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SRI LANKA: Security forces detain, assault journalists covering political unrest

Sri Lankan security forces detain, assault journalists covering political unrest

Sri Lankan authorities must thoroughly and swiftly investigate recent attacks on journalists by the country’s security forces, hold the perpetrators to account, and cease harassing the staff of Xposure News, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday.


Committee to Protect Journalists (27.07.2022) – https://bit.ly/3JqJLr7 – On the early morning of July 22, Sri Lankan security forces assaulted at least four members of the press, including three journalists with the privately owned digital news platform Xposure News, covering a military raid on a protest site and subsequent demonstration in Colombo, the capital, according to those journalists, who spoke with CPJ by phone.


Separately, police arrived at the Xposure News office on Wednesday, July 27, seeking three journalists who had covered protests for the outlet, those journalists said.


Protests have broken out throughout Sri Lanka amid an ongoing political and economic crisis; President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country on July 13 and resigned the next day, and former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in as the new president on July 21.


“The repeated attacks on journalists covering political unrest in Sri Lanka must come to an immediate end. The government must order security forces to cease detaining and harassing journalists covering the country’s political and economic crisis,” said Carlos Martinez de la Serna, CPJ’s program director, in Madrid. “Authorities must thoroughly investigate these attacks, hold the perpetrators to account, and cease harassing the staff of Xposure News.”


At about 1:20 a.m. on July 22, Sri Lankan Army officers attacked Jareen Samuel, a camera operator and video editor with BBC News, while he was covering security forces’ raid on a protest camp in the Galle Face area of Colombo, according to multiple reports by the BBC and Samuel, who spoke to CPJ by phone.


Samuel told CPJ that he and members of his reporting team showed their press IDs and foreign accreditation cards to the officers, who then repeatedly slapped Samuel, pushed him to the ground, and kicked him several times in the abdomen. He said an officer also confiscated his phone, deleted videos from it, and then returned it.


Samuel was treated at a local hospital for an injury to his abdomen, he told CPJ.


Also early that morning, officers with the Sri Lankan Air Force attacked three journalists with Xposure News while they covered a protest in the Kollupitiya area of Colombo, according to a video of the incident published by Xposure News and the three journalists, who spoke to CPJ by phone.  


Shortly before 3 a.m., officers first attacked Chaturanga Pradeep Kumara, a videographer, video editor, and researcher with the outlet, according to the journalist and that video. Kumara said an officer beat him on the legs with a baton, knocking him to the ground; when he could not get up, officers dragged him to a dark area nearby as he repeatedly identified himself as a journalist.


At that location, air force and army officers confiscated his phone and his personal and press ID cards, Kumara said. Officers deleted several videos from Kumara’s phone and ordered him to contort his body into positions used as punishment among members of the Sri Lankan Army; when the journalist was unable to put himself in those positions, he said the officers beat him with batons and then lined him up with other detainees and repeatedly slapped them across their ears.


After about three hours, officers returned Kumara’s phone and identification cards and released him, the journalist told CPJ, saying he received painkillers for a muscle injury to his leg at a local hospital.


Shortly after officers detained Kumara, Xposure News digital head Rasika Gunawardana and Shabeer Mohammed, a freelance journalist reporting for the outlet, were filming security forces allegedly attacking civilians when a group of air force officers surrounded them, ordered them to stop filming, and threw Mohammed’s phone to the ground, according that video of the incident and the two journalists. Gunawardena said that an officer then struck him on the head from behind with a baton, and Mohammed said officers hit him from behind on his neck.


Gunawardena and Mohammed received treatment at a local hospital for their injuries and were prescribed painkillers, they said.


The three Xposure News journalists told CPJ that they were unable to identify the officers who attacked them because they were not wearing badges and their faces were covered.


On July 27, two police officers visited Xposure News’ office in Colombo, and showed the building’s security guard photos of Kumara,  Gunawardana, and Mohammed, according to the three journalists and a tweet by Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka, a local press freedom group. The officers asked whether the journalists worked there, and also asked the security guard to provide access to CCTV footage of the building, the three journalists told CPJ, adding that the guard refused their requests.


Sri Lanka police spokesperson Nihal Thalduwa did not respond to CPJ’s request for comment sent via messaging app. CPJ emailed Nalin Herat, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Defense, which oversees the army and air force, but did not receive any reply.


