Top Sri Lanka Lawyer Says Fears for Life After Criticising Govt.

The head of Sri Lanka’s bar association said on Wednesday he feared he might be killed after he described President Mahinda Rajapakse’s government as becoming more autocratic.

Senior lawyer Upul Jayasuriya had accused the government of moving towards a dictatorship after it banned all local and foreign NGOs from holding press conferences. Jayasuriya said unidentified men on a motorcycle and in a taxi had started following him after his statement last week, prompting him to call police.
“I suspect a link between my issuing the statement and the men following me yesterday (Tuesday),” he told reporters.

“They may have tried to assassinate me. They left only after I raised the alarm and called the police.”

The government’s order, sent widely to civil society groups earlier this month, said all NGOs should refrain from “unauthorised activities with immediate effect”.

“It has been revealed that certain Non Governmental Organisations conduct press conferences, workshops, training for journalists, and dissemination of press releases which is beyond their mandate,” said the letter.

Authorities have often accused foreign and local charities of supporting dissidents and introduced tougher regulations to control them in 2010, a year after troops crushed Tamil rebels and ended decades of ethnic war.

Jayasuriya said in his statement as bar association chief that the government’s move was “testimony for this impending crypto-military and authoritarian tendency of the country”.

“We observe that the post-war Sri Lankan polity has been in an acute and deepening crisis,” he said.
Another legal group, the Lawyers Collective, accused the government of a “sinister move” to intimidate Jayasuriya and send a signal to dissidents.

“We have witnessed a regular pattern of surveillance on civil society organisations, human rights defenders and individuals critical of the government,” the group said in a statement Wednesday.

UN human rights chief Navi Pillay last year accused Sri Lanka of becoming “increasingly authoritarian” under Rajapakse, who has extended his powers since first being elected in 2005.