We are a group of feminists writing to call urgent attention to the extra-constitutional attempts of the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) to suppress dissent. Lacking a popular mandate, hunting down student protestors and activists, including a LGBTIQ activist has become a central strategy of the political élite to retain power. The latest move by the GoSL is to brand three student leaders and the student union they represent, the Inter University Student Federation (IUSF), as ‘terrorists’.
Wasantha Mudalige, Convenor of IUSF, Galwewa Siridhamma thero, Convenor of the Inter-University Bhikkhu Federation, and Hashan Jeewantha, a student activist, were among the 20 arrested on August 18, 2022, for participating in a peaceful protest led by the student movement. All three of them are prominent student leaders who have been at the forefront of struggles for socio-economic justice in Sri Lanka, particularly against numerous ongoing attempts to dismantle free education.
The Sri Lankan Police has failed to adhere to legal due process safeguards concerning all arrests made after May 09th 2022. In addition to 3500+ arbitrary arrests and detentions after May 09th, the government has started to charge student protestors under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). After keeping Wasantha Mudalige, Galwewa Siridhamma thero and Hashan Jeewantha in illegal custody for 92 hours after being arrested on August 18, the Police went ahead to detain them for 90 days under provisions made under PTA. This is an arbitrary and illegal practice. It is also a blatant violation of the fundamental rights of these activist students and amounts to enforced disappearances for the reason that their whereabouts and the status of their well-being are unknown.
The threat of detention and charges under the PTA will effectively limit their political activism and their important contribution to calling for a system change in Sri Lanka. It continues the dangerous practice adopted by successive governments against citizens who have a different view, who are critical, who legitimately air grievances and exercising their constitutionally guaranteed rights of free speech including right to protest, peaceful assembly and citizen participation in governance.
Successive governments have weaponised colonial anti-terror laws (public security ordinance, PTA, hate speech provisions of the ICCPR act) to suppress Tamil and Muslim minority communities and dissidents of the governments’ anti-democratic behaviour. Civil society activists, journalists, doctors and students, almost always of minority origin, were arrested and detained for months without being afforded due process. The PTA was also used to strike terror in the Muslim communities after the Easter Sunday Attacks in 2019. Many of those arrested under the PTA experience torture for confessions and languish in prisons without a fair opportunity to defend themselves.
International human rights actors and organizations have condemned the PTA which has become a whip to control the Sri Lankan population. Repeal of the PTA drew international support from human rights lobbies and has been insisted as a precondition to renewing the GSP+ trade benefits with the European Union. In response, successive governments have explored different mechanisms to retain the PTA. In 2018, an equally repressive Counter Terrorism Act (CTA) was presented by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe cabinet and in 2022 Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse’s cabinet passed in Parliament cursory amendments to the PTA to appease international pressure. These attempts were heavily resisted by the people of Sri Lanka, a struggle to which IUSF was a party. Retaining these anti-terror laws is part the Government strategy to control citizen engagement.
Peoples’ protests in Sri Lanka are a celebration of democracy. Instead of listening to the voices of the people and respecting their aspirations for democratic futures, an unpopular government is trying to extend the national security apparatus to silence people. As people call for justice and accountability, the government employs fear tactics, creates new enemies, and silences dissent against moves to establish oppressive socio-economic systems. Detaining student leaders under the PTA would be the death of democracy in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka is going through the worst economic crisis. Under pressure from the international bondholders, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB), the current government is steamrolling harsh neoliberal reforms on already distressed people. Detaining student leaders under the PTA is preemptive law enforcement to stop future protests against neoliberal reforms. In other words, the government is closing democratic spaces, so there would be zero resistance.
We call upon your support, solidarity and power to join hands with a feminist voice against this government of Sri Lanka that has without a shadow of doubt failed to protect its citizens, punishes expression of rights, and is mobilizing every repressive law and practice at its disposal to maintain anti-democratic hold over power.
1. Afsar Jafri, Social Worker, New Delhi, India
2. Dr Ambreen Ahmad, Islamabad, Pakistan
3. Amalani de Syrah, Liberation Movement
4. Amali Wedagedara, Liberation Movement
5. Amrita Chhachhi, Sangat
6. Anuka de Silva, North Central Province Coordinator, Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR) and member of International Coordination Committee, La Via Campasina
7. Anupama Ranaweera, Centre for the Study of Religion and Politics (CSRP). St. Mary’s College, University of St. Andrews
