Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Friday declared an Emergency, for the second time in little over a month, amid escalating citizens’ protests, and massive trade union action, in the wake of an unprecedented economic crisis.
Mr. Gotabaya earlier declared Emergency regulations on April 1, after street protests intensified in Sri Lanka, as citizens struggled to access and afford essential items including food, fuel, and medicines, amid acute shortages and skyrocketing prices. He revoked the Emergency in five days, ahead of a possible vote on it in Parliament.
Friday’s move came a day after hundreds of youth gathered outside the Parliament, in addition to ongoing protests near the Presidential Secretariat and Prime Minister’s official residence, demanding that the Rajapaksa brothers resign.
The President’s decision to declare an Emergency sparked some quick reactions domestically and from international actors, who contended that emergency regulations were unhelpful and counterproductive in the current context, where protests have remained peaceful.
Leader of Opposition Sajith Premadasa said in a tweet: “Under no circumstances @GotabayaR will you hold this country down with nothing but fear & violence. The state of emergency runs counter to seeking any solution to the crisis. JUST RESIGN.”
The Bar Association of Sri Lanka, a professional body of lawyers, expressed “grave concern” over the move. “Declaration of a state of emergency is not the answer to the present situation in the country including the spate of public protests and strikes which have occurred. We re-iterate that the state of emergency must not be used to stifle peaceful protests and dissent or to make arbitrary arrests and detentions. The protests in turn must not be violent and must remain peaceful at all times,” it said in a statement.
Canada’s High Commissioner to Sri Lanka David McKinnon said in a tweet: “Over the past weeks, the demonstrations across #SriLanka have overwhelmingly involved citizens enjoying their right to peaceful freedom of expression, and are a credit to the country’s democracy. It’s hard to understand why it is necessary, then, to declare a state of emergency.”
Echoing the sentiment, the European Union said: “A month of peaceful demonstrations has shown how Sri Lankan citizens fully enjoy their right to freedom of expression in the oldest democracy in South Asia. State of emergency will certainly not help solving the country’s difficulties and could have a counterproductive effect!”
U.S. Ambassador Julie Chung said: “Concerned by another State of Emergency. The voices of peaceful citizens need to be heard. And the very real challenges Sri Lankans are facing require long term solutions to set the country back on a path toward prosperity and opportunity for all. The SOE won’t help do that.”