Human Rights

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)

Repression of Dissent in Sri Lanka: 1-30 June 2015

Repression of Dissent in Sri Lanka: 01-30 June 2015

Summary:

Few incidents of repression of dissent continued to be reported across Sri Lanka in June 2015, with most being reported from the North and East.

In Jaffna, journalists invited for a meeting to discuss resettlement were ejected from the meeting venue. Villagers protesting against the building up of a Buddhist Temple by the military in the Mullaitivu district were arrested and detained for several hours. Surveillance and intimidations related to freedom of assembly was reported from Batticaloa and the East. Organizers, participants and supporters of protests against sexual violence against women and children were subjected to intimidations before, during and after the protests.

The Terrorist Investigation Department (TID) and Attorney General’s department continued to refuse to close the investigation against INFORM’s Human Rights Advisor, Ruki Fernando. They have also refused to remove the gag order and return his confiscated communication equipment, though the 15 month old travel restriction against him was lifted on 30th June.

Even though the intensity and number of incidents related to repression of dissent appear to have reduced in June 2015 compared to previous years, the continuing reports of such incidents and impunity related to old incidents is worrisome.

English: Repression of Dissent in Sri Lanka-01-30June2015-English(13Aug2015)

සිංහල: Repression of Dissent in Sri Lanka-01-30June2015-Sinhala(13Aug2015)

தமிழ்: Repression of Dissent in Sri Lanka-01-30June2015-Tamil(13Aug2015)

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)

 

Repression of Dissent in Sri Lanka – September 2014

Summary:
September was a month that saw almost daily incidents of repression of dissent. A commemoration planned for a well-known woman human rights defender and academic, Dr. Rajani Thiranagama, was obstructed when two pre-booked venues were withdrawn and a protest march was banned by the Police. A prayer service for displaced Tamils in the district of Jaffna was banned, and Police in Batticaloa obtained court orders to ban commemorations for persons killed twice within two weeks.

In Colombo, two human rights lawyers received death threats and opposition trade unionists were assaulted. The Military obstructed journalists from trying to report on the situation in the Aluthgama area where anti-Muslim riots took place in June. Journalists covering the post-election situation in the Uva province were assaulted, one of the men was hospitalized for several weeks due to his serious injuries. A Northern Tamil journalist narrowly escaped death and a Tamil media activist in Jaffna was subjected to continuous questioning, intimidation and harassment. A Tamil Catholic Priest in Jaffna was questioned after he wrote a poetry book about his war time experiences and a number of school Principals were also questioned for receiving the book. Pressure by extremist groups led to the withdrawal of a literary award to a Sinhalese writer now living in exile due to death threats, due to his criticial political views of the government. The four (out of five) judges who chose him as the awardee were also discredited by an extremist writer supportive of the government.

A training workshop for web journalists was disrupted in Negombo. A civil society organized meeting in Trincomalee was also disrupted when venues were withdrawn twice and the meeting was subjected to surveillance. An Australian University admitted to un-inviting two prominent Sri Lankan human rights defenders after they were invited to participate in an international conference, due to pressure from the Ministry of Defence. Police unleashed water cannons and tear gas to supress a peaceful protest by Catholics over a statue. When a protest calling for the release of a prominent anti-disappearance campaigner whose son had disappeared was held in Colombo, a group that held a counter protest distributed leaflets portraying her as a terrorist supporter, despite there being no charges brought against her 200 days after being detained. A banner displayed at the counter-protest showcased photos of 8 human rights defenders depicting them as traitors.

Student activists also faced suppression. Protesting students were threatened and protest banners were destroyed by the Chairman of the Moneragela Pradeshiya Saba. Police surrounding the Buddhist and Pali University searched the premises and demanded the handover of 4 student leaders. Opposition parties were subjected to a series of attacks and intimidation in the lead up to the elections in the Uva Province and there was a call for lists of opposition party activists working as government officials, which was seen as an initial move to persecute them for their political affiliations. Secretary to the Ministry of Defence accused a leading Tamil political party of causing political turmoil and encouraging separatist sentiments. The Deputy British High Commissioner was watched when she visited the Eastern Province and some of the people she met were questioned afterwards. A family that was visited by the British High Commissioner in the North was also questioned.

There were no visible attempts by authorities to address the continuing incidents of suppression of dissent. As before, government politicians, government officials, police, military, state media and journalists sympathetic to the government appear to be responsible for most reported incidents in September, and relevant institutions, such as the Police, appear unwilling to take actions even when complaints are made.

For full reports with summary table of incidents, see:

English: Repression of Dissent in Sri Lanka – Sept 2014 -English (23Oct2014)

සිංහල: Repression of Dissent in Sri Lanka – Sept 2014 – Sinhala (24Oct2014)

தமிழ்: Repression of Dissent in Sri Lanka – Sept 2014 – Tamil (24Oct2014)

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