The demand for the release of Sri Lankan student activist Wasantha Mudalige continues to gather strength even as his remand has been extended. On Wednesday, January 25, the Fort Magistrates court extended Mudalige’s detention of February 8. Earlier, on January 17, seven human rights groups and organizations urged the Sri Lankan government to immediately end the arbitrary detention of Mudalige. He was arrested under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) on August 18 last year for participating in last year’s anti-government protests.
The seven organizations that signed the appeal are Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Frontline Defenders, CIVICUS, International Working Group on Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice, and Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA).
The statement by the organizations said, “The abuse of counterterrorism legislation to arbitrarily detain a student activist involved in non- violent protest has a chilling effect on the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.”
We at @amnesty join six other international organisations to call on #SriLanka to end the arbitrary detention of Wasantha Mudalige under the draconian PTA.https://t.co/w2RgcEuuBF #ProtectTheProtest #RepealPTA @hrw @forum_asia @FrontLineHRD @CIVICUSalliance @SLcampaign
— Amnesty International South Asia (@amnestysasia) January 16, 2023
“The Sri Lankan authorities should immediately impose a moratorium on the use of the PTA, and promptly repeal it […]. The authorities should immediately review the detention of anyone held under the PTA, ensuring adequate access to fair bail hearings. They should also release all protesters facing charges that do not meet international standards,” the rights groups added.
They also noted the deplorable living conditions and lack of essentials such as sanitation or sunlight in the detention centers where Mudalige had been placed, saying, “Holding people in such conditions violates the international legal prohibition on torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.” They further raised concerns about Mudalige’s deteriorating health.
Mudalige has been charged in a total of nine cases, five of which have been filed since his detention. The student activist is the convenor of the Inter University Students’ Federation (IUSF).
Peoples Dispatch spoke to activist Marisa de Silva on the latest update in Wasantha’s case. According to her, “ The three months detention order was allowed to lapse on November 17 and Wasantha continues to remain detained in remand prison under PTA. In addition to that, the state has slapped on five more cases related to argalaya protests, others who have been detained on the same cases are out on bail and were charged under general law and it is only him who has been charged under PTA.”
Mudalige, along with another student activist Siridhamma Thero, was granted bail by a lower court on December 6 last year, after over 90 days of detention. While Thero was released under the bail order on January 16, Mudalige’s detention has continued.
Former PTA detainee and human rights lawyer Hejaz Hizbullah alleged on Twitter that the “court proceedings in Wasantha Mudalige’s case buttresses the argument that the Attorney General cannot be trusted to act as an independent prosecutor.”
On January 16, the IUSF organized a protest in Colombo to demand Mudalige’s immediate release and to mark 150 days of his detention.
Sri Lanka's Inter-University Student Federation (IUSF) and a number of other groups have launched a protest demanding the release of detained IUSF convenor Wantha Mudalige. Police say a court order has been issued blocking the protest. pic.twitter.com/LAnbPiCcIP
— EconomyNext Sri Lanka (@Economynext) January 16, 2023
Around 3,000 students raised slogans and displayed placards demanding an end to state repression and the release of political prisoners like Mudalige. The protest was joined by the Trade Union and Mass Organization (TUMO). Students displayed placards saying, “Withdraw the Prevention of Terrorism Act!” and “Release all political prisoners!” They also demanded that the government reduce the prices of electricity, gas, and fuel.
According to NewsFirst Lanka, police fired at the protesters with water cannons and tear gas, and arrested three protesters, who were later released on bail.