Featured image by Raisa Wickrematunge

“It wasn’t perfect earlier but this is terrifying.”

This was a young female activist’s reaction to the events of October 26, when President Sirisena illegally appointed Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa to the post of Prime Minister, a move many are calling unconstitutional.

The Rajapaksa Era’ is a phrase that holds a range of sinister connotations. For human rights activists, it harkens back to a culture of threats, violence with impunity, and ‘white vans’. Individuals perceived as threats to the consolidation of Rajapaksa power, were deliberately targeted; including activists calling for members of the Rajapaksa family to be held accountable for human rights violations.  In 2014, with next year’s Presidential Election on the horizon, the government continued its crackdown against independent media and human rights defenders with renewed vigour.

Space for dissent and discussion, and indeed steps forward, on issues related to human rights opened up with the election of President Sirisena in 2015. The lack of physical violence toward many of these activists was often cited as a sign that things had improved. However intimidation, harassment and surveillance continued to a large degree.

Groundviews spoke to activists on their memories of working in the field of human rights under a repressive regime. They compare these recollections with the unfolding political crisis, which continues without a resolution.

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Breathing Space