(New York) – The Sri Lankan government should reverse a new regulation that unlawfully restricts protests in large areas of the capital, Colombo, Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday (27).
On September 24, 2022, a day after the measure was issued, police arrested 84 people and used tear gas and water cannon to disperse protesters calling for the release of student activists being held under the notorious Prevention of Terrorism Act.On September 23, the Sri Lankan government invoked the Official Secrets Act to designate public streets and government buildings in central Colombo “high security zones,” where written permission from the police is required to hold any public gathering.
Under the regulation, police have wide-ranging authority to arrest anyone inside these zones and only the High Court can grant bail to those detained.
These broad, severe restrictions threaten the excessive use of force and prolonged detention for people exercising their rights to peaceful assembly and expression, Human Rights Watch said.“The sweeping new regulation severely restricting public protest in Colombo is President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s latest desperate attempt to stop people from protesting,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “While the country is struggling to deal with a deep economic crisis, the government should be making it easier for people’s voices to be heard, not throwing them in jail when they speak out.”Although the September 24 protest was not within one of the new “high security zones,” police said they used tear gas and water cannon because the demonstration was “organized illegally without any permission.”Sri Lankans have protested frequently during 2022 amid an economic crisis and.