The International Federation for Human Rights in a new report detailing the relentless repression of a peaceful protest movement noted that the Sri Lankan authorities systematically violated international human rights law and standards with complete impunity in their crackdown on the Aragalaya.
The protest movement, called aragalaya [“struggle” in Sinhala], was triggered by the government’s protracted economic mismanagement and the growing public discontent over corruption and nepotism.
The protests, which initially started in the country’s capital, Colombo, quickly spread across all nine provinces of Sri Lanka. Some protests continued in Colombo in 2023.
FIDH Secretary-General Adilur Rahman Khan said that President Wickremesinghe’s recent pledge to use the military and emergency powers to prevent the resurgence of a protest movement should sound alarm bells.
He added that it is imperative the international community remains vigilant and presses the government to respect and protect the rights of protesters.
The 62-page report, titled, Anatomy of a crackdown – The repression of Sri Lanka’s aragalaya protest movement,” provides a comprehensive record of the serious and systematic human rights violations committed by the military, police, and pro-government elements against the overwhelmingly peaceful protesters.
Authorities also targeted protest observers, including journalists, lawyers, and bystanders.
On Journalists it noted that on 9th July 2022, during a protest in front of then-Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s private residence, eight reporters from the privately-owned national TV channel News First were attacked by police.
The report said that all four reporters wore recognizable News First t-shirts and were carrying journalist accreditation cards on them when the attack took place, and that four other News First journalists who attempted to aid their injured colleagues were also assaulted by the police.
The most disturbing pattern of violations of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly was the authorities’ frequent use of unnecessary and/or disproportionate force – including live ammunition, tear gas, and water cannons – to disperse peaceful assemblies.
In addition, police routinely and arbitrarily arrested aragalaya protest organizers and participants and subjected many of them to a systematic campaign of harassment, including judicial harassment, intimidation, and surveillance.
Authorities also imposed unnecessary and disproportionate restrictions on assemblies through the use of emergency powers and the abuse of laws, including the draconian
Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).
Amid these violations, members of law enforcement agencies have not been held accountable for abuses they committed against aragalaya protesters.
The report is released ahead of Sri Lanka’s fourth Universal Periodic Review (UPR), which will take place on 1 February 2023 in Geneva, Switzerland.