The Sri Lankan government of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is waging a campaign of fear and intimidation against human rights activists, journalists, lawyers, and others challenging government policy, Human Rights Watch said today.
The crackdown on dissent under the Rajapaksa administration has intensified in recent months, facilitated by the government’s highly militarized response to the Covid-19 pandemic, and has included intimidation, death threats, physical assaults, and arbitrary arrests.
President Rajapaksa’s party secured a parliamentary majority in elections on August 5, 2020. The results increased concerns that the government will exacerbate policies that are hostile to ethnic and religious minorities and further repress those seeking justice for abuses committed during the country’s 26-year civil war, which ended in 2009. The United Nations and governments that have previously called for accountability for past abuses should now call on the Sri Lanka government to stop targeting those pursuing justice.
“President Rajapaksa is rapidly turning the clock back to the repression that prevailed during the previous Rajapaksa administration,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director. “The Sri Lankan government needs to hear that other countries are watching and will respond to renewed abuses.”
The Rajapaksa government has rapidly expanded the role of the military, including by appointing serving and retired officers to previously civilian leadership roles and creating several special “task forces.” The “Presidential Task Force to build a Secure Country, Disciplined, Virtuous, and Lawful Society” is composed entirely of military and police officers and has the power to issue instructions to any government official. Over 30 state agencies, including the police and the nongovernmental organization secretariat (NGO Secretariat), which regulates civil society groups, have been placed under the Defense Ministry.