Sri Lanka: COVID-19 used as pretext for repression

April 22, 2020
There are currently military checkpoints everywhere in Tamil areas.

The Sri Lankan government has used the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse for increased repression of the Tamil people.

According to Tamilnet, there are military checkpoints "everywhere" in Tamil areas. Soldiers have been restricting the movements of members of community-based organisations, who are trying to help people who have lost their livelihoods due to the curfew.

People need to apply for a pass to travel. Passes are granted by "troikas" — committees comprising representatives of the army, police and civil bureaucracy, rather than elected local government bodies. As a result, many farmers and fishers are unable to sell their produce, and many shopkeepers are unable to obtain supplies

People who had been in contact with an infected person have been put in army-run, dormitory-style isolation centres, but this has resulted in the spread of infection within the centres themselves.

The government has released 3000 prisoners, including a Sinhalese soldier convicted of massacring Tamils, but has not released any of the 84 Tamil political prisoners, most of whom have been in jail for more than 10 years.

Because two of the early COVID-19 cases were Muslims, some Sinhalese politicians and journalists, and army commander Shavendra Silva, have used the issue to incite anti-Muslim sentiment. Ramzy Razeek, a Muslim social media activist who tried to combat this hate campaign, was arrested.

Meanwhile US Special Forces (Green Berets) have been conducting a four-week training program with the Sri Lankan navy at Trincomalee harbour.

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