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: March 05, 2024

Attack Types: Killings, Violence, Disappearances | Imprisonment | Prosecution

Institution(s):Multiple Institutions

Region & Country:Southern Asia | Sri Lanka

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On March 5 and 6, 2024, police used teargas and water cannons to disperse university students in Colombo. Two students were arrested during the protests on March 6.

The two days of protests were organized by different groups. On March 5, several student groups who support Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) – an opposition Marxist-Leninist populist party – marched near the University of Colombo with a variety of demands related to education, welfare, and repressive laws, such as the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Police used water cannons and tear gas to disperse the students, reportedly firing some tear gas canisters into the university.

On March 6, the Inter University Student Federation (IUSF) marched with a similar set of demands. Videos show police responding to the protest with water cannons and batons. Police arrested at least two students, including IUSF convener Madhushan Chandrajith. The Colombo magistrates court released both students on bail the following day.

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.