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Education rights defender Wasantha Mudalige detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act

Status: 
Detained
About the situation

On 18 August 2022, the convener of the Inter University Student Federation (IUSF), Wasantha Mudalige, the convener of the Inter University Bhikku Federation (IUBF), Galwewa Siridhamma Thero and Hashan Jeewantha were arrested along with 17 other peaceful protesters during a protest in Colombo. While all others arrested have been granted bail since then, Wasantha Mudalige and the two other named activists were issued detention orders on 22 August 2022 and have been in administrative detention for 57 days to date, without any charge or judicial review of their detention. On 7 October 2022, Hashan Jeewantha was released by Court due to insufficient evidence.

About the HRD

Wasantha Mudalige, is a prominent student leader and an education rights activist. He is the convener of the Inter-University Student Federation (IUSF) which has been a prominent force in the ongoing peaceful protests linked to the economic crisis, but also raising broader issues of governance, corruption, and accountability.

19 October 2022
Education rights defender Wasantha Mudalige detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act

On 18 August 2022, the convener of the Inter University Student Federation (IUSF), Wasantha Mudalige, the convener of the Inter University Bhikku Federation (IUBF), Galwewa Siridhamma Thero and Hashan Jeewantha were arrested along with 17 other peaceful protesters during a protest in Colombo. While all others arrested have been granted bail since then, Wasantha Mudalige and the two other named activists were issued detention orders on 22 August 2022 and have been in administrative detention for 57 days to date, without any charge or judicial review of their detention. On 7 October 2022, Hashan Jeewantha was released by Court due to insufficient evidence.

Wasantha Mudalige is a prominent student leader and an education rights defender. He is the convener of the Inter-University Student Federation (IUSF) which has been a prominent force in the peaceful protests linked to the economic crisis, but also raising broader issues of governance, corruption, and accountability.

On 18 August 2022, Sri Lankan police used disproportionate force against peaceful protesters in Colombo including tear gas, water cannons and batons. Twenty protesters, including student leader and education rights defender Wasantha Mudalige and prominent human rights defender Chinthaka Rajapaksa, were arrested during the protest. Sixteen of those arrested were released on bail by the Magistrates Court on the following day 19 August 2022. Chinthaka Rajapakse was denied bail and remanded until 26 August. He was released on bail on 26 August, but the case against him continues.

Wasantha Mudalige, Siridhamma Thero, and Hashan Jeewantha were held in police custody under the Prevention of Terrorism Act for over 72 hours without access to their lawyers and in violation of their rights. On 22 August 2022, the State issued Detention Orders against the three human rights defenders and transferred them to the Tangalle Detention Center. The Detention Center is an abandoned prison, controlled by the Sri Lanka Navy and intelligence officers. No other prisoners are held there and the building is dilapidated and unsuitable for being used as a place of detention for the students. The human rights defenders have been transported between the Tangalle center and the Terrorism Investigation Department (TID) head office in Colombo 05 for interrogation. Concerns have been raised about Wasantha Mudalige being taken out of detention at night, purposedly as part of evidence gathering for ‘site visits’ without judicial oversight. The detention conditions are extremely concerning, as the Tangalle center is not deemed as a fit and safe place. They are being held in effective solitary confinement in dark spaces with minimum facilities. One of the students developed a rash on one leg due to damp and unlit confinement for several days.

The Prevention of Terrorism Act is a draconian legislation that deprives detainees of basic due process rights and safeguards including judicial review, as well as the right to bail. Despite amendments to the law in 2022, access to lawyers and family members are limited. Bureaucratic obstacles are used to limit family visits and free access to lawyers.

Wasantha Mudalige has been previously targeted for his activism and human rights work. He was arrested on 3 August 2021 and was jailed for more than 3 months while protesting for the right to free education. Together with four other student activists were accused of “damaging public property”, “causing injuries to fingers of a policeman” and “violating COVID-19 regulations”. Front Line Defenders had previously issued an appeal requesting Sri Lankan authorities to release and end targeting the student activists.

Wasantha Mudalige’s case and the misuse of anti-terror legislation is emblematic of the conduct of the Sri Lankan authorities and their approach towards activists, and human rights defenders undertaking legitimate and peaceful dissent. Historically, the regressive PTA has been used against Tamils and Muslims, including human rights defenders from these communities. Sri Lankan authorities continue to use this law to target dissent despite national and international calls for its repeal.

Front Line Defenders condemns the arrest of education rights defender Wasantha Mudalige under the PTA. It raises concerns about his physical and mental well-being, as well as the one of his family in Sri Lanka. It condemns the use of anti-terror laws to punish him and others who practice peaceful legitimate dissent to uphold the rights of citizens in Sri Lanka.