(New York) – Sri Lanka’s President Ranil Wickremesinghe should immediately end the use of draconian counterterrorism laws to target peaceful protesters and release those in custody, Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities detained three student activists who participated in an August 18, 2022 demonstration under the abusive Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), which allows up to a year’s detention without trial.
Since he was sworn in as president on July 21 following the flight and resignation of then-president Gotabaya Rajapaksa, President Wickremesinghe has suppressed rights including the freedoms of expression, association, and peaceful assembly. His administration imposed a one-month state of emergency, used security forces to violently disperse protesters, and arrested dozens of people who participated in peaceful protests. Successive governments have broken promises to suspend use of the PTA and replace it with rights-respecting legislation.“President Wickremesinghe’s use of antiterrorism legislation to lock up people peacefully calling for reform sends a chilling message to Sri Lankans that rights won’t get priority during his administration,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The president’s suppression of dissent at home flies in the face of his pledges to allies abroad.”