To my right a man is hauled off by the police. He tries to resist but it’s futile as four policemen load him into a police jeep and drive off. I’m snapping away as the jeep speeds off into the distance, when a voice behind me asks, ‘what just happened?’
I explain to the man in a brown t-shirt, that one of the attendees of the ‘peaceful vigil‘ was just dragged off by the police.
He looks surprised. Then he motions towards the barricade of police in front of us and remarks that they’ve brought cans of tear gas with them. I turn towards the policemen and take pictures of the cans. Then I hear a scuffle behind me.
I swing around and I see the police trying to haul off the man I was just speaking to! For a moment, I’m stunned. He hadn’t done anything. He was just standing there, watching what was going on. A few people tried to intercede, questioning the police as to why they were attempting to take him away. Seconds later, a well-known female activist is in between the policeman and the young man, trying to separate them. She is manhandled and shoved aside. I felt a little helpless. I felt worse that I wasn’t able to do anything apart from taking pictures. But then it struck me that I could help him, and everyone else who was detained by the police last evening by uploading my pictures and writing about what really went down. Especially since the events of last night have gone unreported in most of the print media and print media websites.
Quite a few times I was asked what I was doing there. I flashed my media ID, which served like a protective shield. But others around me were being violently chased away. The crowd was dispersed, but they weren’t ready to give up. They took the vigil further up the road, to Gower Street. Here again the police quickly disrupted the vigil.
All while Dilantha Withanage (member of the BBS), charges that those who’d attended the vigil were trying to change the National Anthem, and that it is a criminal offence because it is against the Constitution. When I asked him under which Article it comes under, he responds– stammering– that if I’m a journalist, I should know which Article it is! So I asked him to enlighten me, seeing as he seemed to know more about the Constitution. All he did was parrot that as a journalist I should know it, which made it quite evident he could not prove the fustian he was spewing!
The print-outs that the attendees had with them were not, in fact, a new National Anthem, but a Buddhist prayer that they had planned to chant at the vigil.
Towards the end of the ruckus, while at Gower Street, a little balding man wearing a t-shirt with a BBS logo is trying to take a picture of me on his P&S camera. I move aside and take few steps to my right. He’s in front of me again trying to take my picture. I demand to know why he’s trying to take my picture, and he becomes confrontational. I ask him if he is from the media, explaining that I’m from the media, and I can take pictures. He tries to scuttle away, but I demand that he delete my picture. There are police standing two feet from us, surrounding the balding little man and me in a semi-circle. I ask them for help, but they just look confused!
An Editor of the Sunday Leader who was standing close by, walks up and explains to the policemen that the balding man can’t take my picture, and they should ask him to delete it. The policemen continue to look confused before they say we should speak to the OIC about it.
Several others I spoke to afterwards told me that their pictures were taken too. Clearly BBS is making note of the people who participated in the vigil. What are they going to do with the pictures? Who knows… They’ve got the police on their side, anything could happen.