Sri Lankan Church concerned about crackdown on dissent

Parliament’s sanction for declaring an emergency is a sign of the repressive path ahead, say priests and clerics

Sri Lankans shout slogans during a protest outside the Fort railway station in Colombo on July 27 amid concerns over a growing crackdown on public dissent across the country. (Photo: AFP)

Posted: Aug 01, 2022 09:59 GMT

Catholic priests and clerics in Sri Lanka have expressed serious concern over the arrests of prominent anti-government protesters since Ranil Wickremesinghe took office as president.

“We call on the government to end the crackdown on those involved and support the Aragalaya (protest) and focus on listening to people’s grievances and aspirations and taking action to address immediate and long-term issues,” said the July 31 statement signed by more than 1,600 priests, nuns and brothers. Catholics from 23 congregations,

Several prominent activists were arrested and police were preventing lawyers from meeting with them, the statement said.

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“We will do our best to support Aragalaya and protect those involved. We call on our fellow citizens, as well as foreign governments and international organizations, to do the same,” he said.

Local police went to the church of Father Amila Jeevantha after apparently being ordered to arrest the priest who was at the forefront of the protests on July 27.

Similarly, Veranga Pushpika, a journalist, was abducted from a bus in broad daylight by men in civilian clothes. Police later acknowledged his arrest.

Some people in plain clothes claiming to be police also went to the office of Xposure News, which had extensively covered the raid and violence at the Galle Face protest.

“The president’s decision to declare a state of emergency has been ratified by parliament, indicating that the executive and legislative branches are now on a repressive course,” the statement said.

The Christian Solidarity Movement (CSM) has also urged the government to respect the freedoms of the people enshrined in the country’s constitution while reminding the government that Sri Lanka is a signatory to the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.

“The right to peaceful protest is enshrined in the Constitution of Sri Lanka and any interference with this right constitutes a violation of the human rights of protesters, as evidenced by the recent statement by the Human Rights Commission condemning the unprovoked attack against protesters in the middle of the night,” the CSM said.

No government can prevent citizens from demonstrating or expressing their opinion in public as it is a universally accepted right, he added.

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo has urged the government to stop suppressing peaceful protests by the people.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said security forces, including the military, must respect human rights and exercise restraint.

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