The Sri Lankan authorities have fiercely clamped down on protests and demonized protesters during a period of economic crisis and hardship in the country. The government responded to largely peaceful protests with excessive and unnecessary force and emergency laws giving sweeping powers to the police and the armed forces, in an effort to curb further demonstrations. Since widespread protests began in March 2022, the police and armed forces have routinely misused tear gas and water cannons against largely peaceful protesters. On two occasions, security forces fired live ammunition at protesters, killing at least one person on 19 April.
Since President Ranil Wickremesinghe came into power on 21 July, over 140 protesters and protest organizers have been arrested, routinely flouting due process, creating chilling effect on the protest movement. President Ranil Wickremesinghe has also publicly labelled protesters as “terrorists” and “fascists”, in a bid to demonize protesters. Additionally, the government has employed the draconian anti-terror law Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), which in the past has been used to target, and harass minorities, activists, journalists and critical voices, to detain three protesters.
President Ranil Wickremesinghe must immediately stop the repression, intimidation and reprisals against peaceful protesters.
Act now and urge President Ranil Wickremesinghe to:
- Respect, protect and fulfil the right to peaceful assembly, thereby ending the use of force against peaceful protesters;
- Drop all charges for participation in an “unlawful assembly” brought against peaceful protesters solely for their peaceful exercise of their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and release unconditionally those facing such charges;
- Repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and issue an immediate moratorium on its use.