Rise against State repression: A call to the people

Thursday, 24 November 2022 03:41 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

2022 has seen the most dramatic uprising of people against the Government’s tyrannical rule since independence. Amidst a devastating economic crisis, the people raised their voices against corruption, misrule and economic mismanagement, demanding greater democracy. Instead of heeding the people’s call for change in the political culture and economic accountability, the Government has responded with repression. 

The State’s crackdown on protesters is intended to prevent the expression of public dissatisfaction with the administration, as well as the austerity measures it has imposed which are causing tremendous hardship and suffering. 

We, the undersigned, call on the Government to acknowledge the sovereignty of the people, to cease its persecution of protestors, and ensure the civil, political and economic rights of all citizens, especially of marginalised and vulnerable communities. The multiple, interconnected political and economic crises confronting us now cannot be resolved through a move towards greater authoritarianism but by the people’s continued involvement in the democratic space that has been created and by an administration willing to engage with its citizens.


The Security State

From its inception, State security and its repressive arms were key to the functioning of the Sri Lankan postcolonial state. The insurgencies in the south and the rise of militancy in the north and east, the protracted war that lasted almost 30 years, were used to legitimise the repressive arms of the State. The all-powerful executive presidency (1978) compounded matters by densely concentrating executive powers in one office, enabling swift authorisation of questionable laws and actions.

In 1979, the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) was introduced, giving the Government sweeping powers to arrest anyone without a warrant on the hazy grounds of their engaging in “unlawful activities” and detain them for up to 18 months without being produced before a court, and often incarcerating them for decades without a fair trial. Presented, debated and enacted in parliament within a single day, the PTA was a “temporary” measure to purportedly stem the tide of Tamil militancy. It was complemented by several other organised forms of repression. 

In addition to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), units like the police Special Task Force (STF), and the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID), paved the way for increased securitisation and militarisation of the State. In the long years of the war and unrest, militarisation seeped into the fabric of society.


Post-war and post-Easter bombings

The template for what we see today was shaped during the post-war years as well, as the State continued to target minorities. Instead of pursuing genuine reconciliation and power-sharing, the State reinforced its military apparatus in the north and east. This has allowed the retention of High Security Zones, preventing people from returning to their homes and livelihoods, and enabled land grabbing that is rationalised in the name of security or development. In the aftermath of the Easter bombings of April 2019, in which some 270 people lost their lives, anti-terror campaigns targeted Muslim youth. Terror and fear seized the Muslim community as they came under attack by the repressive arms of State security. The PTA was to arbitrarily arrest and confine persons known and unknown, on very flimsy charges. The arrest and detention of Hejaaz Hizbullah and Ahnaf Jazeem are only two cases in point of how the PTA is used in a gross violation of all concerns of justice. 

An earlier development in this regard has drawn insufficient public attention. In compliance with UN Security Council Resolution No. 1373 calling on member states to take measures to curb terrorist activity, the Sri Lankan state drew up a list of names in 2020, identifying 300-odd persons as terror suspects. The overwhelming majority of those named in the list are Muslim and Tamil. Some were already behind bars during the period in which they are suspected of having engaged in suspicious activity. Persons included in the list undergo untold difficulties: they no longer enjoy access to their financial assets and have no indication of when they may expect to have such access again. They cannot seek legal redress because their financial assets are barred to them. They have trouble securing or holding on to employment due to the disrepute of being included in the list. They live under constant surveillance, with the threat of potential punitive measures despite the absence of any evidence of misconduct. 


Bureau of Rehabilitation Bill

The Bureau of Rehabilitation Bill is the most recent in a series of laws that seek to sanction repression by the State and must not be viewed in isolation, but in the totality of a process we understand as securitisation of the state. The broad reach of the Bill allows for sending into compulsory detention “drug dependent persons, ex-combatants, members of violent extremist groups and any other group of persons” without necessarily citing sufficient cause for such action. 

Even though the Supreme Court has ruled that “certain provisions” of the Bill are unconstitutional such as the reference to ‘ex-combatants’ and ‘any other persons’, the criminalisation of drug dependency that seems to be considered unproblematic suggests that the law itself should not be accepted without questioning. Its draconian features allow virtually any person to be sent into detention and it does not specify the procedure by which claims of drug abuse, past involvement in armed activity, and violent extremism may be reasonably established. It leaves space for the criminalisation of democratic activism that has characterised our recent past. The Bill in its entirety should be struck down.


The current moment of repression

Today, person after person is being arrested and detained. The lens of surveillance has dramatically turned to those who are deemed central to the people’s movement of the Aragalaya. Those who have stood up to State violence, including students, are being picked off the streets and sent away, into the dark corners of detention.

We are staring into the gaping mouth of a police state. We have to reclaim our voice, and rise against all acts of repression and all legal manoeuvres that are designed to silence dissent, resistance and democratic action. This is the task at hand, where we citizens must reclaim the democratic space to put an end to authoritarian repression. It is through democratic participation, through dialogue, protests and the vote, that the tremendous economic and political crisis can be addressed in the interests of all the people of Sri Lanka.       



