, was also obstructed by the Police.
July 2014 turned out to be a “Black July” for dissenters. Leaders of the Bar Association and Free Media Movement, a leading political analysts and outspoken Catholic Bishop were threatened, intimidated and subjected to surveillance, while an exiled peace activist, who is now an Australian citizen, was harassed when he applied for a visa to come for his mother’s funeral. Film makers were threatened, several Tamil journalists were threatened, interrogated and obstructed from carrying out their duties when they were covering issues such as sexual abuses and illegal land occupation allegedly committed by the Military. A well-known Al Jazeera journalist was also interrogated. Tamil journalists travelling to Colombo was obstructed in middle of the night by the Police and Army, and the workshop they were travelling to participate had to be cancelled due to threats from a mob that protested outside the venue where the training was due to be held. A protest rally organized in Jaffna also had to be cancelled after the Police obtained a court order against it.
July was also Black month NGOs. The NGO Secretariat, functioning under the Ministry of Defence issued a circular that prohibited NGOs from issuing press releases and organizing press conferences and trainings for journalists. The Department of External Resources also issued a public notice warning about funding for NGOs, and various agencies cooperating with NGOs. USAID was compelled to withdraw funding for voter education programmes after opposition from the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence. The Prime Minister and State Media accused NGOs of being a threat to national security and of having supported terrorism. The government again expressed their opposition to those who may cooperate with the UN’s international investigation, with the official government spokesperson threatening appropriate action against Sri Lankans overseas who may give testimony via skype.
Student Activists were arrested and there were obstructions in getting bail even after a Magistrate ordered them to be released on bail. A student protest was attacked for the third time and Student Unions dissolved. Opposition parliamentarians on a fact finding mission claimed they were obstructed by goons protected by the Police.
The military spokespersons denied there were any attacks against journalists last few years and some government representatives tried to indicate the restrictive circular was only “guidelines” for NGOs. Generally, Police were part of the repression of dissent or choose not to take decisive and firm action to prevent and respond to violations.
But repression was met with resistance and defiance. Even after getting death threats, Sunil Jayasekera, the Convener of the Free Media Movement went ahead with a press conference, exposing the death threats and declaring that “death threats will not deter us”. The President of the Bar Association also choose to publicly expose intimidation and surveillance he was subjected to, along with many other journalists who were threatened, harassed and obstructed. When protest march in Jaffna was stopped, organizers had a meeting in a large public hall, with widespread participation of people affected by abuses, clergy, opposition politicians etc. A film maker summoned by the Police refused to abide, citing his fundamental rights. Lawyers dismissed the circulars and notices related to NGOs as having no legal basis. NGO representatives, concerned persons and groups dumped copies of a circular in a garbage bin and burnt them in public. The courage and determination shown by those subjected to repression and others imminently at risk keeps alive hope for democracy and human rights in Sri Lanka.

To download the full report, please see the below links:

English: Repression of Dissent in Sri Lanka -July 2014- English (07Sep2014)

 සිංහල: Repression of Dissent in Sri Lanka -July 2014- Sinhala (07Sep2014)

தமிழ்: Repression of Dissent in Sri Lanka -July 2014- English (07Sep2014)

 


 

To see other Repression of Dissent Reports, please see the Reports page

Repression of Dissent – June 2014

Summary

June 2014 will be remembered in Sri Lanka for the communal violence in the towns of Aluthgama and Beruwala in Southern Sri Lanka, that resulted in 4 persons (three Muslims and one Tamil) being killed, more than 80 injured and widespread damage to property, mainly of Muslims. The widely held belief, including by the Minister of Justice and several other Government Ministers is that the Buddhist extremist group, Bodu Bala Sena (BBS – meaning Buddhist Power Force) was primarily responsible for the rioting, particularly through an inflammatory speech by it’s leader, Ven. Galabodaatthe Gnanasara Thero, who said

“In this country we still have a Sinhala Police; we still have a Sinhala Army. After today if a single Marakkalaya (derogatory term for Muslims) or some other paraya (alien) touches a single Sinhalese…..it will be their end.”

Police had allowed the rally in which this speech was made to go ahead, despite appeals by Muslim religious and political leaders that it may lead to violence. The BBS and some government officials have claimed that the origins of the riots was an alleged attack by Muslim youth on a Buddhist Monk few days earlier. Others have reported that the Buddhist Monk in question was not attacked, but there was an incident involving Muslim youth and a Sinhalese – Buddhist driver of a Buddhist Monk. Three Muslim youth have been arrested for this incident. However, the Police and government institutions have been accused of inaction by those affected by the riots and the violence and eyewitnesses.
An opposition Parliamentarian and several journalists who went to cover the communal violence were attacked and threatened. A leading Sri Lankan journalist and a prominent citizen journalist website were accused of being “twitter/social media murderers” by the editor of a leading state controlled newspaper.  This was after they exposed facts about the communal violence, in the absence of independent coverage in mainstream newspapers. The Defence Ministry was accused by the Leader of the Opposition of attempting to censor media institutions.
A training workshop for Tamil journalists organized by a leading Sri Lankan NGO had to be cancelled for the second time due to protests by an unknown group and refusal of the Police to provide protection. Participating journalists were evacuated and housed in a leading Colombo hotel for safety, only to be driven out of the hotel rooms in the middle of the night by the hotel management following alleged threats by a “powerful” group. Media reports appeared about proposals by the Ministry of External Affairs to control events organized by NGOs, by demanding detailed information in advance and controlling visas for foreign visitors through the Ministry of Defence and other governmental authorities. The Military and Police also tried to stifle a protest by Tamil politicians and Families of Disappeared persons in the North.
Academics critical of the government received death threats. Repression of University students continued, with arrests, protests attacked and student activists being called lunatics, fools and foxes by the Minister of Higher Education in a speech publicized by mainstream TV in Sri Lanka. Even teachers and parents agitating about conditions in a school in Colombo were attacked. A report from “Students for Human Rights” claimed that a Magistrate has recommended to break necks of student activists while another Magistrate had advised female student activists to refrain from political activism.
Police protection was suddenly withdrawn for a Buddhist Monk who had been subjected to several attacks, threats and intimidation, and he was later found on roadside with injuries. The Police later arrested the Monk and accused him of having staged the abduction and inflicted the injuries on himself.
Overall, June was another month where minorities and those critical of the government faced numerous attacks and threats with impunity.

To download the full report, please see the below links:

English: Repression of Dissent in Sri Lanka – June 2014 – English

 සිංහල: Repression of Dissent in Sri Lanka – June 2014 – Sinhala

தமிழ்: Repression of Dissent in Sri Lanka – June 2014 – Tamil

 


 

To see other Repression of Dissent Reports, please see the Reports page