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Tuesday February 27th, 2024

Continued harassment of Muslims could prove detrimental to Sri Lanka: Amnesty International

ECONOMYNEXT – Continued harassment of Sri Lanka’s Muslim minority could prove detrimental to the country, global human rights watch-dog Amnesty International warned.

In a report released last week (June 6), Amnesty International highlighted a series of alleged incidents of harassment targeting the island’s Muslims, including the alleged discriminatory handling of COVID-19 deaths as well as the recent arrest of lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah.

“With the new government still in its first year, the frequent incidents of demonisation, vilification and scapegoating of Sri Lanka’s Muslim population are a cause for great concern. Should incidents against the Muslim community continue, Sri Lanka runs the risk of alienating another minority group, much to its detriment,” the group said in its report.

With the COVID-19 pandemic gripping the world, Amnesty said, Sri Lanka appears to have arbitrarily targeted the Muslim community.

“The first Muslim death due to COVID-19 took place in Negombo, on 30 March, and the body was forcibly cremated by health officials, against the wishes of his family. This was despite efforts from his family, the Muslim community, religious and political leaders to urge health officials to adhere to the Sri Lanka Ministry of Health guidelines, which at the time allowed for both burials and cremations.”

Recalling more cases, the rights group noted that, on May 21, 20 Muslim groups called on Sri Lanka’s Minister of Health to revoke the gazette making cremations mandatory, citing that more than 185 countries permit burial, and that there was no consultation with the affected communities.

In a concept proposal for a COVID-19 exit strategy presented to President Gotabaya, the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) and the Information and Communication Technology Agency Sri Lanka (ICTA), identified the Muslim population as a variable in their methodology to determine the risk of spread of COVID-19 in each district.

Amnesty International accused the GMOA and ICTA of racially profiling Muslim patients in their report.

“The report assigned the highest weightage of risk to the ‘Muslim population’. The racial profiling in the report was met with heavy criticism on social media, causing ICTA to disassociate itself with the report. The GMOA has since deleted the earlier report, and the revised version, does not bear the ICTA name or logo, does not mention ‘Muslim population’, or has replaced it with the term ‘population density’,” the Amnesty report said.

The watchdog also called into question the presidential task force appointed recently to survey archaeological sites in the Eastern Province.

“Considering the concerns emerging from disputes over Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Christian archeological sites, the appointment of this Task Force, headed by retired military personnel may exacerbate this politicised and ethnicised issue which was a key factor in the inception of the civil war,” the report said, adding that appointing a businessman who runs a media organisation known for an alleged Sinhala-Buddhist bias was cause for concern.

On the recent arrest of lawyer Hizbullah, who is currently being detained without charge, Amnesty International said both it and Sri Lankan civil society groups have strongly criticized the manner in which his arrest was carried out “without due process”,

“Hizbullah was not informed of the reason for his arrest or the charges against him. A detention order, dated 17 April, stated that Hizbullah was arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act No. 48 of 1979 under suspicion of terror related activities. A vocal critic of the government on human rights issues, particularly on minority rights, Hizbullah also represented Dr [Mohammed] Shafi in the case against the latter on suspicion of forced sterilization in 201980.”

Click here for the full report. (Colombo/Jun16/2020)

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Sri Lanka president appoints Supreme Court-faulted official as police chief after CC clearance

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka President Ranil Wickremesinghe appointed Deshbandu Tennakoon as the 36th Inspector General of Police (IGP) of the country after the Constitutional Council (CC) cleared the official who along with three other police officers were asked by the Supreme Court to compensate 2 million rupees in a fundamental rights case last year.

“President Ranil Wickremesinghe has appointed Deshbandu Tennakoon as the IGP in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution,” the President’s Media Division (PMD) said.

The island nation’s Supreme Court on December 14 ordered Tennakoon when he was the Acting IGP and three other officials to pay a compensation of 500,000 rupees each for the violation of the fundamental rights of an individual.

The Supreme Court also instructed the Police Commission to take disciplinary action against the said Police officers after it considered the petition filed by W. Ranjith Sumangala who had accused the Police officers of violating his fundamental rights during his detention at Mirihana Police Station in 2011.

