Leader of the Opposition Sajith Premadasa Urges Release of Actress cum Aragalaya Activist Damitha Abeyratne and Ignites Heated Argument in Parliament with Prasanna Ranatunga,Namal Rajapaksa and KPS Kumarasiri

BY Buddhika Samaraweera

A request by Opposition and Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) Leader Sajith Premadasa from Leader of the House Minister Susil Premajayantha to take necessary steps to release actress and activist Damitha Abeyratne ignited a heated debate between the Opposition and Government in Parliament yesterday (8).

Abeyratne, who was arrested by the Police on Wednesday (7) during the ‘black hour’ protest for allegedly forcibly entering the Presidential Secretariat in Colombo during the public protests in July, was placed under remand custody until September 14 when she was produced before Colombo Fort Magistrate’s Court yesterday.

Speaking in Parliament ahead of the remand order, Premadasa claimed that the Government was carrying out a witch-hunt targeting Abeyratne, who is a member of the ‘Aragalaya’ protest movement, and using State brutality and terrorism. He claimed that he was well aware that she was not involved in any act of violence, other illegal activities, or causing damage to public or private property.

“She has only exercised her human rights such as the freedom of speech, protest, and movement. That is why I request Premajayantha to intervene to release her. This arrest has been made falsely, and with no reason. I am sorry to say this, but this Government cannot stand artists, young people, and university students,” he claimed.

At this point, Chief Government Whip Minister Prasanna Ranatunga was observed interrupting Premadasa.

In the midst of the disruptions, Premadasa requested Premajayantha to contact the relevant security institutions and take the necessary steps to release Abeyratne. He further stated that it is problematic for the Government to invite the Opposition to work with it while engaging in a witch-hunt targeting the general public, including artists, in this manner.

Meanwhile, when Premadasa was making his statement, Government MP Namal Rajapaksa was also observed interrupting Premadasa, to which Premadasa responded by saying: “Rajapaksa is shouting like never before. Why are you shouting? I am talking about Damitha Abeyratne. This brutality and violence started from the Temple Trees on 9 May.”

At this point, Rajapaksa was given the opportunity to address Parliament, and mentioned that if someone had committed a wrongdoing, they should be punished under the existing law. He mentioned that in the recent past, an MP was killed and a lot of property in the country was destroyed, and that therefore, everyone should support the ongoing investigations into the relevant incidents.

“None of us can have a problem with investigating these incidents. If she has not done anything wrong, justice will be served to her by a court. If someone has done something wrong, neither Premadasa nor we should come forward to defend them. We should give them the opportunity to face justice before the law,” he added.

In response, Premadasa stated: “It is not the Rajapaksa family or Rajapaksa who decides whether I should come forward or not. The people of Hambantota know who the best group is to birth violence. However, I have the right to speak for Abeyratne, for the injustice done to her. Today, the Constitution and fundamental rights only exist in name. So stop this witch-hunt targeting people in this manner.”

Furthermore, Government MP K.P.S. Kumarasiri, who stood up at this point, said: “The relevant institutions will be implementing the law regarding Abeyratne. However, the way she talked about the 225 MPs during a press conference is a problem. All the 225 MPs were called thieves and she spoke in a shameful manner. As MPs, we have a privilege issue about that.”

Meanwhile, responding to Premadasa, Ranatunga said that if Abeyratne’s human rights have been violated as alleged by Premadasa, she has the ability to go before the relevant institutions including the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka. However, he mentioned that the relevant departments should be allowed to implement the law regarding the violent incidents and violations of law and order which took place in the recent past.

“Premadasa spoke about Abeyratne with great sadness, compassion, and regret. It should be like that, she should have that love, but she scolded all MPs including yourself (Premadasa) as being miserable. Also, not only the incidents on 9 May, but also the incidents which took place from 31 March onwards, should be investigated. We should support the programme of President Ranil Wickremesinghe to investigate such.
“Whether it is a politician, an artist, a lawyer, or a doctor – if anyone is involved in such activities, the law should be implemented against them. How can the implementation of the law be called State terrorism? I will inform the relevant Minister regarding the matters you have mentioned, but we should allow the investigations to be carried out in a fair manner,” he said.

Meanwhile, Premadasa visited the Colombo Fort Police Station last morning to inquire into the wellbeing of Abeyratne, who is detained there, and said at that time that Abeyratne was a leader who gave new strength to the people’s struggle. He said that the Government’s programme of a witch-hunt targeting people involved in the struggle, including Abeyratne, is undemocratic. Therefore, he requested the Government led by the President to stop this witch-hunt and to solve the problems affecting the people at present.

“With these undemocratic actions, we cannot work together with the Government at all. I request the Government to please stop this violence and witch-hunt. Do not play with people’s lives. There are too many issues for the Government to focus on. Currently, malnutrition among mothers and children is increasing. Children can’t go to school. Their English and IT knowledge have become low. Look at those issues and resolve them,” added Premadasa.

Abeyratne, who has been at the forefront of the protests which earlier demanded the resignation of former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and then the resignation of incumbent President Wickremesinghe, was arrested by the Police on Wednesday for allegedly forcibly entering the Presidential Secretariat during the public protests in July.

The arrest has seen great opposition from several parties, including several political and civil organisations. In addition to Abeyratne, hundreds of activists of the people’s struggle have been arrested by the Police since Wickremesinghe became the President following the resignation of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, which was a result of the said struggle.

Courtesy:The Morning