South Asia

Wickremesinghe's Crackdown on Lanka Protestors 'Disheartening, Telling' Say Academics in Statement

'His (Wickremesinghe's) decision to follow in the footsteps of his predecessors is deeply alarming and does not offer the prospect of Sri Lanka progressing beyond the current crisis it is in,' the statement read.

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New Delhi: A group of over 150 international academics recently issued a statement condemning the crackdown on protesters in Sri Lanka on July 22, a day after new President Ranil Wickremesinghe took office.

Sri Lankan security forces raided the protest camp, set up in April on government grounds by angry citizens in response to the country’s unprecedented economic crisis which saw widespread shortages of food, fuel and other essentials, and cleared out a section of it early on July 22. 

Also read: Several Hurt as Sri Lankan Forces Raid Anti-Government Protest Camp

Reports had come in of soldiers in riot gear marching through the area of the ‘Gota Go Gama’ camp – a jibe at ousted President Gotabaya Rajapaksa – and tore down the rows of tents which flanked the main road.

Protest organisers claimed that upwards of 50 protesters had been injured, while the government claimed that only two had been injured and nine arrested.

Videos also emerged online showing protesters being manhandled by troops.

Expressing their full condemnation of the state violence on the non-violent protesters, the academics, in the statement, noted that they were “aghast at reports that five of the protestors were abducted and tortured by security force personnel; violently beaten, forced to kneel on rocks and perform extremely tedious exercises whilst being threatened with death if they tried to escape.”

“Nine protest leaders were also arbitrarily arrested and detained by the police,” the statement read.

The academics also took note of the fact that the crackdown on the protesters came less than a day after incumbent President Wickremesinghe took charge, calling it shocking and saying that it “sends distressing signals of his method of governance”.

Protesters had decried Wickremesinghe election as President as he is seen as being close to the Rajapaksas, and had feared a crackdown after he assumed office.

“Over the last several months the protestors have been inspiring and disciplined in exercising basic democratic rights to call attention to the crisis. This space for resistance has also been used for educational purposes, with a university and library, advancing knowledge to all groups of people. The reference to protestors as ‘fascist’ is totally inaccurate, inappropriate and damaging; it weaponises the term to provide an excuse for the use of extreme force,” the statement reads.

Also read: Sri Lanka’s Presidential Secretariat Is Now a Buzzing Library Overseen by Protestor

With respect to the comment on “fascists”. The statement was referring to Wickremesinghe first public address after being sworn in as President, wherein he had called for an end to the “fascist threat to democracy” in the country and vowing to “restore normalcy”. 

The statement described the crackdown on protesters as Wickremesinghe “following in the footsteps of his predecessors” and called it “deeply alarming”, noting how it adversely portrays the prospects the country is facing vis-a-vis its leadership.

“It is disheartening and telling that one of his first actions in office was to attack the people rather than take steps to address the suffering of the people,” the statement read.

As such, the statement laid out the demands of the undersigned academics, chief among them being for the Wickremesinghe government to desist from the use of force against the non-violent protesters and “reduce the current extreme military presence around the protest site at the Galle Face Green in Colombo and around the country including the north and east”.

Further, the statement called on the government to investigate the reports of the use of extreme force and torture against the protesters and hold those responsible for the same to account.

“The Sri Lankan constitution guarantees Sri Lankans fundamental rights including freedom of speech, expression and peaceful assembly; in addition, these are internationally guaranteed rights which Sri Lanka is committed to protect,” the statement concludes.

The government’s crackdown had garnered widespread backlash, even from the international community, with the American ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung and British high commissioner to Sri Lanka Sarah Hulton expressing their concerns over the violence online.

Following the criticism, Wickremesinghe told Colombo-based foreign envoys that his government would allow non-violent protests in the country to continue.

“President Ranil Wickremesinghe has reaffirmed Sri Lanka’s commitment to upholding the rights of peaceful, non–violent assembly,” a statement from his office read.

Below is a full list of academics who signed the statement condemning the violence against the protesters:

Dr. Farah Mihlar, Lecturer, University of Exeter, United Kingdom

Vasuki Nesiah, Professor of Human Rights and International Law, The Gallatin School, New York University, USA

Kanchana N Ruwanpura, Professor of Human Geography, University of Gothenburg, Sweden

Professor David Ludden, Department of History, New York University

Arjun Guneratne, Professor Anthropology, Macalester College, U.S.A.

Dr. Ashwini Vasanthakumar, Associate Professor, Queen’s Law School, Canada

Dr. Cheran Rudhramoorthy, Associate Professor, University of Windsor, Canada

Dr. Amarnath Amarasingam, Assistant Professor, Queen’s University, Ontario, Canada

Prof. Dr. Maarten Bavinck, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Dr. Neena Mahadev, USA

Sharryn Aiken, Associate Professor, Queen’s University Faculty of Law, Canada

Mark Balmforth, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Toronto, Canada

Suresh Canagarajah, Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Applied Linguistics and English, Pennsylvania State University, USA

Professor John Harriss, Professor Emeritus, Simon Fraser University, Canada

Yalini Dream, Visiting Artist, University of San Francisco IME and Human Rights Education, USA

Dr. Nalika Gajaweera, Los Angeles, USA

Patricia Jeffery, Emerita Professor, University of Edinburgh

Neil DeVotta, Professor, Wake Forest University

Dr. Narayani Sritharan, Global Research Institute at William & Mary, USA

Pradeep Sangapala, PhD Candidate, University of Alberta, Canada

V.V. Ganeshananthan, Associate Professor of English, University of Minnesota, USA

Nimanthi Perera-Rajasingham, Associate Professor of English and Women’s Studies, Colgate University, USA

Roger Jeffery, Professor of Sociology of South Asia, University of Edinburgh, UK

Mythri Jegathesan, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Santa Clara University, USA

Veena Das,FBA, Research Professor, Johns Hopkins University

Sonali Perera, Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature, The Graduate Center, City University of New York, USA

Deborah Philip, PhD Candidate in Anthropology, The Graduate Center, City University of New York, USA.

Jennifer Robertson, Professor Emerita, Anthropology, University of Michigan

Anne M. Blackburn, Professor, Cornell University, USA

Rajesh Venugopal, Associate Professor, LSE, UK

Bart Klem, Associate Professor, Gothenburg University, Sweden

Dennis McGilvray, Professor of Anthropology emeritus, University of Colorado, USA

Dr. John Paolillo, Associate Professor, Indiana University, USA.

Jonathan Goodhand, Professor, SOAS – University of London, U.K.

Vivian Choi, Associate Professor of Anthropology, St. Olaf College, USA

Rajeswari Sunder Rajan, USA

Daniel Bass, South Asia Program Manager & Adjunct Assistant Professor of Anthropology & Asian Studies, Cornell University, USA

H L Seneviratne, Professor of Anthropology, Emeritus, University of Virginia, USA

Dr Rachel Seoighe, Senior lecturer in Criminology, University of Kent, UK

Dr. Tayyab Mahmud. Professor of Law, Seattle University, USA

Prof. E. Valentine Daniel, Retired Professor of Anthropology, Columbia University, USA

Kamala Visweswaran, USA

Thushara Hewage, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, University of Ottawa, Canada

Indrani Chatterjee, USA.

Patrick Olivelle, USA

Sanjay Reddy, Associate Professor of Economics, The New School for Social Research, USA

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Columbia University, USA

Ritty Lukose, Associate Professor, Gallatin School, New York University, USA

Jeevan R Sharma, Senior Lecturer in South Asia and International Development,, University of Edinburgh

Samanthi Gunawardana, Senior Lecturer in Gender and Development, Monash University Australia.

Robert Perinbanayagam, Professor of Sociology (Emeritus), Hunter College, New York, USA

Janice Leoshko, Associate Professor, University of Texas, USA

Jeanne Marecek, Professor of Psychology (Emerita), Swarthmore College, USA

Dr Charishma Ratnam, Research Fellow in Human Geography, Monash University Australia

Professor Cynthia Caron, Professor of International Development, Clark University, USA

Swati Birla, Doctoral candidate, University of Massachusetts Amherst  

Sisira Jayasuriya, Professor of Economics, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia.

Mridula Nath Chakraborty, Literary and Cultural Studies, Monash University Australia

Kanishka Jayasuriya , Professor of Politics and International Studies, Murdoch University , Australia

Lylah D’Souza, Artist, Melbourne, Australia

Bina Fernandez, Associate Professor Development Studies, University of Melbourne, Australia

Antony Anghie, Professor, University of Utah, USA

Ali Saha, Teaching Associate and Researcher, Monash University, Australia

Roanna Gonsalves, Creative Writing, University of New South Wales, Australia

Eleanor Gordon, Monash University, Australia

Dr Nirukshi Perera, Curtin University and Tamil Studies Research Network, Australia

Dr Niro Kandasamy, University of Sydney and Tamil Studies Research Network, Australia

Dr Alice Whitmore, Warrnambool, Australia

Bambi Chapin, Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Maryland Baltimore County, U.S.A.

Dr. Tanuja Thurairajah, Switzerland

Suvendrini Perera, John Curtin Distinguished Emeritus Professor, Curtin University, Australia

Sreejata Paul, Assistant Professor of English, Shiv Nadar University, India

Tejaswini Ganti, Associate Professor of Anthropology, New York University, USA

Dr. Prashanth Kuganathan, Postdoctoral Teaching Associate/Lecturer, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, USA

Dr. Eva Ambos, Germany

Dr. Francesca Bremner, Adjunct Professor, City University of New York/Montclair State University, NJ. USA.

Michelle de Kretser, Writer, Sydney, Australia.

Nari Senanayake, Assistant Professor of Geography, University of Kentucky, USA

Nivedita Menon, Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, India

Jinee Lokaneeta, Professor, Drew University, NJ, USA.

Meredith Jones, Professor of Gender and Culture, Brunel University London.

Annee Lawrence, Writer, Sydney, Australia

Dr Alessandra Mezzadri, Senior Lecturer, SOAS – University of London, U.K.

