The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) has raised several concerns over the recent arrests and detention of protesters on charges of violating the health regulations imposed with regard to COVID-19.
In a letter addressed to the Director General of Health Services (DGHS), Dr. Asela Gunawardena and the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Chandana Wickremaratne, the BASL noted that although one’s rights under Article 14(1) of the Constitution may be restricted by law in the interests of public health, it is necessary that such actions must be done, in fact, by law, in connection to the objective sought to be achieved.
The BASL noted that as per the recent health guidelines published by the DGHS, public protests have not been listed as a prohibited activity, and thereby questioned the true purpose of the Press Release issued by the Police Media Division on 06 July, quoting a letter sent by the DGHS, prohibiting all meetings and protests involving a mass gathering of people.
Whilst agreeing that any organized protest must be carried out in a manner that does not pose a threat to public health, BASL questioned the excessive force used by the Police when dealing with protesters at a time where the DGHS has further eased the previously imposed restrictions.
“The BASL has taken note of several instances and Is deeply concerned as to how individuals after having been granted bail have been forcibly seized from the precincts of the courthouses and sent to quarantine against their will”, the letter further read.
Quoting the Extraordinary Gazette issued by the Health Ministry on 15 October 2020, the BASL noted that the quarantine procedure is one that is mandated only in the event where the person in question has either contracted COVID-19 or is suspected to have contracted the disease, and should therefore not be used as a form of detention or punishment.