Photo credits: Reuters/Adnan Abidi

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SRI LANKA: Over 20 NGOs against the re-introduction of the anti-conversion law

HRWF co-signed the call to the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka organized by the International Religious Freedom Roundtable


H.E. Mahinda Rajapaksa

Prime Minister’s Office

No: 58, Sir Ernest De Silva Mawatha,

Colombo 07.

Sri Lanka.


18 March 2021


Your Excellency,

We, the undersigned, are a collection of individuals and organizations that advocate for human rights and religious freedom around the world. We represent diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds but are united in our goal of promoting religious freedom or belief for all.

We recognize the value of each individual’s freedom to follow their conscience, which is why we are concerned about Your Excellency’s statements on introducing anti-conversion laws into the country and plans to restructure the constitution of Sri Lanka to accommodate a law that would strip individuals of their freedom of speech and conscience.[1] We raise our concerns now because of a recent report that the Ministry of Buddhasasana, Religious, and Cultural Affairs is currently drafting a legal framework for the implementation of anti-conversion laws.[2]

Sri Lanka is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and is therefore bound to the commitments it promised to uphold since 1980. International law is clear that anti-conversion laws are frequently incompatible with the core principles of freedom of religion or belief. The Constitution of Sri Lanka draws directly upon the language of the ICCPR in establishing a national right to religious freedom. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief has reported that anti-blasphemy, anti-apostasy and anti-conversion laws, “often serve as platforms for enabling incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence against persons based on religion or belief.[3] Restrictions on fundamental freedoms such as religious freedom must pass the test of legality, proportionality and necessity. No anti-conversion law has yet passed this test.[4]

Religious freedom has tangible social benefits beyond simply the spiritual. Religious freedom promotes economic growth and social harmony by encouraging acceptance of others. Conversely, anti-conversion laws often have negative social consequences. While we denounce any conversions obtained by force and violence, anti-conversion laws are often written in a way that is overbroad and ambiguous, enabling accusations against religious groups based on mere worship, sharing one’s faith, and performing charitable works. They encourage false accusations and cause unrest by emboldening intolerant and extremist actors. By contrast, religious groups very frequently provide moral, social, emotional, and physical advantages for the individuals, their families and communities.

In light of the above we respectfully urge the government of Sri Lanka to keep its promises to its citizens and to the international community by ensuring the longevity of religious freedom and tolerance in Sri Lanka. We humbly ask that the government retract its decision to reintroduce an anti-conversion law which would instead undermine religious freedom and religious harmony. While forced and coercive conversion is abominable, anti-conversion laws have been proven to restrict legitimate religious freedom and target religious minorities. Sri Lanka must ensure that each individual be free to make their own conclusions and decisions about the divine.


We therefore urgently call on the government of Sri Lanka to:

  • Abandon the introduction of an anti-conversion law.
  • Ensure that all religious minorities are able to practice their religion or belief freely and without discrimination.
  • Promote tolerance between religions by upholding Articles 10 and 14 of the Sri Lankan Constitution, and Article 18 of the ICCPR, including the freedom to adopt or leave a religion or belief.
  • Introduce religious freedom roundtables for religious leaders to discuss the issues affecting their communities in an open, free, cooperative and constructive manner.




ADF International

Advocates International

Alevi Philosophy Center

Association for Advancement of Freedom of Religion or Belief in Vietnam

Center for Pluralism

Christian Freedom International

Church of Scientology National Affairs Office

Coordination des Associations et des Particuliers pour la Liberté de Conscience

GAFCON Suffering Church Network

Human Rights Association for Victims of Coercive Conversion Programs

Human Rights Without Frontiers

International Christian Concern

International Human Rights Committee

International Organization to Preserve Human Rights (IOPHR)

International Society for Peace and Justice

Jubilee Campaign

Minh Van Foundation

The Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church of America

Saint Nicholas Freedom Group

The Observatory for Freedom of Religion and Conscience (Spain)

The Orthodox Public Affairs Committee

The Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church of America

Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam



Anuttama Dasa
Global Minister of Communications
International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON)

Father John Anderson
Saint Nicholas Freedom Group

Paul Diamond

Mike Ghouse
Center for Pluralism

George Gigicos
Co-Founder & Chairman
The Orthodox Public Affairs Committee

Lauren Homer
Law and Liberty International

Farahnaz Ispahani
Senior Fellow, Religious Freedom Institute and former Member, National Assembly of Pakistan

Farahnaz Ispahani
Global Fellow, Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, Author and Former Member Pakistan Parliament.

