News

SJB holds 10 K-strong protest amid police obstacles

  • Blockades bar arrival of protestors to Colombo
  • SJB to take legal action against IGP/Police Dept.
  • Urges Sarath Weerasekera to deploy cops to find the Easter truth
  • Weerasekera accuses Opposition of spreading Covid-19
  • SJB slams govt. failure highlighting queues for essentials

BY Buddhika Samaraweera

A massive protest under the slogan “Protest against the curse of the Government”, organised by the main parliamentary Opposition, the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), was held in Colombo yesterday (16), while certain other related protests were also held in several parts of the country, in what the party described as the “first step” in ousting the “failed” Government.

The SJB recently announced that they would proceed with the planned mass protest, despite the recent ban on mass gatherings.

The Morning learnt that busloads of people from various parts of the island had left for Colombo in the morning to participate in the main protest but police barricades had been set up along the roads where the Police had diverted several buses and other vehicles carrying these people to the commercial capital. The Police had also diverted buses and other vehicles, especially in areas such as Kandy, Haputale, Kurunegala, Peliyagoda, Anuradhapura, Warakapola, Nugegoda, and the Southern Expressway entrances. However, there was strong opposition to the Police at such places and the people took action to hold protests in those areas, since they were stopped from coming to Colombo.

Later in the afternoon, nearly 10,000 protesters who had arrived in Colombo gathered near the office of the Leader of the Opposition at the Marcus Fernando Mawatha in Colombo 7 and proceeded from Kollupitiya Junction to Galle Face Green. SJB and Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa, SJB General Secretary and Parliamentarian Ranjith Madduma Bandara, and members of the SJB, including MPs Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, Kabir Hashim, Thalatha Athukorale, Patali Champika Ranawaka, and others, attended the protest march.

Speaking to the media at the end of the protest at Galle Face Green yesterday, Premadasa said that due to the failure of the present Government, people have had to wait in queues to buy almost all essential commodities including milk powder, sugar, rice, and gas. He also said that for the first time in recent history, the Sapugaskanda Oil Refinery has been closed and charged that the Government was trying to gain commissions by making emergency purchases of refined oil.

Speaking further, he said: “I urge the people of this country to get ready to work under a new vision and a new programme. We shall get together to build this country by creating a Government free of corruption, where there is a right place for the right person, irrespective of the families from which they hail from.”

Also speaking during the protest, Dr. Senaratne stated that yesterday’s protest was the first step to oust the present Government. “This is the first step. The second and third steps will be even worse. Dr. Weerasekera said that he would use maximum force, but when the people finally came to Colombo, he relinquished power. I would like to tell him to keep his passport ready. He may need it when he will be caught in the people’s force,” he claimed.

Earlier yesterday in Parliament, Premadasa questioned the diversion of buses in which people were coming to Colombo to participate in the protest. He charged that the Police had launched a massive crackdown on the freedom of speech of the people by diverting the buses. Premadasa further alleged that certain police officers, in certain areas, had written down the names and the National Identity Card (NIC) numbers of passengers and had threatened bus drivers with the revocation of the route permits of those buses.

He added: “Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, in the past, you too went on such protest marches and were allowed to participate in them with security. I would like to ask you whether the people of this country are not free to meet the Opposition Leader and express their issues. Has this Government forgotten the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution? This is a democratic country and the people have fundamental civil rights. The Government cannot violate them.”

Claiming that several police officers had recently gone to courts to seek restraining orders against the protest march, Premadasa observed, however, that most of these requests had been rejected by the courts. He also said that suppressing the freedom of the people to speak out on their issues was an extremely inappropriate act and added that steps would be taken to provide the Premier with videos showing the Police obstructing the people in certain areas.

“I urge Public Security Minister (Retd.) Rear Admiral Dr. Sarath Weerasekera to deploy all these police teams to expose the truth behind the Easter Sunday bombings to the public. The people of the country, including the Catholic community and Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, are waiting to find out the truth behind it. Therefore, use this police force to uncover it,” Premadasa added.

Speaking at this point, Dr. Weerasekera claimed that Premadasa was misleading the Parliament and the public.

“If there is a love for the country, the Opposition, including the Opposition Leader, should join hands with the Government to destroy this virus (a reference to Covid-19), and not join hands with the virus to destroy the Government, which they are currently doing,” he said.

Claiming that the Police’s role is to maintain law and order, he said that if there was any advice from the health authorities that a public rally could spread Covid-19, the Police should take action regarding such too.

“The Police are enforcing the instructions of the health authorities and, if there is a court order, do not blame the Police for no reason. If there is any complaint, you can inform us so that we will take necessary steps to look into them,” Dr. Weerasekera concluded.

Meanwhile, addressing a media briefing held at the Opposition Leader’s office last morning, SJB Legal Secretary President’s Counsel (PC) Thisath Wijayagunawardane warned that legal action would be taken against all police officers who obstructed the people who were coming to Colombo to participate in the protest, including against Inspector General of Police (IGP) Chandana D. Wickramaratne.

He said: “For the first time in history, 70 police stations have asked courts to issue court orders to stop a protest by a political party, but the courts have not issued such orders as per information we have received. This is a peaceful protest by a political party and we are going to court against all the police officers who are acting under various political influences and are obstructing the people who come to participate in it.”

Speaking at the same media briefing, Madduma Bandara alleged that the IGP had issued a circular to all police stations to divert buses carrying people to participate in the protest. “The IGP has no right to do so. He has violated the rights of the people. We therefore will take legal action against all police officers, including the IGP, who act in this manner. We will take action internationally too,” he claimed.

Last week, the Public Health Department of the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) revoked the decision to grant approval for the SJB to hold a protest in Colombo at the Hyde Park Grounds in Colombo 2. Despite granting approval earlier to hold the meeting under strict health guidelines, the Public Health Department of the CMC had informed the SJB that it was revoking its decision. The Department said that the approval has been revoked due to an increase in Covid-19 cases in Colombo at present.

However, speaking to the media recently, Madduma Bandara said: “The gazette notification was issued in a hurry after we announced our plan to stage the protest. We will stage our protest strictly according to the health guidelines. We have asked protesters to come with facemasks and to maintain the necessary physical distance,” he said.