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PEARL condemns Sri Lanka’s latest assault on Tamils’ right to remember

A Sri Lankan policeman walks past the Thileepan memorial in Nallur after security forces removed decorations that had been set up to commemorate Thileepan's hunger strike

Following the banning of memorials for Lt. Col. Thileepan, who died whilst conducting a hunger strike for Tamil rights in 1987, PEARL (People for Equality and Relief in Sri Lanka) has voiced support for Tamil political parties who have vocally opposed the ban and the planned protests; whilst also condemning the repression that said ban entails.


An alarming escalation in state repression

Noting that whilst Sri Lanka’s security forces have “consistently surveilled and harassed Tamils attempting to commemorate the struggle in the post-war period”, PEARL maintains that “this abuse of legal process” presents a “troubling development”.

Read more from PEARL: Erasing the Past: Repression of Memorialization in North-East Sri Lanka 

Already Sri Lanka’s security forces have arrested former MP MK Shivajilingam and have summoned Batticaloa Organiser of the Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF) over attempts to commemorate the anniversary of Thileepan.

PEARL notes that in contrast to the past, “the current constellation of a hyper-nationalist and Sinhala Buddhist supremacist state, and a president and parliament unconcerned with Tamil rights”, presents “an even more dangerous mix”.

This ban, PEARL maintains “will lay the ground for further bans, arrests and intimidation, including around Maaveerar Naal on November 27, and Tamil Genocide Remembrance Day on May 18, both commemorated annually by tens of thousands across the Tamil homeland and the diaspora”.


Tamil Unity

PEARL’s statement also highlights the unity of Tamil nationalist parties, “including the Tamil National Alliance, the Tamil National People’s Front and the Tamil Makkal Kootani”, who have all condemned the state’s actions and written to the President in an attempt to appeal the ban.

Read more here: Tamil political parties appeal to Gotabaya to allow Thileepan commemorative events to go ahead

Despite the increasing repression in Sri Lanka, Tamils across Europe are commemorating the sacrifice of Thileepan with ceremonies at their homes.


Why memorialisation matters

PEARL emphasises the importance of memorialisation which “linked to free speech and expression and has been one of the fundamental demands of the Tamil people.

This ban threatens to “not only further shrinks the political space, fought for by Tamils over the years” PEARL notes but “it also dashes any faint hopes some may have held of meaningful accountability and reconciliation in Sri Lanka”.

PEARL maintains that the ending of state repression surrounding remembrance is vital to “aid all survivors of violence and facilitate the healing process”.

Tasha Manoranjan, Executive Director of PEARl, notes;

“For the ethnic conflict to be sustainably resolved, its participants and victim-survivors must be allowed to remember freely,”

She further adds;

“Restriction of memorialization by the state and the continued forcible imposition of one-sided narratives will only divide the country further.”

PEARL states that this ban will act as a “slippery slope” and “accelerate Sri Lanka’s descent into further conflict”.


International Community

PEARL further calls on the international community to “send an unequivocal message that interfering with the Tamil community's right to remember is an unacceptable breach of domestic and international law protecting free speech and expression”.

They further maintain that; “Sri Lanka’s continued repression, discrimination and impunity for mass atrocities must have consequences”.

Read PEARL’s full statement here.

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