BY Buddhika Samaraweera and Dinitha Rathnayake
The arrest of 13 protestors in front of the entrance road to the Parliament in Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte yesterday (4) has been criticised by Amnesty International, the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), and the Parliamentary Opposition.
A total of 13 persons were arrested by the Maharagama Police while staging a protest in front of the entrance road to the Parliament yesterday afternoon, and were enlarged on personal bail in the evening after being produced before the Kaduwela Magistrate’s Court.
Amnesty International Regional Director for South Asia Yamini Mishra called on Sri Lanka to drop all charges against the protesters.
“These protestors have the right to demonstrate peacefully outside the Parliament of Sri Lanka, and to express themselves and speak with their MPs as the country’s economy crumbles. The charges against all the protestors must be dropped, as they were detained solely for peacefully exercising their human rights. Sri Lankan authorities must respect, protect, promote, and fulfil the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and allow people to freely exercise their human rights. Any restrictions placed on these rights must be necessary, proportionate, and provided by law. Today’s arrests were undoubtedly arbitrary and unlawful,” she stated.
She also made mention of the protests outside President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s private residence in Mirihana in late March and the conduct of the Police in that incident.
“After they arrested protesters recently in Mirihana, the Sri Lankan authorities subjected them to ill treatment in police custody and refused to allow access to legal counsel. It is crucial that the authorities do not commit the same rights violations with the protestors arrested today. Excessive use of force, intimidation, and unlawful arrests seem to be a pattern in how the Sri Lankan authorities respond to dissent and peaceful assembly. These repressive actions clearly do not meet Sri Lanka’s obligations under international human rights law.”
Opposition and Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) Leader Sajith Premadasa, expressing his views with regard to incident in the Parliament, said that this group was arrested after delivering a letter to Speaker of the Parliament Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena with suggestions to overcome the current crisis. Speaking in Parliament, he said that it is their fundamental right to hand over such a letter to the Speaker of the House and queried as to how it was possible to arrest such a group who came in good faith.
“Currently, a people’s struggle is being waged in the country for freedom and democracy. In this backdrop, 13 youths had come to hand over a letter to the Speaker. However, on the way back, when they were leaving the Parliament premises, they were arrested by the Maharagama Police.”
He further told Deputy Chairman of Committees Angajan Ramanathan, who was chairing Parliament at the time: “I request you to please instruct the relevant Police station to release them immediately. Through the Secretary General of Parliament, instruct the Maharagama Police to release them. If not, there will be a big uproar.”
Meanwhile, the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), issuing a statement signed by its President, Saliya Pieris PC and Secretary Isuru Balapatabendi, regarding the incident, stated that those engaged in the lawful exercise of their right to protest cannot be arrested.
The BASL also requested the Government, the Inspector General of Police and all Police officers, and the Armed Forces to act with utmost restraint.
“We also have reports of persons attending the protest being subject to arrest and detention in the vicinity. It should be noted that those engaged in the lawful exercise of their right to protest cannot be arrested. We reiterate once more that the right of the public to protest in a peaceful manner must be respected and upheld. We also stress that such protests must be peaceful at all times,” the statement said.
The arrested were staging a protest in the area carrying placards which read “sign the no-confidence motion (NCM)”, in order to exert pressure on MPs to sign the NCMs against the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP)-led Government and President Gotabaya Rajapaksa that have been submitted by the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB).
The protestors were seen hooting and shouting at the vehicles of MPs travelling to and from Parliament, of which there were many, since yesterday was a sitting day. The protestors were also seen arguing with the police officers, alleging that the police officers were taking their photographs for identification.
Shortly afterwards, a bus carrying a large number of Police officers arrived at the scene. A heated situation arose when the Police tried to arrest the protestors, and video footage of the incident showed several protesters being forcibly loaded into the bus by the police officers amidst cries of defiance.
When contacted by The Morning, the Police Media Division yesterday afternoon stated that a total of 13 protestors had been arrested for allegedly blocking the entrance road to Parliament and the vehicles plying on the said road, and claimed that they were to be charged with unlawful assembly, vicarious liability for unlawful assembly, and unlawful restraint. According to the said division, the arrestees were being held at the Maharagama Police Station, and were later produced before the Kaduwela Magistrate’s Court.
Also, Police Media Spokesman Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Attorney-at-Law Nihal Thalduwa, speaking to The Morning, claimed that the group was throwing stones at the MPs’ vehicles at the entrance road to the Parliament.
Public Security and Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga in Parliament also confirmed the arrests and said that the group was disturbing the MPs at the entrance to Parliament, noting that this is the main reason for arresting them. According to him, it is a concern for the security of the MPs, adding that the group would be produced before Court.