Chintaka Rajapaksha is free but harassment of MONLAR continues

Chintaka Rajapakse. Photo: Private

We Effect´s partner organisation MONLAR (Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform) is a human rights organization focused on the protection of land, natural resources and the environment. MONLAR and its moderator Chintaka Rajapaksha was part of the protests in August of 2022, after the government had failed to address the extreme situation after the pandemic and subsequent invasion of Ukraine

Chintaka is charged of two separated criminal acts, participation in the illegal protests against the former president Rajapaksha, and trespassing, when protesters entered the private premises of the president. The legal process has still not been initiated as authorities claim investigation continues. In the meantime Chintaka is required to report to the prosecutor´s regularly. He is also prohibited from participation in any manifestations, with or without official permission – a violation of his civil rights per se.

Most of the protesters were released the day after arrest, but Chintaka and a few other known activists remained in jail, being released against bail only 8 days later. The do believe that the security forces had targeted them beforehand and knew very well who they arrested.

After the protests in 2022, the government introduced a bill to make all public manifestations subject to permission. Chintaka believes that the civic space will continue to shrink regarding the work of national NGOs. He notes that control is increasing and government aims to curtail organisations´ possibility to protest or criticize government decisions regarding the solutions to the current economic and social crises in Sri Lanka. Some of the issues MONLAR address are that India and China are offering support and investments to Sri Lanka which affect the right to land, and do not offer solutions to the poorest people in the country and their claims to land tenure.

When we asked Chinaka about his current personal situation he tells of the constant control around his home, government officials talking to neighbors. He has gone back to work at MONLAR although his family has continuously pressured him to keep a low profile. Although it is a stressful situation, he knows that MONLAR is an important actor in the development of Sri Lanka and feels support from both the larger Sri Lankan CSO community, and form the international community as his case received wide attention globally.

At the We Effect partner meeting, kicking off a new program period, it was clear that Chintaka takes a lead as the partner platform´s voice for political change and the need for broad action among civil society organisations to protest the current economical and social situation in Sri Lanka. It is clear that the partner organisations of We Effect, in spite of being of many different characters, agree with the words of Rajapaksha, and hopefully, the We Effect program can, in the next five years, contribute to the achievement of fair and just development in Sri Lanka.