Lawyers’ Forum, SLYJA appeal to OHCHR

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By Faadhila Thassim 

The Lawyers’ Forum for the People and the Sri Lanka Young Journalists’ Association (SLYJA) appealed to the OHCHR, the UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Opinion and Expression, and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association to exert immediate and maximum pressure on the Government to address the grievances of the citizens. 

They said, the Government should also be pressured to respect the right to freedom of expression, opinion and assembly and especially the right to protest and to take action against those who have or attempted to suppress such freedom.

They further called to carry out official observation/solidarity visits to Galle Face and other protest sites to monitor the situation on a regular basis and to intervene to protect and support those whose freedom of expression, opinion and assembly and the right to protest have been violated or face imminent violation.   

It was noted that the reprisals and violation of the rights of protestors include that of 54 persons including journalists being arrested and beaten during the protest that took place in Mirihana, followed by legal measures to restrict freedom of expression, opinion and assembly, such as the declaration of emergency, islandwide curfew and illegal instructions to the mobile service providers to restrict some social media applications. 

“A young social media activist who had supported the protests, was abducted from his house in the early hours of 1 April and Police had initially denied knowledge about his whereabouts. But after a series of interventions by the Young Journalists’ Association, lawyers and the Human Rights Commission, Police acknowledged his arrest and detention and he was produced before a Magistrate and released on bail,” they said. 

They further said as there is no prima facie criminal offence, the arrests appear to be a disproportionate response, designed to discourage government officials and Police in particular, to be sympathetic and supportive towards the protests. 

“Journalists had noticed several Intelligence personnel loitering around the International Media Centre set up at the Galle Face protest site and are suspicious whether there is a hidden hand behind these incidents,” they said. 

Citing the report that the Police had submitted to the Fort Magistrate about the protests at Galle Face, saying protesters had caused inconvenience to the public using the road and pavement at Galle Face and also saying that disposal of non-biodegradable items used by the protesters and use of loudspeakers is causing environmental damage, they said this appears to have misled the Court.

Copies of the letter were also sent to the UN Resident Coordinator in Sri Lanka, Senior Adviser to the UN Country Team in Sri Lanka, Diplomatic Missions in Colombo, Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, Chairperson of the Judicial Services Commission of Sri Lanka, and the President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka.