Despite several barricades, including those with hidden spikes, along most roads leading to “Gota Go Gama” at Galle Face Green, the Inter-University Students’ Federation (IUSF) protest march managed to reach the Green by using alternative routes yesterday (24), attracting national attention in the process.
Even though the IUSF had originally planned to march to Galle Face from Colombo Fort, the protestors chose to take an alternative route instead of physically engaging with the Police or attempting to push down the barricades.
The alternative route was via Borella to Wijerama Mawatha, where they engaged in a protest outside the residence of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. The student activists managed to hang a black flag from the wall of the residence, and named the wall of the residence the “Protest Wall”, writing a number of slogans on it. Afterwards, the IUSF marched towards “GotaGoGama” through Liberty roundabout to Galle Face Green.
Last Saturday (23), the Colombo Fort Police requested a prevention order from the Colombo Fort Magistrate against the IUSF protest, which was rejected. However, the Police had requested a Court order under Section 106 (1) of the Code of Criminal Procedure Act (No. 15 of 1979) to bar certain student leaders from entering several roads leading to Galle Face Green.
Therefore, Chaitya Road, Janadhipathi Mawatha from NSA Junction, York Street from Ceramic Junction, G.O.H. Junction to Bank road, Ceramic Junction to NSA, Lotus Avenue from Ceramic Junction, Lower Chatham Street, from GMH Junction to the main road from the junction, and Lady Bastian Mawatha were blocked with barricades yesterday. Several members of the public, outside of the IUSF, who intended to go to Galle Face Green to protest were seen questioning police officers at these barricades.
When contacted, Police Spokesperson Attorney-At-Law (AAL) Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Nihal Thalduwa told The Morning yesterday (24) that the Court had not ordered the Police to put up barricades to block the roads, but had ordered it to ensure that no violence occurred due to the protests.
IUSF Convener Wasanthta Mudalige, addressing the protestors outside the PM’s Wijerama residence, said that the protests would continue until their main demand was met.
“These leaders pushed the public from the frying pan into the fire. That is why people are on the streets today, demanding that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa go home. However, he refuses to resign. If he does not go, we know how to send him home.”
Several video reports showed that barriers with hidden spikes were used in some locations to bar the roads. The spikes were covered using polythene to prevent detection. Issuing a statement in this regard, the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) noted that these barricades could cause serious injury to people.
“The attention of the BASL has been drawn by its members and by the public, that certain barricades have been fitted with spikes and covered with black material and that these barricades may well cause serious injuries to persons. We once again call upon the Government, the Inspector General of Police and all police officers and the armed forces to act with utmost restraint in all circumstances.
“They are duty bound to ensure the safety of the protesters and the public and the right of the people to dissent in a peaceful manner and also the freedom of movement of the citizens. Any violence whatsoever from whatever quarter will have serious repercussions for the country,” said BASL President Saliya Pieris PC.
In a Twitter statement published yesterday, Opposition and Samagi Jana Balawegeya (SJB) Leader Sajith Premadasa questioned why the roads were blocked and urged that the Government “stop holding back change”.
Furthermore, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) spokesperson M.A. Sumanthiran PC tweeted that “freedom of movement cannot be restricted in this way. This is a clear violation of the fundamental rights of the citizens.”
“All roads leading to Galle Face and the President’s house are blocked by barricades fitted with thorns. As Colombo MPs, [SJB MP] Mujibur Rahuman and I visited the blockades and communicated to the police forces that they are the peoples’ police and not a political police,” tweeted SJB MP Mano Ganesan, who had visited the area yesterday.
The “Occupy Galle Face” movement reached its 16th consecutive day yesterday (24). The rapidly expanding protest area now includes a people’s library, people’s university, people’s forum and various other events throughout the day. The protestors continue the protest by staying overnight in tents erected throughout the area and have named the area “GotaGoGama”. Several trade unions, civil society organisations, rights activists, and religious groups engaged in protest marches throughout the past two weeks, ending at “GotaGoGama” in solidarity.