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: May 23, 2023

Attack Types: Killings, Violence, Disappearances

Institution(s):Peradeniya University

Region & Country:Southern Asia | Sri Lanka

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On May 23, 2023, Sri Lankan police fired teargas at members of the Peradeniya University student union who were conducting a protest march near the university in Kandy city.

The police initially used barricades to prevent the students from continuing their march. After the students removed the barricades, police fired teargas. The students then engaged in a sit-in at the spot. The march and sit-in disrupted traffic.

A speaker at the event accused the university of acting on the needs of the government rather than the students. Among the students’ grievances, he listed the expulsion of the former chairman of the student union and other student activists in December 2022, a proposal to install CCTV across campus, and a range of “student welfare” issues, including the university’s failure to disburse scholarships on time or to renovate the student dormitories, and the cost of the food at the university cantine.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of teargas 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 an obligation to not restrict 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 generally.

Sources:
*SAR identified this incident in data made publicly available by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED)
https://crisis24.garda.com/alerts/2023/05/sri-lanka-police-fire-tear-gas-to-disperse-student-protesters-in-kandy-as-of-may-23
https://www.adaderana.lk/news.php?nid=90742
https://archives1.dailynews.lk/2023/05/23/local/303978/police-disperse-protest-march-peradeniya
https://www.dailymirror.lk/worldnews/breaking_news/Peradeniya-University-students-tear-gassed/108-259703
https://twitter.com/news_cutter/status/1660926341594902528
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5OtRiveap3s