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 30, 2022

Attack Types: Killings, Violence, Disappearances

Institution(s):Various Institutions

Region & Country:Southern Asia | Sri Lanka

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On August 30, 2022, police fired water cannons at and tear gassed protesters during a march organized by the Inter-University Student Federation (IUSF) in Colombo.

IUSF organized the march to protest against the arrests of anti-government activists, including students, under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Civil society activists, including members of trades unions, joined the protest, which began near the Elphinstone Theatre.

A large police presence was reported at the protest. Police claimed that the students did not have approval for the protest.

Police attempted to block protesters from continuing their march at major intersections, causing protesters to reroute. On a street near the Ministry of Health, police again blocked protesters, who began to sit in the street. Soon after, police tear gassed the protesters and fired water cannons. Police reportedly arrested 25-27 protesters during their response. As of this report, publicly available sources do not detail the evidentiary bases for their arrest.

Scholars at Risk is concerned by the use of force in an apparent effort to restrict a nonviolent student protest—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 security forces have a responsibility to maintain safety and order, they also have an obligation to refrain from restricting nonviolent exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, and to ensure that their actions are proportionate to the situation and do not endanger protesters. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, the use of force against nonviolent student protesters undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.

*SAR identified this incident in data made publicly available by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED)