Image: Protest calling for the release of Chinthka Rajapaksa.
Chinthaka Rajapakse, a convenor of the Movement for Land and Agricultural Rights and Reform (MONLAR), was arrested on the 18th of August 2022 for participating in a peaceful protest organized by the Inter University Students Federation. He was arrested with 19 others. Three of these protesters have since been subjected to 90-day Detention Orders under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which itself is a gross misuse of repressive legislation against protestors. Chinthaka and the others were produced at Colombo Magistrate Court on 19th August, where the others were granted bail, and the police requested that Chinthaka be further remanded and the Magistrate ordered that he remain in custody until the 26th of August 2022. We strongly believe that the request to prolong his custody in remand by the police was motivated as a means of punishment for Chinthaka’s long standing activism and effective mobilization of citizens to protest injustice.
For decades, Chinthaka has been a stalwart supporter to movements for environmental protection and land rights of many communities in Sri Lanka. He is a close ally of farmers, especially those who have been dispossessed of their lands. He has stood by communities in the North and East who have been leading long standing struggles against militarized land grabs.
Chinthaka is from a rural farming family in Buttala and is the father of three daughters. He is a second generation activist, who like his father, has dedicated his life to fight for the rights of those most marginalized in Sri Lanka. As a young man, he worked closely with Father Michael Rodrigo (OMI) who was assassinated for his social justice work in Buttala in 1988.
Chinthaka is an active member of the People’s Alliance for Right to Land (PARL), a voluntary coalition of civil society organizations and individuals working across Sri Lanka on issues related to land rights of marginalised commuities, since 2011.
As PARL, we condemn the arrests and intimidation of all protestors, including Chinthaka. We see these arrests as a means to intimidate all people in this country who are thinkers, professionals and activists’ who are struggling to ensure that all those marginalized in this country are able to access their fundamental rights at all times. Further, these are part of efforts to curb the democratic right to critique and non-violently protest to hold those in power accountable. We as PARL stand firmly in support the right to dissent and consider it a significant pillar of democracy. We unequivocally condemn this state-sponsored intimidation and curbing of rights which will further tarnish the already strained claim of Sri Lanka to be a democratic nation. The attack on Chinthaka and others like him is a direct attack on all citizens who stand up to fight for the rights of the marginalized.
We demand the immediate and unconditional release of Chinthaka and all those who were arrested with him at the peaceful protests on 18th August.
We also call for an immediate halt to the undemocratic intimidation directed in the form of baseless investigations and arrests of citizens, including activists, people involved in community struggles and trade union members, to punish them for and prevent them from exercising their right to dissent in Sri Lanka.
People’s Alliance on Right to Land (PARL)
24th August, 2022