27 IUSF activists at PTA protest arrested
BY Buddhika Samaraweera
The Police, who fired tear gas and pressurised water from water cannons to disperse the protest held by the Inter-University Students’ Federation (IUSF) in Colombo yesterday (30) against the Government’s continuous crackdown on protestors and the detention of three IUSF activists including its Convenor Wasantha Mudalige under the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act (PTA), had arrested more than 27 IUSF activists during the protest.
It was reported that a total of 27 IUSF activists who were arrested by the Police during the protest were being detained at the Colombo Fort Police Station as of last evening. A team from the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) had also visited the said arrestees.
The IUSF held a protest last afternoon in Colombo protesting against the repressive campaign of the Government and the detention of the activists of the IUSF – Mudalige, Hashan Jeewantha, and Ven. Galwewa Siridhamma Thera – for 90 days under the PTA. The protest started near the Elphinstone Theatre in Colombo 10 (Maradana) with the participation of a large number of protestors.
The protestors marched towards Colombo Fort carrying placards reading “Stop abductions and imprisonments”, “Release all activists immediately”, “Abolish the Executive Presidency immediately”, and “Let’s get rid of the junta of President Ranil Wickremesinghe and former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa”. A group of them marched in front of the protest march playing musical instruments, while the rest chanted protest songs.
It was seen that a large number of Police and Riot Unit Officers were deployed on the road through which the protestors were walking. At that time, an officer who was among a group of police officers who had arrived in a three-wheeler, using a loudspeaker, announced that if those participating in the protest did not voluntarily disperse, steps would be taken to disperse the protest under the Criminal Procedure Code. The police officer in question announced that measures such as arrests, detentions, the application of civil force, or calling in the armed forces would be taken under the relevant provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code.
However, while he was making the announcement, he was strongly opposed by those attending the protest. Protestors were observed continuously hooting at the Police. The group of police officers then moved forward amidst the jeers. At that time, a police officer was also observed pushing aside a journalist who was holding a camera, at which point journalists present at the location told the police officers to not obstruct their duties.
The protestors then marched along Deans Road towards the Technical Junction in Colombo 10, and more than 200 Police and lRiot Unit Officers were deployed at Deans Road. Due to the police officers blocking the road, the protestors resorted to sitting on the road, at which point the Police fired tear gas and water cannons at the protestors. Shortly after, the police officers in the relevant video footage were seen arresting several IUSF activists and taking them away.
Meanwhile, the activists of the IUSF and the representatives of several other civil organisations, including Ceylon Teachers’ Union (CTU) General Secretary Joseph Stalin and Catholic priest Fr. Amila Jeewantha Peiris, held a media briefing at the Centre for Society and Religion (CSR) in Colombo 10 protesting the use of tear gas and water cannons on the peaceful protest march and the arrest of the those who participated in the protest.
A group of police officers also entered the CSR during the media briefing which started at 5 p.m. yesterday. At that time, activists of the IUSF and other social and civic activists, who were present there, strongly protested against the police officers. In the video footage, the gathered activists were seen telling the police officers to arrest all the people present at that place, as they were all participants in the respective protest.
Meanwhile, Police Media Spokesman, Senior Superintendent of Police, and Attorney-at-Law Nihal Thalduwa told the media last evening that the Police had arrested 27 individuals in total during the IUSF protest march held in Colombo. He stated that the arrests were made to bring the situation under control.
The IUSF had organised a massive protest in Colombo on 18 August against President Wickremesinghe and the Government, during which the Police fired tear gas and water cannons at the protestors. A total of 16 university students who were arrested during the protest were released on bail after being produced before the Colombo Magistrate’s Court on 19 August, while IUSF Convenor Mudalige and two other activists are currently being interrogated by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) on a 90-day detention order signed by Wickremesinghe as the Defence Minister.