A crowd of about 10,000 mourners drawn largely from the fishing community in the area and adjoining villages attended Fernando’s funeral service that was held at the St. Sebastian’s Church in Chilaw.
Fernando was killed in clashes with the police and security forces personnel during a demonstration staged by the fishing community in Chilaw last Wednesday, against the recent fuel price hike announced by the government last week.
Speaking to Ceylon Today, a top police official in the North Western provincial area who wished to remain unnamed said that following discussions with the Parish priest of St Sebastian’s, Fr. Claude Fernando, the Chilaw police had been confined to the police station and would not be deployed at the funeral. Those that were on duty in the town would carry only batons and no weapons, the senior police official said. He added that all liquor shops in the area had also been closed to prevent tension in the area.
Police earlier got a court order to prevent the body of Anthony Fernando from being taken possession of by unauthorized persons and that the remains could only be taken in procession from the funeral house for religious rites and then to the burial ground. The fishing community had threatened earlier to carry Anthony Fernando’s remains into the town to agitate against violence by the authorities.
However a force of about 1500 STF personnel and Riot Police squads had been deployed around the town to prevent any further unrest, the top cop said. Chilaw was a dead town last afternoon as the funeral of the 34 year old Fernando got underway at about 2 p.m., with the cortege leaving the Ceylon Fisheries Corporation premises in procession to the St. Sebastian’s Church for the service and to the coastal cemetery for burial. Heavily armed STF troops were stationed every few yards around the town. Chilaw and the road leading to the town were draped with black and white flags and large posters expressing condolences with Fernando for his ‘sacrifice’.
Despite predictions about unrest in the area, the funeral was largely calm although emotion was running high in the crowd of mourners who called Anthony Fernando’s death a vain sacrifice. Fishermen in the Chilaw area have not gone out to sea since Sunday, to protest the massive fuel price hike that they say will rob them of their livelihood.
Speaking to Ceylon Today, Fernando’s brother in law Stanley Kumara said that the army and police were both claiming that they did not shoot the fishermen. “The fishing community of Egodawatte and fisher folk throughout Sri Lanka are waiting for the authorities to tell us who killed Anthony,” Kumara said.
Fernando is survived by his wife Niluka, 28, his daughter Nipuni 9, and son, Dhanushka 8.
By Dharisha Bastians in Chilaw