Police say strict legal action against forcible entry to HSZs
BY Buddhika SamaraweeraA Fundamental Rights (FR) petition has been filed before the Supreme Court (SC) by the Socialist Youth Union (SYU) challenging the Gazette notification issued by President Ranil Wickremesinghe declaring a number of locations within the Colombo District as high-security zones (HSZs). Meanwhile, addressing a media briefing yesterday (26), Defence Secretary Gen. (Retd.) Kamal Gunaratne defended the President's decision, emphasising that it does not hinder the people’s right to protest. “Protests can be staged and public meetings can be held. However, pursuant to the law, permission should be sought beforehand. The Police grant permission to a protest after taking into account the fact that it will not hinder the day-to-day lives of the general public. The Police have a responsibility to take necessary actions regarding protests staged without notice. The Police will enforce the law if the protests that are organized cause any disturbance to the general public at a time when stability is being slowly restored in the country.” He added that the Security Forces too stand ready to provide support to the law enforcement authorities when necessary in order to keep tense situations under control.“HSZs are not a new concept to Sri Lanka. Public officials were unable to perform their duties at the Presidential Secretariat after protestors took control of the establishment over the past few months. Such State buildings should therefore be protected. We have designated only a few places in the city of Colombo as HSZs per the Gazette order,” he clarified.However, former President and incumbent 'independent' MP Maithripala Sirisena opined that declaring several areas as HSZs in Colombo is inadvisable, as it may pave the way for another uprising of the people, saying that they are both physically and mentally under pressure."Taking such decisions and pressurising the people will induce the people to go against the Government. With the pressure on the people and everyone, including me, we know how people are getting on with their lives these days with the current economic crisis. The Government should have taken a decision to inform the public, while calming them by showing the correct direction. The Government should have explained to the people about the methods being adopted to ease the economic crisis while instructing State officials accordingly. But the Government is doing totally the opposite of what they should have done," he observed.With the designation of several places including the President's House, the Presidential Secretariat, and the Temple Trees as HSZs, the Police said that it will be possible to take strict legal action against the relevant parties in the event of any forcible entry into them as had been done in the past, adding however that anyone who does not commit a wrongdoing will not be harassed in or around such places.Speaking to The Morning, Police Media Spokesman, Senior Superintendent of Police and Attorney-at-Law Nihal Thalduwa said that HSZs have been there in the past too, particularly during the war period. He said that in and around such places, there are certain activities that have been prohibited such as the parking of vehicles without the relevant authorities' permission.Explaining the reasons that have led to the designation of several places as HSZs, he said: "A few months ago, some people entered several State buildings including the President's House, the Presidential Secretariat, and the Temple Trees and caused damage to them. Legal action has to be taken against them under the normal procedures, and it is observed in certain cases that the available legal provisions are sometimes not enough for this purpose."Speaking further, Thalduwa said that such places that are of national importance must be protected, as any damage caused to them will eventually cause inconvenience to the general public. He said that it is important to ensure the security of such places as many important events such as meetings with international organisations including the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are taking place at such places."The Police will not put up barricades and block these places and the public is free to approach them without causing any damage. However, against anyone who commits a wrongdoing which has been prohibited by the relevant Gazette notification in or around any of these places, necessary action will be taken. In addition, vehicles cannot be parked at these places and the security personnel will at times question if there are any suspicious persons. Other than that, anyone who doesn't commit any wrongdoing will not be harassed," he said.President Ranil Wickremesinghe on 23 September issued a Gazette Extraordinary declaring several areas in the Colombo District as HSZs. According to the relevant Gazette notification, unless the prior written permission of the Inspector General of Police or the Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police in charge of the Western Province is obtained, no person shall conduct or hold a public gathering or procession whatsoever on a road, ground, shore or other open area situated within the HSZs.The designated HSZs include the Parliament Complex, the Supreme Court Complex, the High Court Complex in Colombo, the Magistrate’s Court Complex in Colombo, the Attorney General’s Department, the Presidential Secretariat, the President’s House, the Navy Headquarters and the Police Headquarters, the Defence Ministry and the Army Headquarters in Akuregoda, the Air Force Headquarters in Slave Island and the Prime Minister’s Office at Flower Road.