BY Pamodi Waravita
The Colombo Fort Police submitted an initial report to the Colombo Chief Magistrate’s Court yesterday (18) about the “Occupy Galle Face” movement at the Galle Face Green, which reached its 10th consecutive day yesterday.
The report noted that on 9 April 2022, social media messages called the public to come to the Galle Face Green for a protest demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the Government. The Colombo Fort Police had brought in police officers from other divisions in case of another incident like the one at Mirihana near the President’s private residence, and to protect public peace.
On 31 March night, a people’s protest was held in Mirihana, Nugegoda. Video reports show an individual setting fire to a bus and protestors attempting to topple the barricades at the entrance to the Pangiriwatta Lane. Tear gas and water cannons were used against the protestors by the Police and 53 suspects were arrested following the incident.
Many amongst them have alleged that they were severely assaulted and tortured by the Police and the Armed Forces, which has since led to a large public outcry. The arrested suspects were later released on bail.
In its report to the Court yesterday, the Colombo Fort Police has noted that people from around the country came to the Galle Face Green on 9 April. They had observed statements by protestors that they were not affiliated with any political party.
Furthermore, the Police has observed media reports on 9 April night which show protestors stating that they refuse to leave the Agitation Site in front of the Presidential Secretariat until their demands are satisfactorily met.
The report also stated that about 100 tents were erected at the Agitation Site, thus blocking the pavement in front of the Secretariat. The said tents were for various purposes including emergency medical services, sanitation facilities, a library, and food. The Police has observed that clergy, artistes including thespians, sports figures, musicians including singers, and social activists have come to support the protest every day, and that they conduct activities that obstruct the Galle Road, including with the use of loudspeakers.
Thus, the report stated that these activities result in heavy disturbances to the public using the Galle Road and its pavements, during both the day and night. The report further alleged environmental harm due to non-biodegradable waste being released into the Galle Face, and sound pollution from the loudspeakers.
The Police also noted daily reports of individual offences and the burglary of public or private property. Furthermore, the report said that a death due to a medical emergency has also been reported.
The Police additionally noted the heavy traffic in the area due to the protest. Thus, the report stated that the Colombo Fort Police has brought in Police officers from other parts of the country due to this, as well as to maintain public peace and in case of any violent incidents.
The Police has further stated that they have dispersed officers for investigations, including to obtain photographs of protestors in relation to public nuisance-related offences, for investigative purposes.
The report further informed the Court that if protestors engage in some violent activities or any activity that disturbs the public peace or any other serious incident, the Police will investigate them and provide a B-report to the Court regarding the matter.
The “Occupy Galle Face” movement reached its 10th consecutive day yesterday. The rapidly expanding protest area now includes a library, a university, a people’s forum, and various other services and events throughout the day. The protestors continue the protest by staying overnight in tents erected throughout the area and has named the area “GotaGoGama”.
When The Morning visited the protest site on 16 April, many more tents were observed, closer to the statue of the late Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, compared to the number of tents that were initially only present closer to the Presidential Secretariat on 13 April. Entire families, including children, were seen at the protest site last week, where protestors were seen engaging in different activities, as chants demanding the resignation of President Rajapaksa were consistent.
A number of claims have arisen throughout the past week about attempts by the State’s Armed Forces to disrupt the protest at the Galle Face Green. Concerns arose on social media that the Ganemulla Army Camp is training soldiers to impersonate peaceful protestors and infiltrate protests. The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) has since visited the said camp for investigations while the Army has categorically denied these allegations and “any sinister moves”.
On 16 April, the media revealed images of a large number of Police trucks that had arrived close to the Galle Face Green. A short while later on the same day, the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) released a statement, urging the Government of Sri Lanka to “desist from taking any steps whatsoever to disrupt what is a legitimate exercise of the freedom of dissent of the people”. The BASL further noted that the trucks were removed after the matter was highlighted in social media and brought to the attention of the authorities.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa invited those who are part of the “Occupy Galle Face” movement for discussions last week. However, the protest continues, demanding the President’s resignation