The Supreme Court held that the four police officers violated the fundamental rights of the petitioner by his illegal arrest, detention and subjection to torture at the Mirihana Police Station, which was under the supervision of Tennakoon at the time of the arrest.

President’s Secretary Saman Ekanayake presented the official appointment letter to Tennakoon on Monday (26) at the Presidential Secretariat.

When Tennakoon was asked over if the Supreme Court decision would have an impact on his appointment as the IGP last week, he declined to comment, saying that it was a Supreme Court matter and he does not want to say anything about it.

Tennakoon was also criticized by Colombo Archbishop Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith when he was appointed as the Acting IGP citing allegations against him related to security lapses leading up to the Easter Sunday attacks which killed at least 269 in April 2019.

However, Tennakoon rejected the allegations. (Colombo/Feb 26/2024)

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No water tariff hike in Sri Lanka this year: Minister

Millennium Challenge Corporation Photo.

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s planned water tariff formula is ready, and the government will implement it this year only if the formula’s tariff is lower than the current price, Water Supply Minister Jeevan Thondaman said.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government has been implementing IMF-led pricing policies on utilities and the Water Supply Ministry has already come up with a formula.

“There is a water tariff formula in place right now and we are waiting for it to be drafted and seek approval from the cabinet,” Thondaman told reporters at a media briefing in Colombo on Monday.

“Once this water tariff formula is in place, there will be an annual revision with an option of biannual review.

The formula has been developed with the help of the Asian Development Bank. The formula includes electricity and exchange rate among many others as components like the fuel formula.

The National Water Supply and Drainage Board (NWS&DB) increased the water tariff in August 2023, claiming that the operating cost had been increased owing to high interest payment for bank loans and increased electricity prices.

The last year revision saw the consumers paying 30-50 percent increase from the existing water bill.

Minister Thondaman said he will implement the new formula this year only if there is a reduction.


“We will have to wait to see what the formula is. If the formula shows us there needs to be a reduction in the water tariff, we can implement it. But if there is an increase, why should we burden the people when we are on a road to recovery?” he said.

He said a group of experts including University Professors are working on the formula and the numbers.

“Once they come with the number, we will have to take a decision on whether we are going to impose on the people or not,” he said.

“We have already spoken to the Asian Development Bank and informed them we have established the formula. But according to the ADB requirement of this policy-based loan, the implementation period is only in 2025.”

“But right now, you want to take the approval for the formula for sustainability.”

The Energy Ministry is considering a drastic slash in electricity tariff soon. Thondaman said the exact numbers will be decided on after the finalized electricity tariff.

However, he said that as per the formula, there has to be a up to 10 percent increase in the water tariff as of now.

“Given the current formula set up, there must be around a 9-10 percent increase. It was actually at 14 percent. What we have done is since it is at 14 percent, we also did a calculation to see how we can do a cost cutting,” he said.

“So, despite our cost cutting measures, there will be an increase of 9 or 10 percent. But we will not be imposing it as of now because this year is meant to be policy sector reforms. Next year is meant to be the implementation.”

“As per August 2023 water tariff hike, we are able to come close to sustainable. So right now, there is no issue in the water sector. But a formula eventually needs to be established.” (Colombo/Feb 26/2024)

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Sri Lanka rupee closes at 310.80/311.00 to the US dollar

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s rupee closed at 310.80/311.00 to the US dollar Monday, from 310.95/311.05 on Thursday, dealers said.

Bond yields were down.

A bond maturing on 01.02.2026 closed stable at 10.60/80 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.09.2027 closed at 11.80/90 percent down from 11.90/12.05 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.03.2028 closed at 12.00/12.15 percent down from 12.10/25 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.07.2029 closed at 12.20/70 percent from 12.20/95 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.05.2030 closed at 12.30/70 percent down from 12.40/95 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.05.2031 closed at 12.60/80 percent from 12.45/13.00 percent.

A bond maturing on 01.07.2032 closed at 12.50/90 percent from 12.50/13.30 percent. (Colombo/Feb26/2024)

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