Colombo, Nov 18 (EFE).- Police in Colombo used water cannons and tear gas Friday to disperse a large group of students protesting the detention of two student leaders for 90 days under a contentious law in Sri Lanka.
At least 1,000 student protesters took to the streets in several parts of the capital, including in front of the United Nations Compound, demanding the immediate release of Wasantha Mudalige and Galwewa Siridhamma Thero of the Inter-University Students’ Federation and Inter-University Bhikku Federation, respectively.
The two student leaders have been detained by the authorities since August under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), a law criticized by human rights organizations.
On Thursday, the remand of two students was extended further after being produced in the Colombo Magistrate’s Court.
“It has been 90 days since both Wasantha and Siridhamma Thero were detained. They have no reason to detain them for this long,” protester Chandimal Silva, 39, told EFE.
Silva and a large group of students started their protest in front of the UN Compound in an attempt to get the international organization to intervene to secure their release.
A large group of security personal were deployed at the protest sites, who used water cannons and tear gas to disperse the crowds in at least two locations.
“We are tired of sitting home and watching this happen. Police have no evidence against them, and still, they are detained. This is wrong, and we came to show that it is wrong. But the police are misusing their powers against us,” another protester Nadeeka Dilrukshi, 35, told EFE.
“This could be us tomorrow. We came on behalf of all of us,” Kavya Rathnayake, a 17-year old student just out of school who attended Friday’s protests, told EFE.
On Wednesday, the nonprofit Amnesty International urged the Sri Lankan authorities to drop charges against Wasantha and Siridhamma Thero.
“The continued targeted persecution of student leaders in Sri Lanka has a chilling effect on civil society and the right to protest. The baseless terror charges against Wasantha Mudalige and Galwewa Siridhamma Thero must be immediately dropped, and any extension of the detention order must be stopped,” AI’s South Asia researcher Thyagi Ruwanpathirana said in a statement.
She underlined that using the PTA violates the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly that is guaranteed by the country’s Constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Sri Lanka is a party.
Wasantha and Siridhamma Thero have been at the forefront of the mass demonstrations against the Sri Lankan government since early this year, when people took to the streets to protest against the deteriorating living conditions in the country.
The mass movement led to the resignation of then-President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, then-Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, and the cabinet of ministers.
The crackdown on protesters has intensified since the formation of a new government under President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who succeeded Rajapaksa.
Sri Lanka is facing its worst economic crisis since independence, with fuel and food shortages forcing people to live on fewer resources. Inflation in the country exceeds 66 percent. EFE