On March 8, 2023, police fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse a peaceful march by members of University of Kelaniya Student Union (UoK) to demand the release of two student activists who were arrested on January 2, 2023. Approximately six students were arrested.
The march took place on the UoK campus and disrupted traffic.Police ordered the students to disperse, and when they refused to move, fired tear gas and water cannons at the protesters. Police also arrested around six students. It is unclear where the students were held, however, they were released on bail the following day, March 9.
The students were demonstrating for the release of Kelum Mudannayake, the president of the UoK Student Union, and Harshana Dissanayake, who were arrested on charges of property damage from a protest that was held on June 10, 2022.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of force against and detentions of 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. 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 force and detentions to restrict peaceful student expression undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.