On February 19, 2023, student Buddhist monks held a protest in front of the University of Kelaniya demanding the immediate release of the president of the University of Kelaniya Students’ Union.
The Students’ Union–University of Kelaniya (UOK) and the Inter University Students’ Federation (IUSF) organized the protest to call for the release of Kelum Mudannayaka, the President of the Student Union, who was arrested for the alleged destruction of property on January 2, 2023. Police deployed riot control units and used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the protesters. Police also said they arrested six protesters, including four Buddihis monks, for holding an “illegal assembly.” They were released on bail two days later.
Scholars at Risk is concerned with the detention of students and use of water cannons and tear gas to disperse students exercising their peaceful 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.
*SAR identified this incident in data made publicly available by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED)