On January 16, 2023, police fired tear gas and water cannons twice in an attempt to disperse members of the Inter-University Students’ Federation (IUSF) and civil society who were protesting near the University of the Visual and Performing Arts in Colombo.
The demonstrators were calling for the release of Wasantha Mudalige, a student activist who had been detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act for over 150 days (see report), and against the repression of student leaders and activists more generally.
Scholars at Risk is concerned with the use of water cannons and tear gas 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. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, the use of force to restrict or deter nonviolent student expression undermines academic freedom and democratic society more generally.