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Thursday August 11th, 2022

Sri Lanka cracking down on dissent, threats of violence, intimidation: HRW

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s government is crackdown on peaceful dissent is misguided and there is heightened surveillance and threats of violence on lawyers and media, US-based Human Rights Watch, has warned.

Several prominent protestors and social media activists have been arrested.

On August 2, the authorities seized the passport of a British national, Kayleigh Fraser, who had posted about the protests on social media.

“The Sri Lankan government’s crackdown on peaceful dissent appears to be a misguided and unlawful attempt to divert attention from the need to address the country’s urgent economic crisis,” Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

“Sri Lanka’s international partners should be clear that they need to be working with a rights-respecting administration to address Sri Lanka’s deeply rooted economic problems.”

HRW said under emergency regulations there were “extreme sentencing rules” where damage to property can carry a lifetime sentence with up to 20 years in prison.

“Human rights defenders said that the police sought to obstruct defense lawyers from meeting with four protesters who had been arrested after they handed over to the police a large sum of money taken from the president’s official residence after protesters had occupied it,” HRW said.

“Lawyers and media organizations told Human Rights Watch that they have experienced increased intimidation, including threats of violence and surveillance.”

The full statement is reproduced below:

Sri Lanka: Heightened Crackdown on Dissent

(New York) – The Sri Lankan government is using emergency regulations to harass and arbitrarily detain activists seeking political reform and accountability for the country’s economic crisis, Human Rights Watch said today. Since Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in as president on July 21, 2022, the police and military have sought to curtail protests through the intimidation, surveillance, and arbitrary arrests of demonstrators, civil society activists, lawyers, and journalists.

Anti-government protests in Colombo and elsewhere in the country led then-President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to flee the country before resigning on July 15. On July 22, President Wickremesinghe ordered security forces to disperse protesters and break up their main site in central Colombo. The police have subsequently targeted perceived protest leaders for arrest and detention.

“The Sri Lankan government’s crackdown on peaceful dissent appears to be a misguided and unlawful attempt to divert attention from the need to address the country’s urgent economic crisis,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Sri Lanka’s international partners should be clear that they need to be working with a rights-respecting administration to address Sri Lanka’s deeply rooted economic problems.”

Security forces injured more than 50 people in the July 22 early morning raid on the main janatha aragalaya (people’s struggle) site in Colombo. Security forces assaulted and beat three journalists from Xposure News – Chaturanga Pradeep Kumara, Rasika Gunawardana, and Shabeer Mohammed – and at least one other journalist, Jareen Samuel of the BBC, during the raid. Wickremesinghe berated foreign diplomats for criticizing the security forces’ use of excessive force and took no action to hold those responsible to account.

A number of Buddhist monks and Christian clergy had joined the protests. The media reported that the Colombo Magistrates’ Court on July 25 had issued a travel ban on Father Jeewantha Peiris, a Catholic priest who had been prominent in the protests, and several others. Two days later police visited Father Peiris’s church and said that they had orders to arrest him. In a July 31 statement, 1,640 members of the Catholic clergy condemned targeting the priest, saying that they had all backed the protests.

On July 26, the authorities arrested another prominent protester, Dhaniz Ali, from an international flight about to depart from Colombo. On July 27, unidentified men in civilian clothes abducted Veranga Pushpika, a former student activist and journalist who had also been active in the protests, from a bus in Colombo. Police did not disclose his whereabouts to lawyers or the Human Rights Commission for several hours before acknowledging his arrest.

Human rights defenders said that the police sought to obstruct defense lawyers from meeting with four protesters who had been arrested after they handed over to the police a large sum of money taken from the president’s official residence after protesters had occupied it.

Lawyers and media organizations told Human Rights Watch that they have experienced increased intimidation, including threats of violence and surveillance.

In one episode, a group of men claiming to be police officers, but not wearing uniform, visited the office of an online publication, Xposure News, on July 27 and demanded that a security guard identify people shown in photographs and show them CCTV footage.

On July 31, a student protester said in a statement on Facebook that he had been detained and interrogated for three hours by security force personnel who warned him that they could plant drugs on him and arrest him. Police summoned the social media activist Rathidu Senarathna, known as “Ratta,” on August 1 and arrested him after questioning.

