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NewsSituation AnalysisSri Lanka: The most significant human rights issues included unlawful killings- US report

Sri Lanka: The most significant human rights issues included unlawful killings- US report

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US State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2017: Sri Lanka .

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Sri Lanka is a constitutional, multiparty republic with a freely elected government. In January 2015 voters elected President Maithripala Sirisena to a five-year term. The parliament shares power with the president. August 2015 parliamentary elections resulted in a coalition government between the two major political parties. Both elections were free and fair.

Civilian authorities generally maintained control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights issues included unlawful killings; torture; sexual abuse; arbitrary arrest; lengthy detention; lack of property restitution by the military; and surveillance and harassment of civil society activists and journalists. Government discrimination toward and security forces harassment of Tamils and nondenominational Christian groups persisted. Same-sex sexual conduct was prohibited by law, though rarely prosecuted.

The military and police harassed civilians with impunity, and impunity for crimes committed during and since the armed conflict continued. The government, however, took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish some officials who committed human rights abuses. The president signed a gazette legally establishing the Office of Missing Persons. The government made limited progress toward establishing additional transitional justice mechanisms.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Freedom of Expression: Authorities restricted “hate speech,” including insult to religion or religious beliefs through the Police Ordinance and Penal Code.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. Journalists in the Tamil-majority north, however, reported harassment, intimidation, and interference from the security sector when reporting on sensitive issues related to the civil war or its aftermath. They reported the military contacted them to request copies of photos, lists of attendees at events, and names of sources from articles. They also reported the military directly requested journalists refrain from reporting on sensitive events, such as Tamil war memorials or land occupation protests, and that they feared repercussions if they did not cooperate.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: On several occasions print and electronic media journalists noted they self-censored stories that criticized the president or his family. These journalists said they had received direct calls from private individuals or supporters of the government asking them to refrain from reporting anything that tainted the first family. In April then Media Ministry secretary Nimal Bopage noted privately owned television channel Derana TV would face a special investigation for “manipulating [the] President’s remarks at an event” and thereby misleading the public. Bopage was later transferred from the Media Ministry to an advisor role to the president on media. On November 8, the government’s Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka blocked access to the Lanka eNews website across all fixed line and mobile broadband networks. Lanka eNews had published several articles critical of the current government and the president. Multiple media organizations expressed concern over the extrajudicial blocking and called on internet service providers to unblock the website, which remained blocked at year’s end.

INTERNET FREEDOM

There were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The government placed limited restrictions on websites it deemed pornographic. Approximately 30 percent of the country’s population used the internet regularly, and 21 percent had access to the internet at home. Media reports estimated a far larger percentage of the population accessed the internet via smartphones.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

State university officials allegedly prevented professors and university students from criticizing government officials. There were no other reported government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government restricted these rights in a limited number of cases.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right. The constitution stipulates that the freedom of assembly can be restricted in the interest of religious harmony, national security, public order, or the protection of public health or morality. It also can be restricted in the interest of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others, or in the interest of meeting the just requirements of the general welfare of a democratic society. Under Police Ordinance article 77(1) protesters need to seek permission from the local police before holding a protest.

In February demonstrators clashed with police while protesting Chinese development of Hambantota port facilities. The protesters threw stones, and, in response, the police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowd.

In October police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse an Inter-University Students Federation protest against the privatization of medical education after the students defied a court order and refused to follow police instructions.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
The law provides for freedom of association but limits the right, for example, by criminalizing association with or membership in banned organizations.

Christian groups and churches reported some authorities classified worship activities as “unauthorized gatherings” and pressured them to end these activities. According to the groups, the authorities sometimes justified their actions stating the groups were not registered with the government, although no law or regulation specifically requires such registration.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/

d. Freedom of Movement

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: On September 26, Buddhist monks led a mob that attacked 31 Rohingya asylum seekers outside a refugee safe house near Colombo. They used anti-Muslim epithets and demanded the immediate deportation of the Rohingya, but the Rohingya suffered no physical injuries. Local police at the scene failed to take action against the mob, which the government condemned in statements following the incident. Police arrested nine individuals, including a Buddhist monk, and released eight on bail, while another was remanded until December 11.

The full report on Sri Lanka is here

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