Nasim Malik
General Secretary
Human Rights Commitee

Jorge Marquez
Pastor and founder of the Church “Mission Life for Nations

Faith J. H. McDonnell
Director of Advocacy,
Katartismos Global

Scott Morgan
Red Eagle Enterprises

Hans Noot
Gerard Noodt Foundation for Freedom of Religion or Belief

[1] Arjuna Ranawana, Mahinda raises controversial Anti-Conversion Bill issue, Economynext (3 March 2020)

[2] Pamodi Waravita, New laws against unethical conversions (18 February 2021), https://www.themorning.lk/new-laws-against-unethical-conversions/.

[3] UN General Assembly, Elimination of all forms of religious intolerance, (28 August 2017), A/72/365, para 27.

[4] UN General Assembly, Elimination of all forms of religious intolerance, (13 August 2012), A/67/303, para. 44.

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SRI LANKA: Sri Lanka to ban burqa, shut more than 1,000 Islamic schools

Minister for public security says decision has been taken on ‘national security’ grounds; activists decry announcement.


ALJAZEERA (13.03.2021) –  https://bit.ly/3vpMzxd – Sri Lanka’s government says it will ban the wearing of the burqa, a full-body veil that covers the face as well, and close more than 1,000 Islamic schools, the latest actions affecting the country’s minority Muslim population.


Separately, the government on Saturday announced using a controversial anti-terror law to deal with religious “extremism” and gave itself sweeping powers to detain suspects for up to two years for “deradicalisation”.


Minister for Public Security Sarath Weerasekera told a news conference he had signed a paper on Friday for cabinet approval to ban the burqa – an outer garment that covers the entire body and the face and is worn by some Muslim women – on “national security” grounds.


“In our early days, Muslim women and girls never wore the burqa,” he said. “It is a sign of religious extremism that came about recently. We are definitely going to ban it.”


The minister said he signed documents outlawing the burqa, but they need to be approved by the cabinet of ministers and Parliament where the government has a two-thirds majority to see its bills through.


Weerasekera also said the government plans to ban more than 1,000 Islamic schools that he said were flouting national education policy.


“Nobody can open a school and teach whatever you want to the children,” he said.

The government’s moves on burqas and schools follow an order last year mandating the cremation of COVID-19 victims – against the wishes of Muslims, who bury their dead.


This ban was lifted earlier this year after criticism from the United States and international rights groups.


Shreen Saroor, a Sri Lankan peace and women’s rights activist, said the moves come “at a time when the Muslim community has been constantly targeted”.


“It’s part of the Islamophobic reaction in Sri Lanka,” Saroor told Al Jazeera from the capital, Colombo.


“The compulsory cremation policy was revised, and now we hear so many other measures to some form of punishing the Muslim community,” she added, noting that Muslims in the country were not consulted in advance.


Citing the fact that the wearing of the mask has been made compulsory in the country during the coronavirus pandemic, Saroor said the burqa “looks [like] a very political revenge move”.


The wearing of the burqa in the majority-Buddhist nation was temporarily banned in 2019 after the Easter Sunday bombing of churches and hotels by armed fighters that killed more than 250 people.


The move drew a mixed response, with activists saying it “violated Muslim women’s right to practise their religion freely”.


Prevention of Terrorism Act


Meanwhile, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who was elected president in 2019, after promising a crackdown on “extremism” promulgated regulations allowing the detention of anyone suspected of causing “acts of violence or religious, racial or communal disharmony or feelings of ill will or hostility between different communities”.


The rules, effective on Friday, have been set up under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), which local and international rights groups have repeatedly asked Colombo to repeal.


“Anybody can be arrested for saying anything,” said Saroor, calling PTA “very problematic”.


Sri Lanka’s previous government, which was defeated by Rajapaksa at the 2019 elections, had pledged to repeal the PTA after admitting it seriously undermined individual freedoms, but failed to do so.


Muslims make up about 9 percent of the 22 million people in Sri Lanka, where Sinhalese Buddhists account for some 75 percent of the population.


A former defence secretary, Rajapaksa is immensely popular among the Sinhala Buddhist majority, who credit him with ending the island nation’s 26-year civil war in 2009.


Critics, however, say during the war he crushed the dissident Tamil Tigers with little regard for human rights, allowed abductions and gave consent to extrajudicial killings. He has rejected all the allegations.


Photo : Danish Siddiqui/Reuters

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