The efforts to restrict the spread of the Covid virus continues in Sri Lanka with the state agencies that are at the forefront of this work giving of their best at great risk to themselves. However, the prolonged 24 hour non-stop curfew and accompanying lockdown are also becoming more difficult for the general population to cope with. In situations of crisis, there is a temptation to find a common enemy which can take communal overtones. There are hate stories on the social media that members of a particular community are responsible for most of the Covid infections, which has been articulated even in the mainstream media. This is a continuation of a phenomenon that has been gathering in strength and which peaked with the Easter bombing by Islamic extremists.
In this context, a case has been reported of a university student, and reportedly a member of a left wing secular political party, who depicted the need for ideological struggle against anti-Muslim hatred. Ramzy Razeek has been arrested under the ICCPR Act which does not provide for bail. He wrote a post on his Facebook wall about the need for ideological jihad or ideological struggle. Jihad is a controversial word which is general understood to mean armed warfare, though there are other interpretations including the spiritual warfare within each person. In his post, Ramzy Razeek is specific about the kind of struggle he is talking about, that it is ideological with pen and keyboard, and through social and mainstream media, on behalf of the country and all its citizens and to help people understand the truth in the context of hate propagated against Muslims.
At a time when the both the social and mainstream media have many examples of hate speech against targeted communities, the singling out of Ramzy Razeek appears unfair. The National Peace Council appeals to the government authorities to mitigate the charge against this young person. Free expression and criticism are essential in crises such the present one, to ensure that critical voices and grievances of people are heard. The police have recognized that there is a need to counter the circulation of false or malicious information, and to take action against those that hinder public officials from performing their duties or threaten them. We also note that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has said that his government is ready to accept constructive criticism. The right to free expression is important to protect while fighting the Covid virus and its spillover into the economic, social, political and cultural arenas.