SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: August 28, 2019

Attack Types: Killings, Violence, Disappearances

Institution(s):Various Institutions

Region & Country:Southern Asia | Sri Lanka

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On August 28, 2019, police reportedly fired water cannons and launched tear gas canisters at student protesters in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

The Inter University Students’ Federation (IUSF) organized a march protesting legislation being considered in Sri Lankan parliament that they claim would threaten public university education in the country.

A large group of students joined the IUSF protest march, which disrupted traffic as students made their way towards the Presidential Secretariat, in downtown Colombo. Police set up barricades and parked vehicles mounted with water cannons on Lotus Road, blocking students from marching further.

According to video and photos taken at the scene, when protesters attempted to remove the barricades, police fired water cannons and lobbed tear gas canisters in an effort to disperse them. While some protesters retreated, others remained in front of the barricades, with some throwing tear gas canisters back at police. Protesters later reassembled near the barricades and resumed their protest.

There is no information available indicated whether police arrested any of the students or whether any students were injured as a result of the police response.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of force by police to restrict non-violent student expression—conduct that is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Sri Lanka is a party. State authorities have an obligation to refrain from restricting the exercise of the right to freedoms of expression and assembly so long as they are exercised peacefully and responsibly. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, the use of force undermines freedoms of expression and assembly, and democratic society generally.