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: August 10, 2023

Attack Types: Killings, Violence, Disappearances | Imprisonment

Institution(s):Various Universities

Region & Country:Southern Asia | Sri Lanka

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On August 10, 2023, Sri Lankan police fired water cannons at members of the Inter-University Students’ Federation (IUSF) holding a protest march in Colombo city. Twenty-two protesters were arrested.

IUSF was marching to protest the government’s authorization of three private universities to issue medical degrees, as well as conditions related to an economic bailout agreement between the government and the International Monetary Fund.

Prior to the protest, the Colombo Fort Magistrate issued orders against ten IUSF members, including IUSF convener Madushan Chandrajith, prohibiting them from entering the Presidential Secretariat, President’s House, the Prime Minister’s Office, and Galle Face Green, along with other nearby locations.

A heavy police presence was reported in Colombo during the march, and police used fired water cannons to disperse protesters near Viharamahadevi Park, located around the corner from the Prime Minister’s office. Police also arrested 22 protesters.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of water cannons to disperse students and about the arrest 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. 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 and detention 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)