A call to the people – The Island

A call to the people – The Island

2022 has seen the most dramatic uprising of people against the tyrannical government regime since independence. In the midst of a devastating economic crisis, the people raised their voices against corruption, misgovernment and economic mismanagement, demanding greater democracy. Instead of heeding the people’s call for a change in political culture and economic responsibility, the government has responded with repression. The state crackdown on protesters is aimed at preventing the expression of public discontent with the administration, as well as the austerity measures it has imposed, which are causing enormous hardship and suffering.

We, the undersigned, call on the government to recognize the sovereignty of the people, cease the persecution of protesters, and guarantee the civil, political, and economic rights of all citizens, especially marginalized and vulnerable communities. The multiple interconnected political and economic crises we now face cannot be resolved through a move toward greater authoritarianism, but rather through the continued participation of the people in the democratic space that has been created and through an administration willing to engage with its citizens.

The security state

From its inception, the security of the state and its repressive weapons were key to the functioning of the post-colonial state of Sri Lanka. 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 legitimize the repressive weapons of the state. The all-powerful executive presidency (1978) made matters worse by densely concentrating executive powers in a single office, allowing for the rapid passage of questionable laws and actions.

In 1979, the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) was introduced, giving the government broad powers to arrest anyone without a warrant on unclear grounds for their involvement in “illegal activities” and detain them until for 18 months without appearing before a judge. court and often imprison them for decades without a fair trial. Introduced, debated and enacted in parliament in a single day, the PTA law was a ‘temporary’ measure supposedly to stem the wave of Tamil militancy. It was supplemented by various other organized forms of repression. In addition to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), units such as the police’s Special Task Force (STF) and the Terrorism Investigation Division (TID), paved the way for further securitization and militarization of the state. In the long years of war and unrest, militarization seeped into the fabric of society.

Post-war and post-Easter bombings

The template for what we see today was also formed during the postwar years, as the state continued to target minorities. Instead of seeking true reconciliation and power sharing, the state bolstered 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 has allowed land grabbing that is rationalized in the name of security or development. Following the Easter attacks in April 2019, in which some 270 people lost their lives, anti-terrorist campaigns targeted young Muslims. Terror and fear seized the Muslim community when it was attacked by the repressive weapons of State security. The PTA was to arbitrarily arrest and confine known and unknown persons, on very flimsy charges. The arrest and detention of Hejaaz Hizbullah and Ahnaf Jazeem are just two examples of how the PTA is used in a gross violation of all interests of justice.

A previous development in this regard has not attracted sufficient public attention. Pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution 1373, which urges member states to take action to curb terrorist activity, the state of Sri Lanka drew up a list of names in 2020, identifying some 300 people as suspected of terrorism. The vast majority of those named on the list are Muslims and Tamils. Some have already been behind bars during the period in which they are suspected of engaging in suspicious activities. Those on the list are in incalculable hardship: they no longer have access to their financial assets and have no indication of when they can expect such access again. They cannot seek legal redress because their financial assets are off limits to them. They have trouble getting or keeping a job because of the disrepute of being on the list. They live under constant surveillance, with the threat of possible punitive measures despite the absence of any evidence of wrongdoing.

Office of Rehabilitation Bill

The Rehabilitation Office Bill is the most recent in a series of laws that seek to penalize repression by the State and should not be seen in isolation, but in the totality of a process that we understand as ownership of the State. The broad scope of the bill allows “drug addicts, ex-combatants, members of violent extremist groups and any other group of people” to be sent to mandatory detention without necessarily citing sufficient cause for such action.

Although the Supreme Court has ruled that “certain provisions” of the bill are unconstitutional, such as the reference to “ex-combatants” and “any other person”, the criminalization of drug dependence, which appears not to be considered problematic, suggests that the law itself should not be accepted without question. Its draconian features allow virtually anyone to be detained, and it does not specify the procedure by which allegations of drug abuse, prior involvement in armed activity, and violent extremism can reasonably be established. Leave room for the criminalization of democratic activism that has characterized our recent past. The bill in its entirety should be repealed.

The current moment of repression

Today, person after person is being arrested and detained. The surveillance lens has shifted dramatically towards those considered central to the popular movement of Aragalaya. Those who have faced state violence, including students, are being picked up from the streets and sent to the dark corners of detention.

We are before the open mouth of a police state. We have to take back our voice and stand up against all acts of repression and all legal maneuvers that are designed to silence dissent, resistance and democratic action. This is the task at hand, where citizens must recover the democratic space to put an end to authoritarian repression. It is through democratic participation, through dialogue, protest and voting, that the tremendous economic and political crisis can be addressed in the interest of all the people of Sri Lanka.


