Protect the right to protest

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While raising concerns on the attack on protesters on 22 July, International academics called on President Ranil Wickremesinghe to protect the right to protest while upholding other freedoms.

Over 150 academics from all over the world endorsed a statement condemning the recent violent attack on peaceful protesters while calling on the authorities to guarantee people’s freedom of expression and the right to protest. The scholars, from world leading universities in the US, UK, Europe, Asia and Australia, expressed outrage at the manner in which the military personnel attacked protesters, while raising concerns on reports that protesters were abducted, tortured and arbitrarily arrested.

“The fact that such a brutal attack against non-violent protesters was ordered by the country’s new President less than 24 hours after taking office, is shocking and sends distressing signals of his method of governance,” the statement read.

“Wickremasinghe was elected by parliament to take on the presidency, which was vacated due to the non-violent pro-democracy movement against authoritarianism and failed governance. His decision to follow in the footsteps of his predecessors is deeply alarming and does not offer the prospect of Sri Lanka progressing beyond the current crisis it is in,” it added.

The statement criticised Wickremasinghe’s reference to the protesters as ‘facist’ arguing that it was ‘totally inaccurate, inappropriate and damaging’ and weaponised the term to provide an excuse for the use of extreme force.

They thereby called on the president and government to immediately desist in the use of any force against protesters, reduce the current extreme military presence around the protest site in Colombo and around the country including the north and east, investigate the use of extreme force and torture and hold accountable those found guilty of committing these crimes and respect the right of all Sri Lankans to protest and protect protest spaces.