A Colombo magistrate also issued a foreign travel ban on Senarathna and 11 others suspected of illegal assembly and causing damage to property. On August 2, the authorities seized the passport of a British national, Kayleigh Fraser, who had posted about the protests on social media.

The authorities arrested at least seven people for the July 9 arson attack on Wickremesinghe’s private residence. Activists said that at least some of those detained were known to have been bystanders. Police are investigating a hotel that allegedly provided food to protesters and have raided, sometimes without warrants, the homes or workplaces of several protesters who are in hiding.

In a statement, 175 Sri Lankan human rights defenders and civil society organizations expressed concern about “disturbing developments of abduction, arrest, intimidation, and reprisals against protesters.” Members of the Catholic clergy said the government should “stop the repression of those involved and supporting the Aragalaya and focus on listening to grievances and aspirations of people and take actions to address both immediate and long-term problems.”

Under the state of emergency that President Wickremesinghe declared on July 18, the period that a person may be detained before being brought before a magistrate has been increased from 24 to 72 hours.

The authorities have been granted sweeping additional powers of search and arrest, and the military has been empowered to detain people for up to a day without disclosing their detention. These provisions increase the risk of torture and enforced disappearance.

Under international human rights law, protections against torture, the excessive use of force, and other fundamental rights must never be violated, including during a state of emergency. Provisions of the state of emergency contrary to international standards should be immediately revoked, Human Rights Watch said.

The emergency regulations also introduce extreme new sentencing rules for several offenses, including damage to property and trespassing, which can now result in a life sentence and carry a minimum term of 20 years in prison. Among the offenses subject to harsher sentencing is a provision of the penal code that has previously been used to prosecute same-sex conduct. The decree provides that bail will not be available for those accused of offenses under the emergency regulations.

The state of emergency also gives the president and the police broad powers to ban public gatherings, allows the police or military to order anyone to leave any public place or face arrest, and makes it an offense to cause “disaffection” or to spread “rumors.” These provisions are vague, overly broad, and disproportionate in violation of the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, association, and movement.

In a statement following the assault on protesters on July 22, the European Union noted that it “expects the new Government to work in full compliance” with its human rights commitments, made in exchange for tariff free access to the EU market under the bloc’s GSP+ program.

The World Bank said in a statement that the government should address “the root structural causes that created this crisis to ensure that Sri Lanka’s future recovery and development is resilient and inclusive.” Earlier, the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee stated that any agreement with the International Monetary Fund “must be contingent on … strong anti-corruption measures and promotion of the rule of law.”

“The people of Sri Lanka are reeling under an economic crisis that has plunged millions into food insecurity, the closure of schools, and shortages of medicine, fuel, and other necessities,” Ganguly said. “The government needs to end its repressive policies and practices and act urgently to address people’s basic needs, win public trust, and uphold the rule of law by holding those responsible to account.”

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Sri Lanka cancels visa of Scotswoman who documented anti-govt protests

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Department of Immigration and Emigration has cancelled the visa of Kayleigh Fraser, a Scotswoman who had been documenting the country’s anti-government protests on social media.

Immigration officers had approached Fraser at her home on August 02 and confiscated her passport.

“This is what will happen if you raise your voice against state violence in Sri Lanka,” Fraser wrote on Wednesday August 10, posting a letter ordering her to leave the country by August 15.

“I am proud to have been a part of this. I am proud to have met so many of you. I have… so many social enterprises I want to work on here that I know will benefit so many,” Fraser said on Instagram.

“Deporting me is a massive, massive mistake for this country. The love I have for it and its people appears to be a threat to the current rulers. Does that sound right to you?”

Fraser posted that she was not prepared for the financial cost of flights and relocation, and that all her funds were in Sri Lankan currency, and that banks were not allowing foreign transactions.

Police spokesperson Nihal Thalduwa had told a privately owned news organisation that Fraser was sharing “negative content” about Sri Lanka via her social media.

“It is not right for a foreign national to be in our country and share such mass negative content. She is not a media personnel either, to cover the protests and GotaGoGama,” he has said.

Fraser has been vocal about state sanctioned violence against protestors.

News of Fraser’s deportation has caused a small riot on social media, with many protestors voicing out their support for the foreigner who documented and showed support next to them.

