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Priyalal Sirisena

HRD, lawyer

Priyalal Sirisena is a human rights defender and lawyer who has dedicated himself to supporting and advocating on behalf of victims of human rights violations, especially victims of custodial torture and arbitrary detention, in Sri Lanka. The human rights defender has represented groups such as the Small Scale Fishers (SSF) in seeking justice against large scale licence holders whose practices cause marine destruction which impact their livelihood. He is a vocal advocate against the abuse of anti-terror laws, was part of the legal team that opposed the Counter Terrorism Bill in 2018 and supports protestors linked to the economic crisis in Sri Lanka. Priyalal Sirisena has engaged with national and international stakeholders to raise awareness of Sri Lanka’s human rights record including by coordinating the national civil society submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review.

The situation for human Rights Defenders has significantly improved since Maithripala Sirisena came to power in January 2015, with improved conditions for freedom of expression, civil society and judicial independence. The Sirisena administration has ushered in a broad reversal of the country’s authoritarian drift under Mahinda Rajapaksa, but human rights defenders fighting against corruption, enforced disappearances or defending environmental rights remain at great risk.

Despite the end of the armed conflict with the Tamil Tigers in 2009, strict security laws are in force and the situation for HRDs working on enforced disappearances, torture and land rights remains critical. HRDs seeking accountability for violations committed by both parties to the conflict face serious risks, including death threats, smear campaigns, judicial harassment, torture, enforced disappearance and killing. The army has also imposed some restrictions on assembly in Tamil regions. Impunity for crimes against HRDs is a major concern, since the current government shows no real intention to hold security forces responsible for the crimes they committed against HRDs and journalists during the civil war and the Rajapaksa years. Press freedom remains fragile, as journalists still face difficulties covering certain topics and are subject to harassment and intimidation. The revival of the Press Council - widely employed under Rajapaksa to target independent voices - in July 2015 has also alarmed HRDs.