Ranil Abayasekara, formerly Peradeniya University

Udari Abeyasinghe, University of Peradeniya

Asha L. Abeyasekera, formerly University of Colombo

MM Alikhan, Peradeniya University

Liyanage Amarakeerthi, University of Peradeniya

Fazeeha Azmi, MI, Peradeniya University

Crystal Baines. formerly, University of Colombo

Navaratne Bandara Formerly Peradeniya University

Visakesa Chandrasekaram, University of Colombo

Erandika de Silva, University of Jaffna

Nadeesh De Silva, Open University of Sri Lanka

Nirmal Dewasiri, University of Colombo

Kanchuka Dharmasiri, Peradeniya University

Priyan Dias, Professor Emeritus, Moratuwa University

Avanka Fernando, University of Colombo

Priyantha Fonseka, Peradeniya University

Savitri Goonesekere, Professor Emeritus, University of Colombo

Camena Guneratne, Open University of Sri Lanka

Dileni Gunewardena, University of Peradeniya

Farzana Haniffa, University of Colombo

Shyamani Hettiarachchi, University of Kelaniya

Gayathri Hewagama, Visiting Professor, Peradeniya University

Charudaththe B. Illangasinghe, University of Visual and Performing Arts

Prabhath Jayasinghe, University of Colombo

Theshani Jayasooriya, Peradeniya University

MWAP Jayatilaka, Retired, Peradeniya University

Barana Jayawardana, Peradeniya University

Pavithra Jayawardena, University of Colombo

Ahilan Kadirgamar, University of Jaffna

Anushka Kahandagamage, formerly University of Colombo

Pavithra Kailasapathy, University of Colombo

Maduranga Kalugampitiya, University of Peradeniya

AK Karunarathne, Peradeniya University

Madara Karunarathne, Peradeniya University

Chulani Kodikara, Visiting Professor, Faculty of Graduate Studies, University of Colombo

Pradeepa Korale Gedara, University of Peradeniya

Savitri Nimal Kumar, Peradeniya University

Ramya Kumar, Jaffna University

Shamala Kumar, Peradeniya University

Vijaya Kumar, Professor Emeritus, Peradeniya University

Amal Kumarage, Moratuwa University

Aminda Lakmal, Sri Jayewardenepura University

Rohan Laksiri, Ruhuna University

Abdul Haq Lareena, Sabaragamuwa University

Hasini Lecamwasam, University of Peradeniya

Kamala Liyanage, Professor Emeritus, Peradeniya University

Nethmie Liyanage, Peradeniya University

Sachini Marasinghe, University of Peradeniya

Tharinda Mallawaarachchi, University of Colombo

Sudesh Mantillake, Peradeniya University

Prabha Manuratne, Kelaniya University

Mahim Mendis, Open University of Sri Lanka

Rumala Morel, University of Peradeniya

Sitra Maunaguru Fellow, Former Pensioner of Eastern Sri Lanka University

Kethakie Nagahawatte, University of Colombo

Sabreena Niles, University of Kelaniya

MA Nuhman, formerly University of Jaffna

Gananath Obeyesekere, formerly Peradeniya University

Ranjini Obeyesekere, formerly Peradeniya University

Arjuna Parakrama, Peradeniya University

Sasinindu Patabendige, University of Jaffna

Pradeep Peiris, University of Colombo

Kaushalya Perera, University of Colombo

Nicola Perera, University of Colombo

Ramindu Perera, Open University of Sri Lanka

Ruhanie Perera, University of Colombo

Sampath Rajapaksa, Kelaniya University

Ramesh Ramasamy, Peradeniya University

Harshana Rambukwella, Open University of Sri Lanka

Rajitha Ranasinghe, Peradeniya University

Rupika Subashini Rajakaruna, Peradeniya University

Aruni Samarakoon, Ruhuna University

Athula Siri Samarakoon, Open University of Sri Lanka

Dinesha Samararatne, University of Colombo

Unnathi Samaraweera, University of Colombo

T. Sanathanan, University of Jaffna

Samitha Senanayake, formerly Peradeniya University

Kalana Senaratne, University of Peradeniya

Anusha Sivalingam, University of Colombo

H. Sriyananda, Professor Emeritus, Open University of Sri Lanka

Sivamohan Sumathy, Peradeniya University

Hiniduma Sunil Senavi, Sabaragamuwa University

Esther Surenthiraraj, University of Colombo

V. Thevanesam, Professor Emeritus, Peradeniya University

Dayapala Thiranagama, formerly Kelaniya University

Mahendran Thiruvarangan, University of Jaffna

Deepika Udagama, Peradeniya University

Ramila Usoof, Peradeniya University

Jayadeva Uyangoda, Emeritus Professor of Political Science, University of Colombo

Vivimarie Vanderpoorten, Open University of Sri Lanka

Ruvan Weerasinghe, University of Colombo

Nira Wickramasinghe, formerly, University of Colombo

Ranjit Wijekoon, formerly Peradeniya University

Dinuka Wijetunga, University of Colombo

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