(MENAFN- Colombo Gazette)
A new report has noted that the Government continued to detain, arrest and intimidate those connected with the Aragalaya protests for their online posts.
The new Freedom House report said that during the reporting period between June 1, 2022 – May 31, 2023 the Government used existing legislation including the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the ICCPR to take action on those linked to the Aragalaya protests.
President Ranil Wickremesinghe imposed emergency regulations in July 2022 that sought to curb dissent by barring the spread of purportedly false information, including online.
The report noted that internet freedom in Sri Lanka improved slightly during the coverage period.
The Government no longer blocked social media and other communications to repress protests, and the historic Aragalaya (Struggle), a countrywide peaceful mobilization calling for reforms to the country's political culture and economic policies, continued during the coverage period.
Following the resignation of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in response to the protesters demands, former opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was sworn in as acting president following Gotabaya fleeing the country, was appointed president through an election by Parliament.
Wickremesinghe's Government implemented emergency regulations to bar purportedly false information, continued the brutal crackdown on online activists and journalists reporting on the Aragalaya movement, and introduced draft laws that could encroach on online expression and user privacy.
Despite these continued restrictions, Sri Lankans continued to engage in digital activism around a range of issues.
Sri Lanka experienced improvements in political rights and civil liberties after the 2015 election of President Maithripala Sirisena, which ended the more repressive rule of Mahinda Rajapaksa.
However, the Sirisena administration was slow to implement transitional justice mechanisms needed to address the aftermath of a 26-year civil war between government forces and ethnic Tamil rebels, who were defeated in 2009.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa's election as president in November 2019 and the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna's (SLPP) victory in the August 2020 parliamentary polls emboldened the Rajapaksa family, which worked to further empower the executive, specifically the powers of the president, roll back accountability mechanisms for civil war–era rights violations, and further militarize the island, while also entrenching themselves in key positions, including the premiership and finance ministry.
During his presidency, Wickremesinghe has continued to crack down on protesters and has sought to maintain an image of stability following the height of the unprecedented economic crisis in the country.
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