Sri Lankan government using anti-COVID laws to suppress dissent
by Melanie Manel Perera

According to civil society groups, at least 60 people have been arbitrarily arrested in the past two days. Quarantine laws are an excuse to silence government critics.

 


Colombo (AsiaNews) – The Sri Lankan government is using quarantine legislation to crack down on grassroots protests, this according to a number of civil society groups.

Many ordinary Sri Lankans have expressed their opposition to the government’s arbitrary actions. While they agree that quarantine regulations must be enforced to control the COVID-19 epidemic, arresting protesters violates their freedom of expression.

In the past few days, demonstrations have been held for different reasons in various parts of the country.

In Boralanda, farmers came out against the government’s ban on fertilisers, while on Slave Island, residents protested against the State Engineering Corporation’s failure to pay salaries.

In justifying their action, local authorities noted that protesters were taken into custody for violating quarantine regulations, then released on bail.

The same thing happened in Ja-Ela, where protesters oppose the construction of a new power plant in Muthurajawela.

In Kalutara, people called on the government to cut the prices of fuel and goods.

At least 45 people were arrested yesterday, including two monks, police spokesman Ajith Rohana said. However, according to unofficial reports from civil society groups, at least 60 people have been arrested in the past two days.

On 6 June, director general of health services, Asela Gunawardena, banned protests, calling them a threat to public health due to the potential spread of the coronavirus.

Activists disagree, saying that those arguments are an excuse by the government to suppress any form of dissent.

“It should be reiterated that it is a serious matter that so many repressive incidents are taking place across the country in a single day,” reads a statement signed by civil society groups.

“The purpose of all these protests was to prevent the government from intervening in issues that affect the people and to protest against the decisions taken by the government to aggravate those issues,” it goes on to say.

Ultimately, “The right to freedom of expression is recognised as a fundamental right in the Constitution of Sri Lanka”.

For this reason, it is necessary “to defeat the rapidly growing anti-democratic actions of the present government and to protect the democratic right to freedom of expression”.

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