On August 21, 2018, police fired tear gas and water cannons at Southeastern University of Sri Lanka students participating in a protest march in the city of Colombo.
The students had gathered at the main campus of the University of the Visual and Performing Arts where they set off on a march organized by the Inter University Students’ Federation to protest recent decisions made by the Ministry of Higher Education. The students planned to march to the University Grant Commission where they would voice their concerns.
Reports and video evidence from the protest indicate that the students’ march caused traffic jams and that students attempted to dismantle and bypass police barricades. Police in riot gear on the scene fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse the students. Video footage shows police wielding batons and chasing after students.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of violence against students in apparent retaliation for the nonviolent exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and assembly–conduct that is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Sri Lanka is party. State authorities have a responsibility not to interfere with these rights and to refrain from the use of force intended to restrict them. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such actions undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.