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Lawyers, journos request UN to monitor protests

10 months ago

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  • Write to UN Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet
  • Allege Govt. trying to disrupt and sabotage
BY Buddhika Samaraweera The Lawyers Forum for the People (LFP) and the Sri Lanka Young Journalists` Association (SLYJA) have requested United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet and other UN officials to closely monitor the situation in Sri Lanka on a regular basis, including through official observations and solidarity visits to the Galle Face Green and other sites of protests in the country. The letter was dated 19 April, the day the Rambukkana incident took place, and was addressed to Bachelet, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression Irene Khan, and UN Special Rapporteur on the freedom of peaceful assembly and of association Clément Nyaletsossi Voule. It stated that newly-appointed Minister of Public Security Prasanna Ranatunga had alleged the involvement of certain “political extremists” in the protest held in front of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa's residence in Mirihana, Nugegoda, on 31 March 2022.  “He had alleged at a press conference and again in the Parliament about the involvement of members of a political party at the Mirihana protest, in a manner which implied that they too were involved in the violence. This leads to serious concerns about the hostile attitude and response of the Police towards the protests and protestors,” the letter read. It was also stated in the letter that they had received information to the effect that the Government is now considering non-legal means to suppress the protests, including through the use of racism to disrupt protests. During a small pro-Government protest and on social media, derogatory remarks have been made about ethnic and religious minorities, although protestors have continuously rejected racism and insisted on unity amongst all races, ethnicities and religions, it added. “On 15 April, a video clip showing Army personnel at the Ganemulla Army camp, being trained in protesting by uttering anti-Government slogans, was circulating on social media. This came in the context of messages circulating expressing fear about members of the Armed Forces or others, joining protests, chanting anti-Government slogans and creating conflicts with the Armed Forces, which could then be used to disperse protestors.  “There is also fear that there will be organised groups deployed to disrupt protests by engaging in violent acts. Such plans also have been revealed in Parliament by National People’s Power Opposition MP Vijitha Herath. This was seen during the 31 March protest near the President's residence, including the burning of a bus belonging to the Army," the letter added. It was also mentioned in the letter: “If there is any serious suppression of protests, there is a possibility of widespread protests on a much larger scale. There is also fear that the Police and the Armed Forces will be used to suppress protestors and those who are supporting them, which may lead to a bloodbath.” Noting that Thilina Gamage was appointed as the Magistrate for Fort (Colombo 1), under which jurisdiction comes the area around Galle Face Green, on 4 April, the LFP and the SLYJA claimed that the said appointment raised concerns as to whether it is an attempt to seek judicial sanction for the disruption or dispersing of protestors at the Galle Face Green. They further claimed that Gamage had faced allegations of not being impartial during previous tenures as a Magistrate, and also that investigations into certain complaints against him are still pending. Taking into account the said matters, they have requested Bachelet, Khan, and Voule to closely monitor the situation on a regular basis, including through official observations and solidarity visits to the Galle Face Green and other sites of protests; to exert immediate and maximum pressure on the Government to listen to the grievances of the people and constructively respond to their aspirations; to take actions against those who have suppressed or attempt to suppress the freedom of expression, opinion, and assembly, and especially the right to protest; and to intervene to protect and support those whose freedom of expression, opinion, and assembly, and especially the right to protest, have been violated or face imminent violation.

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