ECONOMYNEXT – Legal action will be initiated against people who took part in a protest march organised by Sri Lanka’s main opposition the Samagi Jana Bala Vegaya (SJB) on Tuesday (16) upon investigation, police said, as SJB lawmakers urged the Speaker to probe what they called heavy handed action by the police.
Police spokesman Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Nihal Thalduwa told EconomNext Wednesday (17) afternoon that large crowds had gathered in Colombo for the protest.
“The police needs to investigate the matter first. No one has been arrested yet. That’s all I can say at the moment,” he said.
The protest saw SJB supporters march towards the Galle Face green in heavy rain Tuesday afternoon after police had turned away busloads of protestors who tried to enter the city in the morning. News footage aired on mainstream broadcast channels showed protestors confronting police officers at barricades set up at various entry points to Colombo.
SJB MPs in parliament on Wednesday said their parliamentary privilege was violated by the police.
“We MPs organised this, and our privilege was violated. Please look into this since it’s you who must ensure our rights. The Inspector General of Police (IGP) cannot take power into his own hands,” SJB Kandy district MP Lakshman Kiriella said, requesting the Speaker to investigate.
Speaker Mahindananda Aluthgamage told the main opposition to call for a separate debate on the matter on a different date.
Several SJB legislators raised points of order in parliament to complain about the matter, with some displaying placards in the lobby directed at Public Security Minister Sarath Weerasekara who is in charge of police.
The opposition event was originally supposed to take the form of a number of protest marches from different parts of the country culminating in a mass rally at Hyde Park grounds, Colombo, against the rising cost of living, the government’s controversial decision to ban agrochemicals, a crisis brought on by dwindling forex reserves, and a host of other issues.
However, the public health department of the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) last Friday (12) revoked an approval it had previously given the SJB for the Hyde Park rally, citing increased COVID-19 cases. Last Thursday (11), a gazette was issued with amendments to Sri Lanka’s quarantine ordinance, making it mandatory for event organisers to obtain prior approval from relevant authorities for any public gathering. The authorities were empowered to make decisions on venues, the number of participants and other particulars.
Police later sought court orders blocking the protest citing COVID-19 transmission.
SJB MPs said a majority of the courts had rejected the police request.
“They have put spikes across the streets in certain places. Even during the war we didn’t have anything like this. But people will come, it will not be easy but whoever can come, will come,” SJB MP Dr Harsha de Silva told EconomyNext on Tuesday.
“It is an absolute double-standard; for the government and their cronies, there are no restrictions; only for us,” he said. (Colombo/Nov17/2021)