UNP lawmakers, activists protest Patali arrest, accuse govt of repression

A group of opposition lawmakers and civil society activists condemned last night’s arrest of MP Patali Champika Ranawaka as a vindictive act aimed at repressing the opposition.

United National Party (UNP) MP Hirunika Premachandra, speaking to reporters, said Ranawaka’s arrest will mark the beginning of the new government’s downfall.

“It was Patali Champika Ranawaka who introduced nationalism to then President Mahinda Rajapaksa who had no grasp of such concepts. It was he who taught them the importance of embracing their Sinhala Buddhist identity. We urge the Sangha to talk to the country’s new leadership to reconsider this move,” she said.

“This is a government that demands blood,” she added, charging that the day the new administration’s alleged repression knocks on the door of journalists is not far away.

UNP MP and former Minister of Justice Thalatha Atukorale suggested that the case against the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) leader, which was concluded years ago, has suddenly been brought to the fore again purely for political reasons. After nearly five years, she said, the witch-hunt on opponents has recommenced.

“The democratic gains that came with the 19th amendment to the constitution are being reversed. Ranawaka had opened investigations on a number of alleged misappropriations that had previously taken place in some of the institutes that came under his ministry. We wonder if that was why he was arrested. Or was it at the behest of someone else?” she said.

Attorney-at-law Gunaratne Wanninayake said Ranawaka’s arrest was an attempt to politically assassinate him.

“Ranawaka is a former university student. University students can be killed, but they cannot be stopped,” he said.

The lawyer also said that the practice with regard to motor traffic accidents was to have the guilty party pay a fine and go home.

Buddhist monk Hadigalle Wimalasara Thero, delivering a particularly scathing attack on the new government, said that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who won the election with mostly Sinhala Buddhist votes, had set his sights on a “better” Sinhala Buddhist leader on the other side of the political divide.

“President Rajapaksa doesn’t compare to former Minister Ranawaka in terms of services rendered to the Buddha Sasana,” he said.

“This isn’t some backward African country. The people will rise against any dictatorship,” he added.

Meanwhile, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya issuing a statement said that the manner in which Ranawaka was arrested violated the traditions of Parliament, challenged the democratic traditions and is a harbinger of a dangerous breakdown of Parliamentary democracy.

The arrest was a “clear violation of the tradition of Parliament” because the Speaker was not notified before the MP was picked up, he said.

Pioneering Speakers of Sri Lanka’s Parliament, as well as decisions taken by former Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa, safeguarded the MPs in times of arrest and this was maintained while the current government was in opposition, the statement added. During this time this same party insisted on these traditions being maintained and it is surprising that they have turned their back on these traditions as they have come to power. 

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