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Thursday, June 20, 2024

SLB Update: Freedom of Expression Violations in the Month of Black July, 2023

  • July 2023 marked the 40 years of Black July in Sri Lanka, which was a series of state-sponsored pogroms against the country’s Tamil community by the majoritarian Sinhalese community and the government, leading to widespread violence, death, and destruction. Despite the scale of violence during Black July and its far-reaching consequences for Sri Lanka’s Tamil community and its collective memory, four decades later impunity for Black July persists.
  • Speaking in Washington one year after Black July the person who should have accepted the responsibility for the pogrom, the President “Last July we had one of those bad periods. But in time to come, it would be forgotten. I see, some people are trying to make us remember that day, the fatal day. Several people were killed. It’s not done by the government, done by the gang of hooligans, about which we are very sorry. I am trying to forget it.”
  • Since then, that has been the government policy: No remembrance and not taking responsibility.
  • In 2001 Sri Lanka Government appointed a Presidential Truth Commission on Ethnic Violence (1981-1984) and none of its recommendations have never been implemented except for some financial compensation. (Page 94 of the report, part 01)
  • The findings of the Commission bore witness to the fact that the events of July 1983 were orchestrated and manipulated by the political authorities and the State. The systematic violence perpetrated against helpless and defenseless people was not a spontaneous riot but planned and executed with judicious care. It was an act of collective punishment for acts of violence committed by a small group of people. The State, which has the responsibility of protecting its citizens, became a perpetrator in crimes against its own people.
  • On the day of 40 years of Black July (23rd), one peaceful remembrance in Colombo was attacked by a new breed of racist hooligans, aptly assisted by the police, symbolizing the 23rd of July 1983. Another peaceful march in Colombo was disrupted by using tear gas and water cannons by police, the equipment they never used 40 years ago to stop those “hooligans”.
  • While Tamil all over the world and progressive Sinhalese were remembering the Black July, President Wickremesinghe was participating in a Buddhist ceremony in the sacred Buddhist city and trying to forget the pogrom as his political Guru Jayawardene advocated. He didn’t mention a word on the Black July.

List of FOE Violations:

  1. 01 July 2023: Proposed Contempt of Law bill violates Freedom of Expression.

The proposed law titled, “Contempt of Court, Tribunal and Institution Bill” was published in the Government Gazette on 27 June 2023, is another piece of legislation to reinvigorate the archaic legal mechanism of the contempt of court law, long used by Governments around the world to witch-hunt political opponents and stifle dissent and criticism. The danger of passing such a statute is that it could be made used for any purpose at all and there would be no predictability about the limits and the way such a law can be misused.

It is Legally absurd and vague, provisions of the act also leave room for abuse.

  1. 01 July 2023: Broadcasters Guild rejects Regulatory Bill.

The Broadcaster’s Guild of Sri Lanka demanded the Government promptly retract the proposed draft to establish a Broadcasting Regulatory Commission. The guild warned that the implementation of this proposal would result in a harmful impact, restricting the media landscape and curtailing freedom of expression, thought, and conscience.

  1. 04 July 2023: Journalist questioned for speaking at press con.

Journalist Tharindu Uduwaragedara was questioned by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID)  for his involvement in organizing a press conference held against the arrest of remanded standup comedian Nathasha Edirisooriya. The Computer Crime Investigation Division of the CID summoned Uduwaragedara and he was permitted to leave after recording a statement for three hours.

  1. 05 July 2023: Stand-up comedian Natasha was granted bail by HC.

An order delivered by the Colombo High Court observed that the alleged statement said to have been made by Stand-up comedian Nathasha Edirisooriya does not on the face of it (ex-facie) come under section 3(1) of ICCPR for advocating national, racial, or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to hostility or violence. Colombo High Court Judge Adithya Patabendige while ordering Natasha Edirisooriya to be released on a personal bail of Rs.100,000, observed that remanding this suspect until now under the ICCPR Act is not an appropriate condition.  On 96 July magistrate court too gave bail to her.

  1. 06 June 2023: Parliament officials warned by RTI commission.

The Right to Information Commission reprimanded officials representing the Parliament for its wavering stance on the possession of the Presidential Commission Report of the Easter Sunday Attack and warned that furnishing false information to the former is a punishable offense by law. RTI Commission made these remarks concluding a seven-month-long hearing of a Right to Information appeal against the Parliament of Sri Lanka for not releasing sections of evidence of Zahran Hashim’s wife and several top police and military intelligence officials to the public.

  1. 10 July 2023: New laws to curb criticism of religion.

Minister of Religious and Cultural Affairs and Buddhasasana Vidura Wickramanayake said that there is a need to act against all actions that threaten religious harmony and that new laws will be brought. The minister said that no one has the right to insult any religion under the guise of freedom of speech or religion.

  1. 19 July 2023: Poet Ahnaf Jazeem listed in terrorist list.

