The Anglican bishops of Sri Lanka have urged the government to show restraint in the face of nationwide protests and strikes that culminated in the shooting of demonstrators on Tuesday. On 19 April 2022 police opened fire on a crowd protesting food and fuel shortages in the central town of Rambukkana, killing one and wounding 14.

Demonstrators have taken to the streets across Sri Lanka as the county faces its worst economic crisis since independence in 1948. Protestors have demanded the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who on Monday sacked his government to appease critics.

Fuel prices rose by 65 percent on Tuesday while prices for staple foods have also risen sharply in recent weeks. The fuel price hikes led to thousands of motorists and truck drivers blocking the highway between Colombo and Kandy with burning tires. After 15 hours of protests in Rambukkana, police opened fire on anti-government markers, killing one person on the spot, and wounding 14, with three reported to be in critical condition. “Police had to fire to control the protesters. They set fire to some tyres too, so police had to fire to disperse them,” police spokesman Nihal Talduwa told the BBC.

The American ambassador to Sri Lanka, Julie Chung, released a statement calling for a “full, transparent investigation” into the shooting, adding “the people’s right to peaceful protest must be upheld”. 

The Bishops of the Church of Ceylon released a statement urging the government to respect the constitutional and human rights of Sri Lanka’s citizens, including the rights of free speech, express anb dissent. They further stated the present crisis would not be resolved by stamping out dissent.

The Bishops’ Statement

We are deeply saddened and concerned by the deaths and injury to many as a result of the incidents in Rambukkana on 19th April.

We wish to reiterate the importance of restraint and discernment in the use of force by officers of the State in response to civilian protests and demonstrations.  The unrest that is experienced in several parts of the country is the result of agitation driven by the anger and frustration of desperate citizens.  The people are appealing for relief in order to restore their livelihoods and make ends meet.  These protests have to be viewed in the wider context of the country being now declared bankrupt and the serious crises of accountability and governance that the country has experienced in recent years.

We call upon the President and the government to heed the call of the people of this country by allowing an alternate government to take charge of the affairs of this country.  While we welcome the admission by the President that wrong policies adopted by his administration have contributed to the current crisis, mere admissions of mistakes will not put things right.  The present government has clearly lost its mandate to govern in the eyes of the people.  To ignore and seek to suppress such an unprecedented public outcry and be blind to reality will be another serious folly.  A government which has undermined independent institutions and concentrated power in a single institution and mismanaged the economy driving the country to bankruptcy, does not have a moral right to navigate the country out of such a crisis by relying on a mandate achieved in the past. Its desperate measures to cling to power by appointing people to positions of power with perks and powers of patronage will only increase the anger of the people.  We wish to remind the President and the current government that the voice of the people from all corners of the country and from all walks of life clearly demonstrates that they have lost faith in the ability of this administration to face the challenges ahead.

We also call upon the Inspector General of Police, the Heads of the Armed Forces and all members of the services that are under their leadership to respect the Constitution and the Rule of Law and the basic human rights of the people including the freedoms of speech, expression, the right to dissent and   peaceful assembly. The current political and economic crisis must be resolved through dialogue and negotiation, not by violence and ignoring or suppressing the voice of the people. 

The Rt Rev Keerthisiri Fernando, Presiding Bishop of the Church of Ceylon and Bishop of Kurunagala

The Right Reverend Dushantha Rodrigo, Bishop of Colombo

April 20, 2022 | 16.20 (UTC +5.30)