News

Police obstruction of protestors: SJB contemplating legal action

  • Police also considering legal action against SJB

By Uwin Lugoda

The Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) is contemplating taking legal action against the Inspector General of Police (IGP) and the police officers who last week obstructed the public from travelling to Colombo to attend a protest, The Sunday Morning learnt.

Responding to a query by The Sunday Morning, SJB General Secretary MP Ranjith Madduma Bandara stated that the Opposition party was awaiting legal advice from their legal team to proceed with litigation.

“We have asked our legal team to look into the matter and based on their advice, we will take legal action against the IGP and Police for illegally obstructing citizens from travelling and expressing their views,” MP Madduma Bandara said.

A move by the Police to stop and turn back persons who were en route to join the protest last week drew strong criticism from the Opposition and caused heated exchanges in Parliament.

When reached on the status of the investigations launched by the Police into the protest, Police Media Spokesman SSP Nihal Thalduwa stated that action will most likely be taken against those who organised the protests on 16 November, adding: “There is no proper timeline for such legal action since it is a process. There is probably an investigation taking place right now, but I am yet to be updated. Most likely there will be legal action taken against the organisers.”

On 17 November, the Police announced that legal action would be taken against the organisers of the protest staged by the country’s main Opposition party. This was due to the SJB staging the protests despite health guidelines, which were issued by Director General of Health Services (DGHS) Dr. Asela Gunawardena, prohibiting public gatherings unless prior approval is obtained.

New Covid-19-related health guidelines issued by the DGHS on 15 November read: “Public gatherings, meetings, and events are not permitted until further notice unless prior approval is obtained from the proper authority for the whole of Sri Lanka.”

Prior to the protests, the Police obtained several court orders to prevent the SJB’s protest. These were from the Hulftsdorp Magistrate’s Court 5, Mahara Magistrate’s Court 1 and 2, Kaduwela Magistrate’s Court, and Homagama Magistrate’s Court.

Other courts, including the Maligakanda Magistrate’s Court, the Gangodawila Magistrate’s Court, and the Colombo Chief Magistrate had rejected their request, with the Colombo Chief Magistrate doing so on the grounds that the exact location of the planned protest was unknown at the time.

SJB Legal Secretary President’s Counsel (PC) Thisath Wijayagunawardane said the SJB is also planning to challenge, in court, the legality of the recent health guidelines issued by DGHS Dr. Gunawardena. He explained that these new Covid guidelines were targeted at the protest organised by the SJB, and that the DGHS did not issue any of those guidelines until most of the police stations that sought orders from courts to prevent the SJB protest from being held were not given.

“Let’s wait till they initiate action against us. We are ready to face any kind of legal action against the SJB or any of its members. If the Police are to take any such action, we will, in return, file an application against the Police for malicious prosecution,” Wijayagunawardane said.