The Sri Lankan government should immediately end the arbitrary detention of Wasantha Mudalige, a student activist who was arrested on August 18, 2022, 7 human rights organizations said today. Since August 21, Mudalige, 29, has been held on orders signed by President Ranil Wickremesinghe under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), a draconian law that the government has long promised to repeal.
A hearing on Mudalige’s bail application has been scheduled for Hulftsdorp Magistrates Court on January 17, 2023. Under the PTA, the court does not usually grant bail if the Attorney General’s Department, acting on the government’s behalf, opposes it.
The Sri Lankan government detained Mudalige as part of its crackdown since an economic crisis in 2022 sparked largely peaceful protests demanding governance reform and action against alleged official corruption. The government responded by giving sweeping powers to the police and military, which used unnecessary and excessive force to disperse demonstrations and arrest hundreds of people, including many students.
Many of those detained have since been released on bail. However, the authorities have used extraordinary powers under the Prevention of Terrorism Act to keep Mudalige in detention despite having produced no evidence of any involvement in “terrorism.” As convenor of the Inter University Students’ Federation, he had taken a prominent part in the protests. Much of the time he has been held in solitary confinement and poor conditions, which can violate the prohibition on torture or other ill-treatment under international human rights law.
In December, Mudalige required hospital treatment for breathing difficulties. His family and his lawyer have expressed concern for his safety and his health in detention. On October 4, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka issued a notice calling for the police to protect Mudalige’s safety in custody.
The Prevention of Terrorism Act allows for up to a year of detention without charge on the orders of the defense minister, who is currently President Wickremesinghe. Since it was introduced as a “temporary” measure in 1979, the law has been used particularly to target members of the Tamil and Muslim communities, and to stifle dissenting voices including journalists and human rights defenders. The United Nations and human rights groups have repeatedly documented that the PTA has been used to enable prolonged arbitrary detention and torture or other ill-treatment.
Successive Sri Lankan governments, including the present administration, have repeatedly pledged to repeal the PTA and replace it with rights-respecting legislation – most recently to the European Union in October. Yet the government continues to use the law to violate human rights, in breach of its own domestic and international commitments.
On August 18, the authorities arrested Mudalige along with 19 other people during a protest in Colombo that the police violently disrupted using excessive force. Two others arrested that day were also detained under the PTA, but both have since been released without charge. Hundreds of people arrested under ordinary criminal legislation for offenses allegedly committed during the 2022 protests, such as damage to public property, have also been released on bail.
During the first three months of his detention, Mudalige was shuttled between two detention centers run by the police Terrorism Investigation Department. One is a dilapidated and abandoned prison unfit to hold prisoners. He and the other detainees were held in solitary confinement, in cramped cells without access to basic facilities including sanitation and sunlight. Holding people in such conditions violates the international legal prohibition on torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Prisoners suffered ill health, apparently as a result of the conditions in the jail and lack of treatment.
The abuse of counterterrorism legislation to arbitrarily detain a student activist involved in non-violent protest has a chilling effect on the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, the groups said. President Wickremesinghe has called anti-government protesters “terrorists” and “fascists,” and threatened to renew a state of emergency and redeploy the military if fresh protests emerge amid the ongoing economic crisis. The authorities have continued to pursue other activists alleged to have participated in the 2022 protests.
On December 14, Mudalige was taken before a magistrate for the first time since he was detained. The magistrate ordered the attorney general to submit any evidence against Mudalige at the next hearing, on January 17, or to agree to bail. On January 5, the police took Mudalige before a magistrate and introduced new cases against him under ordinary criminal laws, related to other protests in which he purportedly participated in 2022.
The authorities have targeted Mudalige in the past for his activism. On August 3, 2021, he was arrested and jailed for more than three months after protesting for the right to free education. Thirteen human rights organizations issued an appeal against his detention.
The Sri Lankan authorities should immediately impose a moratorium on the use of the PTA, and promptly repeal it, the groups said. The authorities should immediately review the detention of anyone held under the PTA, ensuring adequate access to fair bail hearings. They should also release all protesters facing charges that do not meet international standards.
The government of Sri Lanka should fully respect the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
Human Rights Watch
International Working Group on Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice
Captain Morgan / January 16, 2023
Obviously, those 182 internationally reputed intellectuals requesting those parties that have loaned monies to Sri Lanka to forgive and cancel the loans, have never heard of that infamous obscenity known as the “Prevention of Terrorism Act” and its horrific consequences on the helpless victims caught by its tentacles, who have no recourse to the normal laws of the land!
chiv / January 17, 2023
CM, you are absolutely right. Hope this will also make our public to realize, the abuse and torture of thousands of innocent / political Tamil prisoners over three decades.
hanchopancha / January 16, 2023
I wish to call for the crucial attention of the contributors of this article to inform them that:
1. The Judiciary of Srilanka is not independent.
2. The Judges can be bribed, influenced or intimidated to issue Judgments/Orders by the rich and the powerful.
3. They dare not ruffle Golden Feathers and very mindful of their political masters.
4. M/s. Sarath N. Silva and Mohan Pieris turned the judiciary into their fiefdom. Their successors were made sitting ducks including the present incumbent.
5. The Courts of Law can turn facts to fiction and fiction to facts.
All your good and valiant efforts are like flogging a dead mule. I standby and vouch what is stated above and fully prepared to face any consequence therefrom.