1. Ranil Abayasekara, formerly University of Peradeniya

2. Udari Abeyasinghe, University of Peradeniya

3. Asha L. Abeyasekera, formerly University of Colombo

4. M.M. Alikhan, University of Peradeniya

5. Liyanage Amarakeerthi, University of Peradeniya

6. Fazeeha Azmi, M.I., University of Peradeniya

7. Crystal Baines, formerly University of Colombo

8. Navaratne Banda, formerly University of Peradeniya

9. Visakesa Chandrasekaram, University of Colombo

10. Erandika de Silva, University of Jaffna

11. Nadeesh De Silva, the Open University of Sri Lanka

12. Nirmal Dewasiri, University of Colombo

13. Kanchuka Dharmasiri, University of Peradeniya

14. Priyan Dias, Emeritus Professor, University of Moratuwa

15. Avanka Fernando, University of Colombo

16. Priyantha Fonseka, University of Peradeniya

17. Savitri Goonesekere, Emeritus Professor, University of Colombo

18. Camena Guneratne, Open University of Sri Lanka

19. Dileni Gunewardena, University of Peradeniya

20. Farzana Haniffa, University of Colombo 

21. Shyamani Hettiarachchi, University of Kelaniya

22. Gayathri Hewagama, Visiting Lecturer, University of Peradeniya

23. Charudaththe B. Illangasinghe, University of the Visual and Performing Arts

24. Prabhath Jayasinghe, University of Colombo

25. Theshani Jayasooriya, University of Peradeniya

26. M.W.A.P. Jayatilaka, Retired, University of Peradeniya

27. Barana Jayawardana, University of Peradeniya

28. Pavithra Jayawardena, University of Colombo

29. Ahilan Kadirgamar, University of Jaffna

30. Anushka Kahandagamage, formerly University of Colombo

31. Pavithra Kailasapathy, University of Colombo

32. Maduranga Kalugampitiya, University of Peradeniya

33. A.K. Karunarathne, University of Peradeniya

34. Madara Karunarathne, University of Peradeniya

35. Chulani Kodikara, Visiting Lecturer, Faculty of Graduate Studies, University of Colombo

36. Pradeepa Korale Gedara, University of Peradeniya

37. Savitri Nimal Kumar, University of Peradeniya

38. Ramya Kumar, University of Jaffna

39. Shamala Kumar, University of Peradeniya

40. Vijaya Kumar, Emeritus Professor, University of Peradeniya

41. Amal Kumarage, University of Moratuwa

42. Aminda Lakmal, University of Sri Jayewardenepura

43. Rohan Laksiri, University of Ruhuna

44. Abdul Haq Lareena, Sabaragamuwa University

45. Hasini Lecamwasam, University of Peradeniya

46. Kamala Liyanage, Professor Emerita, University of Peradeniya

47. Nethmie Liyanage, University of Peradeniya

48. Sachini Marasinghe, University of Peradeniya

49. Tharinda Mallawaarachchi, University of Colombo

50. Sudesh Mantillake, University of Peradeniya

51. Prabha Manuratne, University of Kelaniya

52. Mahim Mendis, Open University of Sri Lanka

53. Rumala Morel, University of Peradeniya

54. Sitralega Maunaguru, retired formerly Eastern University of Sri Lanka

55. Kethakie Nagahawatte, University of Colombo

56. Sabreena Niles, University of Kelaniya

57. M.A. Nuhman, formerly University of Jaffna

58. Gananath Obeyesekere, formerly University of Peradeniya

59. Ranjini Obeyesekere, formerly University of Peradeniya

60. Arjuna Parakrama, University of Peradeniya

61. Sasinindu Patabendige, University of Jaffna

62. Pradeep Peiris, University of Colombo

63. Kaushalya Perera, University of Colombo 

64. Nicola Perera, University of Colombo

65. Ramindu Perera, The Open University of Sri Lanka

66. Ruhanie Perera, University of Colombo

67. Sampath Rajapaksa, University of Kelaniya

68. Ramesh Ramasamy, University of Peradeniya 

69. Harshana Rambukwella, The Open University of Sri Lanka

70. Rajitha Ranasinghe, University of Peradeniya

71. Rupika Subashini Rajakaruna, University of Peradeniya

72. Aruni Samarakoon, University of Ruhuna

73. Athula Siri Samarakoon, The Open University of Sri Lanka

74. Dinesha Samararatne, University of Colombo

75. Unnathi Samaraweera, University of Colombo

76. T. Sanathanan, University of Jaffna

77. Samitha Senanayake, formerly University of Peradeniya

78. Kalana Senaratne, University of Peradeniya

79. Anusha Sivalingam, University of Colombo

80. H. Sriyananda, Emeritus Professor, the Open University of Sri Lanka

81. Sivamohan Sumathy, University of Peradeniya

82. Hiniduma Sunil Senavi, University of Sabaragamuwa

83. Esther Surenthiraraj, University of Colombo

84. V. Thevanesam, Emeritus Professor, University of Peradeniya

85. Dayapala Thiranagama, formerly University of Kelaniya

86. Mahendran Thiruvarangan, University of Jaffna

87. Deepika Udagama, University of Peradeniya

88. Ramila Usoof, University of Peradeniya

89. Jayadeva Uyangoda, Professor Emeritus in Political Science, University of Colombo

90. Vivimarie Vanderpoorten, Open University of Sri Lanka

91. Ruvan Weerasinghe, University of Colombo

92. Nira Wickramasinghe, formerly, University of Colombo

93. Ranjit Wijekoon, formerly University of Peradeniya

94. Dinuka Wijetunga, University of Colombo