Seemingly indiscriminate arrests of protestors aided by an ongoing State of Emergency have both angered and frightened Sri Lankan protestors, and many active protestors have gone into hiding to evade arrest.

Some protestors said they were “taking a break” or “distancing themselves” due to continued harassment.

However, the authorities maintain that all arrests are in accordance with the law. The government has pointed to acts of retaliatory mob violence on May 09 and the forced occupation of government buildings by protestors on July 09.

“They are calling us terrorists for holding placards. This was such a peaceful protest, the only terrorism carried out was by the government against the people,” said an active protestor, who preferred not to be named.

Fraser wrote that Sri Lankans should not forget that they got to the streets for a system change.

“Live in such a way that your children will thank you for the world they inherit,” she said.

“It’s not over till it’s over. I have an unbelievable amount of high profile people fighting this order for me to leave.”(Colombo/Aug11/2022)

 

 

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Sri Lanka to acquire 35,000MT of petrol; unloading on Aug 12

ECONOMYNEXT-  Sri Lanka to receive a cargo of 35,000 metric tonns of petrol on Thursday August 11 with unloading scheduled for Friday, Minister of Power & Energy Kanchana Wijesekara said.

Wijesekara tweeted that the ship will arrive at the Colombo port Thursday night, and that the payment for the cargo had been completed with the support of the Central Bank by Wednesday.

The minister had said earlier on Wednesday that a separate cargo of crude oil is also expected on Saturday August 13, and from August 19 onwards, locally produced fuel is expected to be released to the market from the Sapugaskanda refinery.

Meanwhile, in an earlier report, Lanka IOC, a local unit of the Indian Oil Corporation (OIC), said a vessel carrying 30,000 metric tons of fuel for LIOC is scheduled to arrive between August 10 and 15.

Related: Three shipments of fuel to arrive in Sri Lanka by mid, end July, August: Lanka IOC

Meanwhile, Wijesekara said that 5.7 million people have signed up for the QR-code facilitated National Fuel Pass.

From July 21 up to now, Wijesekara said, a total of 54.9 million litres of fuel had been sold through 1,053 CPC fuel stations while 207 LIOC stations have sold 11.26 million litres of fuel. (Colombo/Aug11/2022)

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MPs nominated to Sri Lanka’s parliamentary committee on public finance

The sun sets over the Parliament at Shri Jayewardenepura

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s parliament has appointed members to its Committee on Public Finance, Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena said.

According to his announcement made in parliament on Wednesday August 10, in terms of the provisions of the Standing Order 121 of Parliament, MPs Bandula Gunawardana,  Vidura Wickramanayaka,  Nalin Fernando,  Anura Priyadharshana Yapa,  Vijitha Herath,  Duminda Dissanayake,  Shehan Semasinghe,  Premitha Bandara Tennakoon and Harsha de Silva have been appointed.

Indika Anuruddha Herath,  Siripala Gamalath, Seetha Arambepola, Suren Raghavan,  M A Sumanthiran,   Kavinda Heshan Jayawardhana,  Mujibur Rahuman,  Harshana Rajakaruna,  Chaminda Wijesiri,  Isuru Dodangoda,  Anupa Pasqual and  (Prof) Ranjith Bandara also have been appointed to serve as members in the Committee on Public Finance.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe tabled a proposed framework during his time as Prime Minister under President Gotabaya Rajapaksa for sectoral oversight committees in parliament with the objective of increased bipartisan parliamentary involvement in governance and policy-making.

Wickremesinghe told parliament on July 06 that under such a system, the entire parliament irrespective of party difference will participate in governance.

On July 06, he said he had approached former Speaker of Parliament Karu Jayauriya to formulate a proposal on activating the sectoral oversight committees.

Sectoral Oversight Committees shall function for the duration of Parliament and conduct its inquiries notwithstanding any adjournment or prorogation of Parliament, according to the parliament website.

The Committee of Selection shall determine the subjects and functions to be allocated to each Sectoral Oversight Committee.

The Sectoral Oversight Committees shall have the power to examine any Bill, any subsidiary legislation including Regulation, Resolution, Treaty, Report or any other matter relating to subjects and functions within their jurisdiction.

The Parliament, any Committee or a Minister may refer any matter to a Sectoral Oversight Committee having jurisdiction over the subject or function for its consideration and report. (Colombo/Aug11/2022)

 

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