Ajith / January 16, 2023
“The government of Sri Lanka should fully respect the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.”
You will not be surprised to get this response from the government because there are hundreds of people in remand with similar reponses.
“Yes, the Sri Lanka governmentalawys respects the rights of freedom of expression, that is why it allowed the Wasantha Mudalige to issue a detailed speech in media. But, according to police investigation they found a large number of ammunititions and few T-56 rifles and a plan to a terrorist attack on Parliament and President. Our military and Police alawys carry a bible in one hand and Buddha’s teachings on the other hand. “
Simon / January 17, 2023
This “Mudalige” was one among several others who participated in the “Aragalaya” in his true identity as the Convenor of Inter University Student Association. He among many others has been taken into custody and is facing detention under a draconian Law called “PTA” whose detention order has been signed personally by the President. It is shame that such action against him has been instituted by a “President” who claims to be a “Democrat”. My foot! At least passing more than 150 days of detention, the signatories to this letter have realized that S/L is not what it shows and all fake.
There were large groups who participated in the “Aragalaya” and called themselves ” NON-POLITICAL. That “Theory” (Non-Political) was upheld by many “Pandits” and praised that to be a “Historical” and a “Land Mark” in the history of S/L “Aragalayas”. What a “HALLUCINATION” it has turned out to be. Look at the aftermath of the “Aragalaya”: (1) A “Group”, very active in “Aragalaya” called themselves “Global Sri Lanka Congress” has aligned with a never heard of or participated in any election “Name Board” political party to contest at the forthcoming LG polls. (2) Another “Group”- in”Aaragalaya” has joined a political party called “UPP” (United Peoples Power} to contest again in LG elections. Interestingly this party belongs to the present Minister of Police – Thiran Alles (its Secretary).
davidthegood / January 17, 2023
Simon, When was leader a democrat. Has he no friends or even support to point to him that suppression is not democracy, and suppression is condemned by the whole world. Our country is not getting help due to this vindictive, suppressive, dictatorial and abnormal behaviour of a leader who cannot be trusted but is focussed on ruthless power hunger. Citizens only suffer.
hanchopancha / January 17, 2023
Simon. Is there a way to find out whether our Sun rises from the East or the West?
Simon / January 17, 2023
A part of my comment has got removed, possibly it could be that it exceeded the limit allowed. So I thought of continuing
Let me give you the name of that “Name Only” party that “Lend” its name to “Global Sri Lanka Congress”. Its name is: “ARUNALU JANATHA PAKSHAYA” and the “Owner” is one “Chrishan”
(3) Another “Stalwart” in the “Aragalaya” (a Trade Unionist of Nurses) got appointed to the post of “Director General -Trade Union Affairs” attached to the President’s Secretariat. Appointment made by President Ranil W.
There are “MANY” who were at “Aragalaya” and today are in bed with the ruling class.
All of them mentioned here have “Abandoned” their erstwhile “COMRADE” – Mudalige excepting the Lawyers Group that supported the Aragalaya and are still at work appearing on behalf of hundreds who have been brought to Courts. As I said most others made “Aragalaya” – THE DOOR to Politics and contest at elections.
Sinhala_Man / January 18, 2023
Some “Groups” may have abandoned Wasantha Mudalige, but most members of the public are horrified at what is happening. That includes me.
And Ramona! I dare say that NV, oc, and nimal have contrived to make her far too “popular”, but her record of consistency is impressive.
I know that the sympathy that we have for the plight of Wasantha doesn’t result in much that is tangible, but be re-assured on one score: we will keep reminding the world of the terrible treatment that this hero is receiving.
ramona therese fernando / January 18, 2023
Terrible what he must be going through. Can’t believe this is happening this day and age.
Human Touch / January 18, 2023
The longer they keep him the stronger and more popular he becomes.
The government is making a big mistake by keeping him locked.
It shows how scared the government are of this young man.
In other words Mudalige is a force that the government know is capable of wielding a massive mass movement in toppling any government.
Perhaps he is the uncorrupted, pure, champion of what the masses want in Sri Lanka.
He could be the next true leader with massive support from all quarters.
I hope they will not kill him in prison.
If the government is sincere, they should go after actual crooks and lock them up.
Crooks who have taken oaths to serve the people after the people placed their trust and elected them to office.
Why has Sri Lanka become such a horrible country where crooks prosper while the down trodden are punished.
Human Touch / January 18, 2023
There are a few known names that the majority of the public trust.
This is my list
. Sarath Fonseka
. Ranjan Ramanayake
. Wasantha Mudalige
These people are straight forward, selfless and brutally honest.
shankar / January 18, 2023
he should be released on independence day with some other tamil prisoners or ranil will suffer.
Lasantha Pethiyagoda / January 18, 2023
Wasantha Mudalige is a political prisoner, incarcerated due to the existential fear of the corrupt, parasitic political, industrial and bureaucratic classes that he dared to speak out against. He is not a terrorist. Similar notable incarcerations were for Nelson Mandela who was imprisoned due to “terrorism” and many others labelled as such by the vermin who are the real oppressors of the people.
davidthegood / January 18, 2023
Dear Leader, Please come to your senses and release Mudalige without inviting unnecessary calamity on yourself. Please do not invite fire. The family knows how to escape but your place is like for a goat.