Students, civil society members, and activists from the Inter-University Student Federation (IUSF) held a protest in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo on Friday, November 18, demanding the release of Wasantha Mudalige and Galwewa Siridhamma Thero. The protestors called on President Ranil Wickremesinghe to not extend the detention of the two student activists whose 90-day detention orders under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) expired on Friday.
On Thursday, a court in Colombo ordered that the two activists be kept in custody pending advice from the Attorney General.
The Inter-University Students Federation (IUSF) commenced a protest march calling for the release of Wasantha Mudalige & Ven. Galwewa Siridamma Thero.
— theisland.lk (@theisland_lk) November 18, 2022
According to reports by several Sri Lankan media outlets, Colombo police fired tear gas and water cannons on the protestors close to the UN office compound, the designated site of the protest. Riot police squads and Special Task Force personnel were also deployed, while roads were blocked to prevent protestors from reaching the site.
Police fired tear gas & water cannon at protestors demanding the release of student activists detained under the terrorism act pic.twitter.com/pv91f7MYIl
— NewsWire 🇱🇰 (@NewsWireLK) November 18, 2022
— Mari (@EmDeeS11) November 18, 2022
NOW: Riot police squads & Special Task Force troops are deployed while entrance to Bullers Road remain barricaded to prevent a protest led by @IUSFSL reaching #Colombo's UN Compound demanding international pressure on #SriLanka govt. to free two student leaders held for 90 days. pic.twitter.com/iJNFqwqegT
— JDS (@JDSLanka) November 18, 2022
Student leaders Mudalige, the convenor of IUSF, and Thero, the convenor of the Inter University Bhikku Federation (IUBF), were detained by Sri Lankan authorities under the draconian Prevention to Terrorism Act on August 18 following a protest. The PTA was first adopted as a “temporary” measure in 1979 and has repeatedly been used to suppress dissent and members of minority communities.
Calling for an immediate moratorium on the law in March this year, UN human rights experts had highlighted the “grave risk to the rights and liberties of people who may be detained arbitrarily, especially religious and ethnic minorities, and the use of the law may curtail political dissent with no effective due process guarantees.”
Wickremesinghe, who is also defense minister, signed the detention orders on August 21 for the three student activists to be held for 90 days without any evidence or possibility of bail. The orders can be renewed for up to a year.
IUSF activists and members at the protest also raised concerns over the lack of basic facilities, poor jail conditions, and “various forms of physical and mental torture” the two activists have been subjected to.
Amnesty urges government to drop charges
On Wednesday, November 16, Amnesty International urged the Sri Lankan government to drop the charges against the two student leaders. “Detaining protesters under counterterrorism charges is a clear violation of the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly guaranteed by the Constitution of Sri Lanka and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Sri Lanka is a state party,” said Amnesty International’s South Asia Regional Researcher Thyagi Ruwanpathirana. The rights group has also intensified its call to repeal the PTA as it “does not meet international human rights standards.”
Enough is enough!
Sri Lanka should stop detaining protesters on trumped-up charges. Drop all terror charges against student activists Wasantha Mudalige and Siridhamma Thero.
— Amnesty International South Asia (@amnestysasia) November 17, 2022