Jonathan Spencer, Regius Professor, University of Edinburgh

Dr. Rapti Siriwardane-de Zoysa, Senior Scientist, Leibniz Center for Tropical Marine Research, Germany

Dr Gayatri Jai Singh Rathore, ATER, University of Lille, France

Dr. Papia Sengupta, Assistant Professor. Jawaharlal Nehru University. Delhi. India

Dr Heloise Weber, Senior Lecturer in International Relations and Development, The University of Queensland

Sayan Dey, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Witwatersrand

Dr Nipesh Palat Narayanan, University of Grenoble, France.

Tobias Kelly, Professor of Political and Legal Anthropology, University of Edinburgh

Dr. Joeri Scholtens, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Mohammad Shahabuddin, Professor of International Law & Human Rights, University of Birmingham, UK

Dr. Nilanjana Premaratna, Lecturer in International Politics, Newcastle University, UK

Dr. Thiruni Kelegama, Lecturer in South Asian Studies, University of Oxford, UK

Sharika Thiranagama, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Stanford University, USA

Sujit Sivasundaram, Professor of World History, University of Cambridge, UK.

Dr Martin Weber, Senior Lecturer, International Relations, The University of Queensland, Australia.

Dr Kiran Grewal, Goldsmiths College, London, UK.

Dr. John Kurien, Azim Premji University, Bengaluru, India

Gananath Obeyesekere, Emeritus Professor, Princeton University, USA.

Dr. Ranjini Obeyesekere, Retired Professor, Princeton University, USA.

Themal Ellawala, Doctoral candidate, University of Illinois at Chicago, USA.

Hans Oberdiek, Research Professor, Swarthmore College, Swarthmore PA USA

Rupal Oza, Professor, Hunter College, CUNY

Goldie Osuri, Professor, University of Warwick, UK.

Aradhana Sharma, Associate Professor, Wesleyan University, USA

Lisa Mitchell, Professor, Dept. of South Asia Studies, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA

Nitya Rao, Professor, University of East Anglia, UK

Farida Khan, Professor of Economics, University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, USA

Madhumita Dutta, Assistant Professor, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, USA

Dr. Missaka Hettiarachchi, Melbourne, Australia

Smita Ramnarain, Associate Professor, University of Rhode Island, Kingston RI, USA.

Luc Bulten, Lecturer, Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands

Madu Galappaththi, PhD Candidate, University of Waterloo, Canada

Ragnhild Lund, Professor Emerita, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Norway.

Annu Palakunnathu Matthew, Professor of Art, University of Rhode Island, USA

Charles Hallisey, Yehan Numata Senior Lecturer on Buddhist Literatures, Harvard University, USA.

Dr Alexander McKinley, Adjunct Professor, Loyola University Chicago & Lake Forest College, USA

Dr. Eranga Galappaththi, Professor, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and state University (Virginia Tech), USA

Sunil Bastian, Independent Researcher/Writer, UK

M. Shobhana Xavier, Assistant Professor, Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada

Paula Chakravartty, Associate Professor, New York University, USA

Subah Dayal, Assistant Professor, NYU Gallatin, USA

Nidhi Srinivas, Associate Professor of Management, The New School, New York City, USA

Garrett Field, Associate Professor, Ohio University, USA

Dr. Sunil Siriwardena, Consultant, UK

Janice Leoshko, Associate Professor, University of Texas, USA

Dr. Justin Henry, Georgia College & State University, USA

Paul Halliday, Julian Bishko Prof. of History and Prof. of Law, University of Virginia, USA

Chandan Reddy, Associate Professor, University of Washington, USA

M. Neelika JayawardaneAssociate Professor, State University of New York-Oswego, USA

Satya P. Mohanty, Professor, Cornell University, USA

Dr. Annelies Goger, Maryland, USA

Rohini Sen, London, United Kingdom

Prabha Kotiswaran, Professor of Law and Social Justice, King’s College London

daniel dillon, PhD, University of Texas at Austin

Dr. Tsigkas Alexios, University of Zurich, Switzerland

Dr. Dalmia Katyayani, University of Zurich, Switzerland

Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Syracuse University, USA

Dr. Rohan Mukherjee, Singapore

S. Charusheela, Professor, University of Washington Bothell

Chaumtoli Huq, Associate Professor of Law, CUNY School of Law

Smriti Rao, Assumption University, USA

Professor G Patel University of Virginia, USA

Dr. Derek Johnson, Professor of Anthropology, University of Manitoba, Canada

Sara Shroff, Lahore University of Management Sciences, Pakistan

Maria Ritzema, Associate Professor, USA

Dina M. Siddiqi, New York University, USA.

Dr. Devaka Gunawardena, USA

Dr Jayanthi Lingham, Research Associate, University of Sheffield, UK

R.L. Stirrat.University of Sussex, UK

Susan Reed, Associate Professor, Bucknell University, USA


Subhash Jaireth, Canberra, AUSTRALIA

Dia da Costa, Professor, University of Alberta, Canada

Dr. Anooradha Iyer Siddiqi, Barnard College Columbia University, USA

Dr. Osama Siddique, Law & Policy Research Network (LPRN), Pakistan