News

A day of protest arrests

  • Samantha Vidyaratna, Namal Karunaratne, Duminda Nagamuwa, Mahinda Jayasinghe among arrestees

  • Lawyers, politicos condemn ‘suppression’ 

  • Protests/public gatherings banned on Tuesday

By Dinitha Ratnayake and Buddhika Samaraweera

 

A number of arrests were made yesterday (7) after the Director General of Health Services (DGHS) Dr. Asela Gunawardena banned protests on Tuesday (6), citing a threat to public health owing to the potential for the spread of Covid-19.

Former Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) Provincial Councillor Samantha Vidyaratna, All-Ceylon Farmers Federation (ACFF) National Organiser Namal Karunaratne, Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) Politburo Member, Centre for Labour Struggles Co-ordinating Secretary Duminda Nagamuwa, and former JVP Provincial Councillor Mahinda Jayasinghe were among those arrested.

Former JVP Provincial Councillor Samantha Vidyaratna and All-Ceylon Farmers Federation (ACFF) National Organiser Namal Karunaratne surrendered to the Bogahakumbura Police yesterday morning after staging a protest on 1 July at Boralanda allegedly in violation of Covid-19 related health guidelines. 

The Police had on 3 July arrested five suspects for staging a protest in Boralanda, Bandarawela demanding a solution to the fertiliser shortage faced by the farming community in the area. The suspects were produced before the Welimada Magistrate’s Court after which they were each enlarged on bail on Rs. 100,000 personal bail. 

The Police had also made a request to arrest several more suspects; however, the Court had noted that such an order was not necessary for suspects to be arrested. Accordingly, the Police had launched an investigation to arrest five more suspects including Vidyaratna and Karunaratne.

Accordingly, the Police Media Spokesman, Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police (SDIG) Ajith Rohana yesterday (7) told the media that the five additional suspects in question had surrendered to the Bogahakumbura Police and that Vidyaratna and Karunaratne were also among them. 

“The five suspects were arrested by the Police and were produced before the Welimada Magistrate’s Court yesterday,” he added. 

These five were also enlarged on bail yesterday on a personal bail count of Rs. 100,000 each. The case is set to be taken up again in September.

Thereafter, Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) Politburo Member and Centre for Labour Struggles Co-ordinating Secretary Duminda Nagamuwa were arrested for staging a protest with the workers of the State Engineering Corporation of Sri Lanka (SEC) demanding their salaries be paid on time.

Police Media Spokesman Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police (SDIG) Ajith Rohana said that six suspects including Nagamuwa were arrested for organising a protest at the Ramanayake Mawatha in Slave Island for violating a quarantine order. They were produced before the Colombo Fort Magistrate’s Court. 

The Medical Officer of Health (MOH) of the area had issued a quarantine order against the suspects. SDIG Rohana added that they need to follow quarantine procedures for 14 days according to the quarantine order issued. Thereafter, all six suspects were taken to the quarantine centre in Pallekele, Kandy.

Following this, former Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) Provincial Councillor Mahinda Jayasinghe was arrested by the Pamunugama Police for staging a protest in violation of a quarantine order and produced in court later.

However, speaking to The Morning, Jayasinghe denied the claim that he was arrested for violating a quarantine order.

“We organised a protest against the destruction of the Muthurajawela wetlands. However, the Pamunugama Police informed us about a Court order which disapproved of our protest. We obeyed the law and withdrew our protest. Afterwards, we organised a peaceful rally towards Ja-Ela, whilst following the health guidelines.”

According to Jayasinghe, he and another two were arrested by the Pamunugama Police without any reason and produced before Court. 

Meanwhile, the Lawyers for Democracy (LfD) organisation expressed concern over the ban of public gatherings and protests. It described the decision as a violation of the fundamental rights of the people and an attempt to stifle mounting opposition towards a Government which has caused hardships to the people.

A statement issued to the press by the LfD, further claimed: “The people have the right whilst observing the health guidelines of the authorities, to agitate and demonstrate their opposition to measures taken by the Government which are detrimental to the economy and the people’s very existence. This is a major step towards the suppression of the rights of the people at a time when the Government has failed to address the basic problems of the people. We condemn this action.” 

The LfD also noted that the ban was being enforced to selectively harass political opponents.

Following their arrests of Samantha Vidyaratna and Namal Karunaratne, JVP Leader and Jathika Jana Balawegaya/National People’s Power MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake reiterated that the Government was attempting to suppress protests that are being carried out by a number of parties including farmers and fishermen by intimidating the public. 

He claimed in Parliament that it was ridiculous to ban peaceful protests in a context where spas are being kept open, public transport is being operated and hundreds of workers are being brought to work.

On 6 July, the Health Services Director General (DGHS) Dr. Asela Gunawardena wrote to the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Chandana D. Wickramaratne stating that activities such as public meetings and protests which gather large numbers of people would not be permitted until further notice, citing a threat to public health owing to the potential for the spread of Covid-19. The Police responded by announcing that stern action will be taken against those who violate this quarantine regulation.