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: November 18, 2022

Attack Types: Killings, Violence, Disappearances

Institution(s):Unspecified Institution(s)

Region & Country:Southern Asia | Sri Lanka

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On November 18, 2022, police in Colombo fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse students participating in a nonviolent protest organized by the Inter-University Students Federation (IUSF)

The protesters were demanding the release of IUSF leader Wasantha Mudalige and Ven. Galwewa Siridhamma Thero, leader of the Inter-University Bhikkhu Federation (IUBF), a similar organization comprised of Buddhist monks on university campuses. Mudalige and Siridhamma Thero were both arrested during antigovernment protests in August 2022.

Sources indicate that, in advance of the march, police blocked the protesters’ route to a United Nations compound where they had intended to demonstrate. At least two groups of protesters then took different routes to carry out their demonstration, including one route that reportedly took them near the prime minister’s office. A heavy police force intervened to disperse the protesters, using water cannons and firing tear gas.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about police using water cannons and tear gas in an apparent effort to disperse students peacefully exercising their 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. State authorities have a responsibility to refrain from restricting the nonviolent exercise of such rights. The use of force to restrict or deter nonviolent student expression 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)