8. Asha Abeyasekera, Research Fellow – Royal Holloway, University of London.
9. Ayesha Kidwai, Professor – Centre for Linguistics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
10. Bishnupriya Ghosh, Professor – Global Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara
11. Camena Guneratne, Professor – Department of Legal Studies, Open University of Sri Lanka
12. Chulani Kodikara, Editorial Collective, Polity, Sri Lanka
13. Crystal Baines, University of Massachusetts Amherst
14. Damith Chandimal, Human Rights and LGBTIQ+ Rights activist
15. Elizabeth Cox, Human Rights and Democracy Advocate, Australia/ Paci
16. Éric Toussaint, Committee for the Abolition of Illegitimate Debt (CADTM)
17. Ermiza Tegal, Liberation Movement and Attorney at Law
18. Farida C. Khan, Professor – Economics, University of Colorado Colorado Springs
19. Dr Geethika Dharmasinghe, Liberation Movement
20. Harshana Rambukwella, Professor – Postgraduate Institute of English (PGIE), the Open University of Sri Lanka
21. Hiniduma Sunil Senevi, Professor – Department of Languages, Sabaragamuwa University of Sri Lanka, Belihuloya
22. Ishara Dhanasekera, Liberation Movement
23. Jayadeva Uyangoda, Professor Emeritus, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka
24. Jennifer C Olmsted, Department of Economics, Drew University, Madison, NJ, USA
25. Kanchana N Ruwanpura, Professor – Human Geography, University of Gothenburg, Sweden
26. Kanchuka Dharmasiri, Senior Lecturer – English, University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka
27. Kaushalya Herath, PhD Student – University of Dundee, UK
28. Kumudini Samuel, Women and Media Collective
29. Khushi Kabir, Feminist Activist, Advisor, Sangat, a South Asian Feminist Network, Dhaka, Bangladesh
30. Lakmali Hemachandra, Liberation Movement
31. Madhubashini Rathnayake, Liberation Movement
32. Maduranga Kalugampitiya – Department of English, University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka
33. Marissa De Silva, Liberation Movement
34. Megara Tegal, Liberation Movement
35. Michael J Shapiro, Professor – Political Science, University of Hawai’i, Mānoa
36. Nalani Hennayake, Chair Professor – Geography, University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka
37. Nedha de Silva, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka
38. Nethmini Medawala, Attorney-at-Law
39. Nihal Perera, Professor – Urban Planning, Ball State University, IN, USA
40. Nilshan Fonseka
41. Nimanthi Rajasingham, Associate Professor – English and Women’s Studies, Colgate University, USA.
42. Niranjala de Mel
43. Dr Niru Perera, Research Fellow – The Australian National University
44. Nivedita Menon, Professor – School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
45. Niyanthini Kadirgamar, PhD Student, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
46. Noenoe Silva, Professor – Political Science, University of Hawai’i, Mānoa
47. Noelene Nabulivou, Executive Director – DIVA for Equality, Fiji
48. Pasan Jayasinghe, PhD candidate – University College London
49. Pierre Rousset, Europe Solidaire Sans Frontières (ESSF), France
50. Pramesh Pokharel, General Secretary, ANPFA, Nepal
51. Ramindu Perera, Lecturer, Department of Law, Open University of Sri Lanka, Nawala
52. Ramona Duminicioiu, a member of the national coordination committee, Eco Rurails, Romania
53. Ramya Kumar, Faculty of Medicine, University of Jaffna
54. Rasma Razmi, Liberation Movement and Attorney-at-Law
55. Dr Rapti Siriwardane-de Zoysa, Leibniz Center for Tropical Marine Research (Germany)
56. Renuka Karunarathna, Secretary, Collective of Women Affected by Microfinance, Sri Lanka
57. Rohini Hensman, writer, researcher, and activist.
58. Ruvani Ranasinha, Professor – Global Literature. Department of English, King’s College London
59. Sachini Perera, Realizing Sexual and Reproductive Justice (RESURJ)
60. Samanthi Gunawardana, Senior Lecturer – Politics & International Relations, Monash University, Australia
61. Sandun Thudugala, Law & Society Trust, Sri Lanka
62. Sankaran Krishna, Professor – Political Science, University of Hawai’i, Mānoa
63. Sarah Arumugam, Liberation Movement and Attorney-at-Law
64. Shamala Kumar, Professor – University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka
65. Sharika Thiranagama, Professor – Stanford University, USA
66. Sirisha Naidu, USA
67. Smriti Rao, Professor – Economics, Assumption University, USA
68. Sumanasiri Liyanage, Marx School
69. Sumathy Sivamohan, Professor – English – University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka
70. Surekha Samarasena, Feminist writer and journalist
71. Sushovan Dhar, Committee for the Abolition of Illegitimate Debt (CADTM)
72. Swasthika Arulingam, Liberation Movement, Attorney-at-Law
73. Tansy Hoskins, journalist, UK
74. Tharmika Sivaraja, Liberation Movement and Attorney-at-Law
75. Thilinà Màdiwala, Liberation Movement
76. Thiruni Kelegama, Lecturer – Modern South Asian Studies, University of Oxford, UK
77. Thiyagaraja Waradas, Senior Lecturer, University of Colombo
78. Yathursha Ulakentheran, Liberation Movement
79. Upul Wickramsinghe – Durham University, UK
80. Vasuki Nesiah, Professor – Human Rights and International Law, New York University, USA
1. Beyond Beijing Committee, Nepal
2. Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN)
3. Diva for Equality, Fiji
4. Eco Ruralis – Small Scale Farmers Association of Romania
5. femLINKpacific, Fiji
6. International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific (IWRAW Asia Pacific), Malaysia
7. Realizing Sexual and Reproductive Justice (RESURJ)