Protestors in Sri Lanka REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte

Sri Lanka: Authorities must respect peoples’ right to protest

Responding to the recent arrests and use of unlawful force by Sri Lankan authorities against protestors gathered outside President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s residence to agitate against the economic crisis in the country, Amnesty International’s South Asia Regional Director, Yamini Mishra, said:

“The Sri Lankan authorities must not use unnecessary or excessive force to disperse protesters who are suffering the consequences of an economic crisis that is spiraling out of control.  Even in instances where protests turn violent, law enforcement officers must only use force where absolutely necessary and it must be strictly proportionate to the situation.

The state must refrain from using force to create fear and stifle dissent.

Yamini Mishra, Amnesty International’s South Asia Director

“According to sources, 54 individuals, including journalists covering the incident, have been arrested, and dozens more injured. Many of them have been assaulted and subjected to torture or other ill treatment in police custody. The protestors also complained that police had recorded their statements without giving them access to lawyers.

“Sri Lankan authorities must refrain from arresting people for exercising their right to peaceful protest and follow due process safeguards such as prompt access to legal counsel. We are very concerned by the human rights violations currently taking place in Sri Lanka as the authorities are using unlawful force and restrictions on movement in an attempt to quell dissent.”

Background 

On 31 March, crowds gathered outside the President’s residence to agitate against the escalating economic crisis in the country that is depriving residents of basic necessities, including essential medicines, food, cooking gas and electricity. Thirteen hour power outages have been experienced in some areas, and at least four individuals died while queuing in the heat hoping to purchase cooking gas. Peaceful protests have been witnessed around the country for weeks.

According to media reports and videos circulating online, people were participating in a largely peaceful protest before the police began using tear gas and water cannons to disperse protestors, and it escalated quickly with a bus being set on fire. Dozens of people were injured including civilians, journalists and law enforcement officers. A curfew was also imposed in an attempt to control the situation.