Rise Against State Repression: A Call to the People

2022 has seen the most dramatic uprising of people against the government’s tyrannical rule since independence. Amidst a devastating economic crisis, the people raised their voices against corruption, misrule and economic mismanagement, demanding greater democracy. Instead of heeding the people’s call for change in the political culture and economic accountability, the government has responded with repression. The state’s crackdown on protesters is intended to prevent the expression of public dissatisfaction with the administration, as well as the austerity measures it has imposed which are causing tremendous hardship and suffering.

We, the undersigned, call on the government to acknowledge the sovereignty of the people, to cease its persecution of protestors, and ensure the civil, political and economic rights of all citizens, especially of marginalised and vulnerable communities. The multiple, interconnected political and economic crises confronting us now cannot be resolved through a move towards greater authoritarianism but by the people’s continued involvement in the democratic space that has been created and by an administration willing to engage with its citizens.

The Security State

From its inception, state security and its repressive arms were key to the functioning of the Sri Lankan postcolonial state. The insurgencies in the south and the rise of militancy in the north and east, the protracted war that lasted almost 30 years, were used to legitimise the repressive arms of the state. The all-powerful executive presidency (1978) compounded matters by densely concentrating executive powers in one office, enabling swift authorisation of questionable laws and actions.

In 1979, the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) was introduced, giving the government sweeping powers to arrest anyone without a warrant on the hazy grounds of their engaging in “unlawful activities” and detain them for up to 18 months without being produced before a court, and often incarcerating them for decades without a fair trial. Presented, debated and enacted in parliament within a single day, the PTA was a “temporary” measure to purportedly stem the tide of Tamil militancy. It was complemented by several other organised forms of repression. In addition to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), units like the police Special Task Force (STF), and the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID), paved the way for increased securitisation and militarisation of the state. In the long years of the war and unrest, militarisation seeped into the fabric of society.

Post War and Post Easter Bombings

The template for what we see today was shaped during the post-war years as well, as the state continued to target minorities. Instead of pursuing genuine reconciliation and power-sharing, the state reinforced its military apparatus in the north and east. This has allowed the retention of High Security Zones, preventing people from returning to their homes and livelihoods, and enabled land grabbing that is rationalised in the name of security or development. In the aftermath of the Easter bombings of April 2019, in which some 270 people lost their lives, anti-terror campaigns targeted Muslim youth. Terror and fear seized the Muslim community as they came under attack by the repressive arms of state security. The PTA was to arbitrarily arrest and confine persons known and unknown, on very flimsy charges. The arrest and detention of Hejaaz Hizbullah and Ahnaf Jazeem are only two cases in point of how the PTA is used in a gross violation of all concerns of justice.

An earlier development in this regard has drawn insufficient public attention. In compliance with UN Security Council Resolution No. 1373 calling on member states to take measures to curb terrorist activity, the Sri Lankan state drew up a list of names in 2020, identifying 300-odd persons as terror suspects. The overwhelming majority of those named in the list are Muslim and Tamil. Some were already behind bars during the period in which they are suspected of having engaged in suspicious activity. Persons included in the list undergo untold difficulties: they no longer enjoy access to their financial assets and have no indication of when they may expect to have such access again. They cannot seek legal redress because their financial assets are barred to them. They have trouble securing or holding on to employment due to the disrepute of being included in the list. They live under constant surveillance, with the threat of potential punitive measures despite the absence of any evidence of misconduct.

Bureau of Rehabilitation Bill

The Bureau of Rehabilitation Bill is the most recent in a series of laws that seek to sanction repression by the state and must not be viewed in isolation, but in the totality of a process we understand as securitisation of the state. The broad reach of the Bill allows for sending into compulsory detention “drug dependent persons, ex-combatants, members of violent extremist groups and any other group of persons” without necessarily citing sufficient cause for such action.

Even though the Supreme Court has ruled that “certain provisions” of the Bill are unconstitutional such as the reference to ‘ex-combatants’ and ‘any other persons’, the criminalisation of drug dependency that seems to be considered unproblematic suggests that the law itself should not be accepted without questioning. Its draconian features allow virtually any person to be sent into detention and it does not specify the procedure by which claims of drug abuse, past involvement in armed activity, and violent extremism may be reasonably established. It leaves space for the criminalisation of democratic activism that has characterised our recent past. The Bill in its entirety should be struck down.

The Current Moment of Repression

Today, person after person is being arrested and detained. The lens of surveillance has dramatically turned to those who are deemed central to the people’s movement of the Aragalaya. Those who have stood up to state violence, including students, are being picked off the streets and sent away, into the dark corners of detention.

We are staring into the gaping mouth of a police state. We have to reclaim our voice, and rise against all acts of repression and all legal manoeuvres that are designed to silence dissent, resistance and democratic action. This is the task at hand, where we citizens must reclaim the democratic space to put an end to authoritarian repression. It is through democratic participation, through dialogue, protests and the vote, that the tremendous economic and political crisis can be addressed in the interests of all the people of Sri Lanka.      


