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Repression of Dissent in Sri Lanka

A ruling party supporter warns UNP MP Mr. Ajith Perera within the Mathala airport premises (photo; Daily Mirror)

( June 9, 2014, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) April began with the government having to deal with the resolution of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), condemning it’s rights record and establishing an international investigation mechanism into allegations of war crimes. The day after the UNHRC resolution, the government had decided to hold two provincial elections with the aim of harnessing public support after the UNHRC resolution. However, the government lost ground in the politically & economically significant Western province (including the capital Colombo) and also in the Southern province, the hometown of President Rajapakse and his family and stronghold of the ruling coalition which had seen the bulk of the major infrastructure projects in last few years. In the North, the government claimed to have killed in a shootout, three Tamil men, who were accused of trying to revive terrorism. 69 persons, most of them Tamils, were reported as arrested in relation to the government’s search for these men. While 24 were reported as having being released, 45 were reported to be in detention as of 4th May 2014, including Ms. Jeyakumari, a prominent campaigner on enforced disappearances.

Repression of dissent continued in April with opposition parliamentarians from the major opposition United National Party (UNP) attacked. The major Tamil party, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) the Catholic Bishop of Mannar and Ven. Watarekke Vijitha Thero, a Buddhist Monk also continued to be targeted. Military and the government continued to attack Tamil journalists in the North as well as Sinhalese journalists in the South, while the BBC correspondent’s request for a year’s visa extension was refused citing policies that didn’t seem to exist. Calling for accountability into allegations of war crimes also continued to invite intimidation and threats while the military had also resorted to new forms of intimidating Jaffna university students. The President was reported to have announced plans to draw up new laws to monitor and control NGOs while the government publicized names of 16 Tamil organizations and 424 Tamil persons, based overseas as those supporting terrorism, without any evidence. While some of the organizations appeared to be sympathetic to the LTTE, others have been calling for accountability into allegations of war crimes by the government and the LTTE.

Government Ministers, MPs, politicians, supporters and groups backed by the government appeared to behind almost all the reported incidents. On several occasions, Police watched by and refused to take action as these government politicians and allies attacked and threatened opposition politicians, journalists and a prominent Buddhist Monk advocating for religious freedom and harmony. As in previous months and years, there appears to be no interest and urgency in conducting investigations and prosecuting those responsible, despite the availability in some cases of ample evidence including eyewitness accounts, video and photographic evidence, most of which are in the public domain.

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