On April 3, 2022, police attempted to stop students from carrying out a peaceful protest calling for the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and resorted to firing water cannons and tear gas when some students attempted to break through a police barrier.
On April 1, Rajapaksa declared a state of emergency in response to a demonstration near his private residence. In an apparent attempt to restrict additional protests, a 36-hour curfew was imposed from April 2 to April 4. Despite the curfew, demonstrations continued across the country.
Hundreds of students gathered at the University of Peradeniya campus where they set out on a protest march towards nearby Kandy. Early in their march, which was apparently peaceful, some students reportedly attempted to remove police barricades and march forward. Police fired a water cannon at them and then fired tear gas canisters in an apparent attempt to disperse them.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of force to restrict students’ nonviolent exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly — conduct that is expressly protected by 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. While state authorities have a responsibility to maintain order and safety, they must do so in a manner that is proportionate and does not violate fundamental human rights, including the rights to freedom of expression and assembly. The use of water cannons and tear gas to restrict peaceful student expression undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.