25th January 2012
Lawyers Urge the Government of Sri Lanka to Respect the Right to Peaceful Assembly
The Lawyers for Democracy (LfD) condemns the tactics used by the Government and its agents to disregard the fundamental right of a citizen to conduct peaceful protests in Sri Lanka, and the use of deplorable strong armed tactics to prevent a lawful protest rally organized by media groups today (25th January 2012) titled ‘Black January’to be originally held at the Fort Railway station, Colombo.
The protest rally was organized by several media groups to highlight the challenging conditions faced by media actors in Sri Lanka and to mark the death and disappearances of several colleagues who were either killed or disappeared in the month of January. In light of such a protest rally, several measures were taken by the Government and its agents to thwart the right to dissent. LfD was informed that the police had attempted to obtain a court order to prevent the lawful demonstration. Media reported that government backed protestors were transported at the instance of government to the vicinity of the Fort Railway station, close to the time when the media demonstration was to commence. In light of the security threats, the media groups had to change the location of the protest rally with short notice.
LfD reiterate that the Constitution of Sri Lanka guarantees the freedom of peaceful assembly. All public organs of the state including the police and judiciary are expected to respect, secure and advance the fundamental rights guaranteed to its citizens. LfD is seriously concerned about the recent development where the police is seeking ex parte judicial orders to curtail peaceful meetings, all of which are clear political expressions against the government. We are also unable to apprehend the legal provisions that authorise the police to obtain judicial orders in these instances. The Supreme Court has time and again recognizedthat the “right to support or criticize the government is fundamental to the democratic way of life, which cannot be denied without violating those fundamental principles of liberty and justice, which lies at the base of all civil and political institutions”. (Amaratunga vs. Sirimal)
We are also seriously concerned with the tactics used including the use of government back armed actors to disturb peaceful rallies and demonstrations. The impunity with which these groups operate is alarming. For example, today’s events were witnessed by the police who stood by and did nothing to prevent the goons from arriving to disrupt a planned protest rally. Such incidents are indicators of the breakdown of law and order and the threat to the democratic culture in Sri Lanka. We urge the Government of Sri Lanka to respect its constitutional obligations andcommitment to respect freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and prevent the repeat of such events in the future.
‘Lawyers of Democracy (LfD) is a representative body of legal practitioners throughout the island. Conveners include Lal Wijenayaka, Chandrapala Kumarage, K.S. Ratnavale, J.C. Weliamuna and Sudarshana Gunawardana. It was established on 10th December 2010.
Sgd/ Lal Wijenayake, Convener of Lawyers for Democracy (LfD)