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International Crisis Group raises concerns over Sri Lanka’s crackdown on dissent

The International Crisis Group (ICG) has issued a statement condemning the measures adopted by the Sri Lankan government during the coronavirus pandemic and warning against a “crackdown on dissent”, “growing anti-Muslim hate speech”, and a “looming constitutional crisis”.


Cracking down on dissent

In their statement, ICG notes that Sri Lanka’s Inspector General of Police warned media outlets against spreading “false” or “malicious information regarding the coronavirus. This statement from the Inspector General was widely criticised including from the Human Rights Commission which noted the lack of “legal grounds and discriminatory impact of arrests”.

The ICG further notes that those arrested include critics of the UNP politicians and government critics such as Ramzy Razeek who called for “intellectual jihad” against anti-Muslim policies and hate campaigning. The brother of the All Ceylon Makkal Congress party leader, Rishad Bathiudeen, has also been arrest as well as prominent Muslim lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah, under allegations of involvement with the Easter Sunday Bombings.

Sri Lanka’s Deputy Inspector General of Police has reported that 40,095 persons have been arrested for violating the state-imposed curfew since it was imposed on 20 March.


Anti-Muslim hatred

The ICG warns against rising anti-Muslim bigotry which has deep roots in Sri Lanka. They note that in both social and traditional media, Muslims are falsely blamed for the spread of the disease and the government are yet to take action to correct these narratives.

The government has also taken steps against the Muslim faith such as mandating compulsory cremation which goes against Islamic burial practices. This was permitted despite a letter from Sri Lanka’s Muslim leaders protesting the decision and a letter from four UN Special Rapporteurs demanding the President follow World Health Organization guidelines.


A Constitutional Crisis

 The ICG warns of a coming constitutional crisis which may be caused by parliament failing to reconvene before 2 June.

Sri Lanka’s election commission has announced that it will postpone parliamentary elections despite constitutional demands that parliament reconvenes by 2 June.

Sri Lanka’s president has refused to reconvene parliament despite the expiring the limits of borrowed authority and opposition assurance that they will work with the government to contain the threat posed by the coronavirus.

Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa, has responded to this crisis by calling for a non-binding meeting of MPS, former MPs and other active political leaders. This meeting was boycotted the UNP, SJB and JVP who believed that a genuine dialogue could not be had.

Read the ICG’s full statement here. 

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