Once again, Defence Secretary Kamal Gunarathna ventured to include poet and teacher Ahnaf Jazeem in the terrorist list arbitrarily. He can’t find a job now as new to farming. UNWGAD found his arrest violated human rights in June 2022.

  1. 20 July: Dengue control officers’ protest met with heavy police presence.

Heavy police presence along with water cannon trucks and teargas masks seen near the Ministry of Health where Dengue control officers were getting ready for a protest.

  1. July 2023: Health professionals gagged.

Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Health (MOH) has issued health professionals from communicating with the media about the country’s health situation. Those who violate this directive will be subject to disciplinary procedures. Meanwhile health availability of medicines, lack of doctors administrative failures of the health section continued.

  1. 22 July 2023: Activist who filed an FR case summoned to Cyber Crimes Division.

Morin Noor was summoned to Cyber Crimes Division in CID for questioning on the 25th of July. She is the person who filed a Human Rights Petition against the arresting her while staging a walk demanding justice for the May 9th attack on the Galle Face Aragalaya site.  This message note was created at 23:55 on the 22nd, several hours after the Supreme Court granted leave to proceed with her FR petition yesterday.

  1. 23 July 2023: Black July remembrance attacked in Colombo.

Widely respected veteran Leftist, Siritunga Jayasuriya, lawyer Srinath Perera & outspoken activist Sandya Ekneligoda were violently pushed to the ground & almost trampled in a stampede, by riot police, as they were tried to mark 40 years since Black July 1983. Heavy military & police presence occupied the roundabouts near the Borella Cemetery, where the 40-year commemoration of Black July was scheduled to be held.  Nearby residents have seen goons dressed in shorts being dropped off near the cemetery.

  1. 23 July 2023: JVP-SYU commemoration of Black July tear gassed.

A Black July commemoration held by the Socialist Youth Union affiliated with JVP on July 23rd every year under the theme  “Let’s not allow division! Together we fly!” was attacked by Anti-riot police using water cannons and tear gas, the march leading to Viharamahadevi Open Air Theatre in Colombo.

  1. 25 July 2023: Court order restricts TU protest.

The Colombo Fort Magistrate’s Court had issued an order preventing several trade unions from entering certain areas and roads in Colombo Fort. The protest was held against the Government’s plan to curtail the pension benefits of the Employment Provident Fund.

  1. 26 July 2023: 12 persons arrested for protesting.

A group of 12 persons, including the chairman of the Manning Market General Trade Union, have been arrested for staging a protest in violation of a court order. The protest was launched alleging that stall spaces within the premises are being given to external vendors. The court order was issued on the grounds that it could inconvenience the public.

  1. 26 July 2023: Uni student protest attacked with water cannons.

Police fired water cannons in an attempt to disperse a protest march staged by the Inter University Students’ Federation in Colombo. The protest was held demanding the release of IUSF activists Kelum Muddannayake and Dilshan Harshana, who have been in remand custody for over 200 days.

  1. 28 July 2023: Police use force against peaceful protest.

The police fired water and tear gas to disperse a protest march in Borella, Vanathamulla area. The attack was carried out on a protest organized by the Workers’ Struggle Centre the Centre is affiliated to the Front-Line Socialist Party.

  1. 28 July 2023: Journalist Tharindu Uduwaragedara arrested.

Police arrested Uduwaragedara after he covered a trade union protest in Borella, a suburb of the capital Colombo. Officers pulled Uduwaragedara out of a rickshaw while he was leaving the protest and forced him into a police vehicle while he repeatedly identified himself as a journalist, according to a video of the incident posted to Twitter. He was given bail next day.

  1. 28 July 2023: A protestor attacked.

Rashmi Divyanjali, who participated in TU protest organised by the Workers Struggle Centre, was hit on the head by a stone pelted at protestors by the Police. She was hospitalised & has received stiches for her injury.

  1. 28 July 2023: Youtuber summoned to CID. 

Journalist Chamuditha Samarawickrama summoned to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) following his revelation in an interview with former Presidential candidate Nagananda Kodithuwakku about the controversial release of seized gold. Allegations have emerged from Nagananda Kodithuwakku, stating that the customs released the gold due to the intervention of Member of Parliament Vajira Abeywardena.

  1. 29 July 2023: HRD complained to HRCSL regarding the attack on Black July remembrance.

Human rights activist Sandya Ekneligoda lodged a complaint questioning the police and the state stripping the right of peaceful protest guaranteed by Sri Lanka’s constitution. She and a group of activists were assaulted while marking 40 years since Black July.

  1. 31 July 2023: Court order restricts political party demo.

The Fort Magistrate’s court had issued an order restricting the movement of the protest organized by the National People’s Power in Colombo  urging the government to stop the alleged looting of the Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF). As such, the protest was held in front of the Fort Railway Station, Colombo.

The End.

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