The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) has strongly condemned the Sri Lankan government’s crackdown on peaceful protests in the country.

According to FORUM-ASIA, the present regime led by President Wickremesinghe has started a systemic clampdown on protests, starting from the Aragalaya movement. The government has repeatedly invoked repressive Prevention of Terror Act (PTA) against protest leaders and protestors, with police and security agencies enjoying complete impunity on violations related to freedom of peaceful assembly.

The crackdown on peaceful protests in Sri Lanka has been escalating in recent weeks. On 15 January, the Tamil minority community protested in Jaffna to call for the release of imprisoned activists and military-occupied lands. During the Independence Day celebrations on 15 February, peaceful protestors engaged in satyagraha, a form of nonviolent resistance, to protest against energy shortages and the skyrocketing prices of food and medicine. Protestors were subjected to tear gas and water cannons.

On 11 February, a Member of Parliament, Selvarajah Kajendran, and 17 others were arrested for holding a black flag during President Wickremesinghe’s visit to Jaffna. They were later released on bail for approximately USD 828 each.

On 19 February, six students and four Buddhist monks of the University of Kelaniya were arrested for “being members of an illegal assembly.”

The police resorted to firing tear gas and water cannons to disperse the protestors blocking the main Kandi-Columbo highway near the university.

On 20 February, the police resorted to using water cannons to disperse a protest organised by the opposition party Samaji Jana Balawegaya. The protest denounced the government’s alleged attempts to delay local elections.

On 26 February, following the Election Commission’s announcement of its inability to finance local elections, thousands, including supporters of the National People’s Power Party, tried to peacefully march on the streets of Colombo. \

The police responded with tear gas and water cannons, injuring 15 people.

FORUM-ASIA reminds Sri Lanka of its obligations as a State Party to International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and calls upon the authorities to ensure the right to peaceful protest is upheld at all times.

It must put an end to the culture of police brutality and stop penalizing protestors. Instead, the country must work towards facilitating the exercise of peaceful protest as it is a keystone of any democratic rights-respecting society.

The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) is a network of 85 member organisations across 23 countries, mainly in Asia. It was founded in 1991 and is based in Bangkok, with offices in Jakarta, Geneva, and Kathmandu.

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