Repression of Dissent in Sri Lanka

by INFORM, Colombo, June 2014, English version August 7, 2014


June 2014 will be remembered in Sri Lanka for the communal violence in the towns of
Aluthgama and Beruwala in Southern Sri Lanka, that resulted in 4 persons (three Muslims and
one Tamil) being killed, more than 80 injured and widespread damage to property, mainly of
Muslims. The widely held belief, including by the Minister of Justice and several other
Government Ministers is that the Buddhist extremist group, Bodu Bala Sena (BBS – meaning
Buddhist Power Force) was primarily responsible for the rioting, particularly through an
inflammatory speech by it’s leader, Ven. Galabodaatthe Gnanasara Thero, who said “In this
country we still have a Sinhala Police; we still have a Sinhala Army. After today if a single
Marakkalaya (derogatory term for Muslims) or some other paraya (alien) touches a single
Sinhalese… will be their end.” Police had allowed the rally in which this speech was made
to go ahead, despite appeals by Muslim religious and political leaders that it may lead to
violence. The BBS and some government officials have claimed that the origins of the riots was
an alleged attack by Muslim youth on a Buddhist Monk few days earlier. Others have reported
that the Buddhist Monk in question was not attacked, but there was an incident involving Muslim
youth and a Sinhalese – Buddhist driver of a Buddhist Monk. Three Muslim youth have been
arrested for this incident. However, the Police and government institutions have been accused
of inaction by those affected by the riots and the violence and eyewitnesses.

An opposition Parliamentarian and several journalists who went to cover the communal
violence were attacked and threatened.  A leading Sri Lankan journalist and a prominent citizen
journalist website were accused of being “twitter/social media murderers” by the editor of a
leading state controlled newspaper. This was after they exposed facts about the communal
violence, in the absence of independent coverage in mainstream newspapers. The Defence
Ministry was accused by the Leader of the Opposition of attempting to censor media institutions.

A training workshop for Tamil journalists organized by a leading Sri Lankan NGO had to be
cancelled for the second time due to protests by an unknown group and refusal of the Police
to provide protection. Participating journalists were evacuated and housed in a leading
Colombo hotel for safety, only to be driven out of the hotel rooms in the middle of the night by
the hotel management following alleged threats by a “powerful” group. Media reports appeared
about proposals by the Ministry of External Affairs to control events organized by NGOs, by
demanding detailed information in advance and controlling visas for foreign visitors through the
Ministry of Defence and other governmental authorities. The Military and Police also tried to
stifle a protest by Tamil politicians and Families of Disappeared persons in the North.

Academics critical of the government received death threats. Repression of University students
continued, with arrests, protests attacked and student activists being called lunatics, fools and
foxes by the Minister of Higher Education in a speech publicized by mainstream TV in Sri Lanka.
Even teachers and parents agitating about conditions in a school in Colombo were attacked. A
report from “Students for Human Rights” claimed that a Magistrate has recommended to break
necks of student activists while another Magistrate had advised female student activists to
refrain from political activism.

Police protection was suddenly withdrawn for a Buddhist Monk who had been subjected to
several attacks, threats and intimidation, and he was later found on roadside with injuries. The
Police later arrested the Monk and accused him of having staged the abduction and inflicted
the injuries on himself.

Overall, June was another month where minorities and those critical of the government faced
numerous attacks and threats with impunity.


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