  1. Ranil Abayasekara,  formerly University of Peradeniya
  2. Udari Abeyasinghe, University of Peradeniya
  3. Asha L. Abeyasekera, formerly University of Colombo
  4. M.M. Alikhan, University of Peradeniya
  5. Liyanage Amarakeerthi, University of Peradeniya
  6. Fazeeha Azmi, M. I., University of Peradeniya
  7. Crystal Baines. formerly, University of Colombo
  8. Navaratne Banda  Formerly University of Peradeniya
  9. Visakesa Chandrasekaram, University of Colombo
  10. Erandika de Silva, University of Jaffna
  11. Nadeesh De Silva, the Open University of Sri Lanka
  12. Nirmal Dewasiri, University of Colombo
  13. Kanchuka Dharmasiri, University of Peradeniya
  14. Priyan Dias, Emeritus Professor, University of Moratuwa
  15. Avanka Fernando, University of Colombo
  16. Priyantha Fonseka, University of Peradeniya
  17. Savitri Goonesekere, Emeritus Professor, University of Colombo
  18. Camena Guneratne, Open University of Sri Lanka
  19. Dileni Gunewardena, University of Peradeniya
  20. Farzana Haniffa, University of Colombo
  21. Shyamani Hettiarachchi, University of Kelaniya
  22. Gayathri Hewagama, Visiting Lecturer, University of Peradeniya
  23. Charudaththe B. Illangasinghe, University of the Visual and Performing Arts
  24. Prabhath Jayasinghe, University of Colombo
  25. Theshani Jayasooriya, University of Peradeniya
  26. M. W. A. P. Jayatilaka, Retired, University of Peradeniya
  27. Barana Jayawardana, University of Peradeniya
  28. Pavithra Jayawardena, University of Colombo
  29. Ahilan Kadirgamar, University of Jaffna
  30. Anushka Kahandagamage, formerly University of Colombo
  31. Pavithra Kailasapathy, University of Colombo
  32. Maduranga Kalugampitiya, University of Peradeniya
  33. A. K. Karunarathne, University of Peradeniya
  34. Madara Karunarathne, University of Peradeniya
  35. Chulani Kodikara, Visiting Lecturer, Faculty of Graduate Studies, University of Colombo
  36. Pradeepa Korale Gedara, University of Peradeniya
  37. Savitri Nimal Kumar, University of Peradeniya
  38. Ramya Kumar, University of Jaffna
  39. Shamala Kumar, University of Peradeniya
  40. Vijaya Kumar, Emeritus Professor, University of Peradeniya
  41. Amal Kumarage, University of Moratuwa
  42. Aminda Lakmal, University of Sri Jayewardenepura
  43. Rohan Laksiri, University of Ruhuna
  44. Abdul Haq Lareena, Sabaragamuwa University
  45. Hasini Lecamwasam, University of Peradeniya
  46. Kamala Liyanage, Professor Emerita, University of Peradeniya
  47. Nethmie Liyanage, University of Peradeniya
  48. Sachini Marasinghe, University of Peradeniya
  49. Tharinda Mallawaarachchi, University of Colombo
  50. Sudesh Mantillake, University of Peradeniya
  51. Prabha Manuratne, University of Kelaniya
  52. Mahim Mendis, Open University of Sri Lanka
  53. Rumala Morel,  University of Peradeniya
  54. Sitralega Maunaguru, retired formerly Eastern University of Sri Lanka
  55. Kethakie Nagahawatte, University of Colombo
  56. Sabreena Niles, University of Kelaniya
  57. M. A. Nuhman, formerly University of Jaffna
  58. Gananath Obeyesekere, formerly University of Peradeniya
  59. Ranjini Obeyesekere, formerly University of Peradeniya
  60. Arjuna Parakrama, University of Peradeniya
  61. Sasinindu Patabendige, University of Jaffna
  62. Pradeep Peiris, University of Colombo
  63. Kaushalya Perera, University of Colombo
  64. Nicola Perera, University of Colombo
  65. Ramindu Perera, The Open University of Sri Lanka
  66. Ruhanie Perera, University of Colombo
  67. Sampath Rajapaksa, University of Kelaniya
  68. Ramesh Ramasamy, University of Peradeniya
  69. Harshana Rambukwella, The Open University of Sri Lanka
  70. Rajitha Ranasinghe, University of Peradeniya
  71. Rupika Subashini Rajakaruna, University of Peradeniya
  72. Aruni Samarakoon, University of Ruhuna
  73. Athula Siri Samarakoon, The Open University of Sri Lanka
  74. Dinesha Samararatne, University of Colombo
  75. Unnathi Samaraweera, University of Colombo
  76. T. Sanathanan, University of Jaffna
  77. Samitha Senanayake, formerly University of Peradeniya
  78. Kalana Senaratne, University of Peradeniya
  79. Anusha Sivalingam, University of Colombo
  80. H. Sriyananda, Emeritus Professor, the Open University of Sri Lanka
  81. Sivamohan Sumathy, University of Peradeniya
  82. Hiniduma Sunil Senavi, University of Sabaragamuwa
  83. Esther Surenthiraraj, University of Colombo
  84. V. Thevanesam, Emeritus Professor, University of Peradeniya
  85. Dayapala Thiranagama, formerly University of Kelaniya
  86. Mahendran Thiruvarangan, University of Jaffna
  87. Deepika Udagama, University of Peradeniya
  88. Ramila Usoof, University of Peradeniya
  89. Jayadeva Uyangoda, Professor Emeritus in Political Science, University of Colombo
  90. Vivimarie Vanderpoorten, Open University of Sri Lanka
  91. Ruvan Weerasinghe, University of Colombo
  92. Nira Wickramasinghe, formerly, University of Colombo
  93. Ranjit Wijekoon, formerly University of Peradeniya
  94. Dinuka Wijetunga, University of Colombo