ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka has entrusted the process of identifying individuals who engaged in violence during the widespread anti-government protest to a “different group”, as there is a “practical issue” with separating those individuals, the island nation’s Justice Minister said.
“There is a problem. This is not a legal issue; it is a practical issue because the Aragalaya consists of several groups. In fact even the police has difficulty identifying who were genuinely involved in the peaceful struggle and the others who came from outside and caused some violence,” said Minister Wijedasa Rajapaksha, speaking to EconomyNext on Wednesday August 10.
“We needed assistance in identifying those who [protested] bona fide. We want to give them relief; [not] take any legal action against them.”
Sri Lanka saw a massive uprising against the government’s inability to protect people from a debilitating economic crisis caused by wrong economic policies. The public took to the streets to demand the resignation of then President Gotabaya Rajapaksha and a stop to Sri Lanka’s systemic corruption.
Most protestors focused on sustained protests in several areas of the island, particularly the GotaGoGama agitation site in front of the President’s Secretariat.
However there were incidents of violence that saw houses of ruling party MPs looted and burned down and public property damaged. President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s private residence was also burned down in July, while he was Prime Minister and protestors were occupying the Official Residence of President Rajapaksha, who had by then fled the country.
Wickremesinghe declared a State of Emergency shortly after, granting the forces power to arrest anyone suspected of engaging in violent behaviour.
However, many of the arrested protestors allege that they were not part of the “violent minority”.
“This was such a peaceful protest. When the Bastille was stormed there was not a brick left in the place,” said one protestor.
The protestors subsequently handed over the occupied government buildings to the authorities, and have now wrapped up the occupation segment of the protests following to a court order.
Activists both local and international are asking the government to repeal the State of Emergency, but Wickremesinghe has not indicated that he plans to do so anytime soon.
The Supreme Court meanwhile has granted leave to proceed to a Fundamental Rights Petition filed by former Human Rights Commissioner of Sri Lanka Ambika Satkunanathan.
Satkunanathan tweeted Friday August 12: “The Supreme Court granted leave to proceed in Articles 12(1) and 14(1) in the fundamental rights petition I filed challenging the declaration of the state of emergency and the emergency regulations.”
Though Satkunanathan had filed the petition for other allegedly violated Articles, the Supreme Court will only be proceeding with Articles 12(1) and 14(1) which deal with equality under the law and freedoms of speech, expression and assembly.
Several prominent protestors have been jailed under the Emergency laws, and on Wednesday August 10 the Immigration Department cancelled the visa of a Scotswoman who had documented the protests.
Minister Rajapaksha said that he had met with protestors, and discussed the situation regarding arrests.
“We are in the process [of identifying protestors]. We entrusted that to a different group on the advice of the president and we will do that in the following days,” he said.
“The police will have to take action only against those who engage in vandalism,” he said. (Colombo/Aug13/2022)