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Monday, September 26, 2022

Not Repression, only the Democratic Reforms will end the people’s struggle in Sri Lanka. – AAGGSL

A just and spontaneous people’s struggle in Sri Lanka for socio-economic rights,
accountability, and democratic and political reforms has met with severe repressive
measures under the notorious Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).

Close to 4,000 activists have been arrested

President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who – when he was Prime Minister – accepted the
people’s right to protest peacefully and promised to look into the demands of the protest
movement, has now taken a U-turn. His first act since becoming president was to declare
a state of emergency, providing the security forces with draconian and unaccountable
powers, including the right to detain a person for up to 72 hours without being charged. So
far, close to 4,000 activists have been arrested under the flimsiest of charges and more
than a thousand are still held in remand custody.

Inter University Students Federation (IUSF) held a peaceful march on August 18, and the security personnel used batons, water cannons and tear gas to disperse them.

Emergency Regulations are being used to suppress the democratic will of the people and
engender an ethos of fear and silence. And authoritarian and unaccountable powers of the
presidency are being applied to instil terror in an unwilling populace to secure compliance.
Since the emergency proclamations, peaceful protestors have been attacked by the
security organs of the State. Several protestors have been kidnapped, many have been
arrested, and even ambulances and medical personnel were prevented from promptly
accessing the injured at the site of an attack.

Inter University Students Federation (IUSF) held a peaceful march on August 18, and the
security personnel used batons, water cannons and tear gas to disperse them. On the day,
21 student leaders were arrested of whom three, including the IUSF Convenor, were
illegally held in detention bypassing the court’s system. President Wickremesinghe signed
orders to hold them in long-term detention under the notorious Prevention of Terrorism Act
(PTA). And the regime’s arrest spree continues.

The draconian PTA gives wide powers to the Executive and security forces to arrest and
detain persons for a lengthy period of time under any false pretext without any convening
judicial authority examining the basis of the charges laid. Such detentions have been used
countless times in the past decades to subject detainees to torture and inhuman
treatments. The Ranil-SLPP regime has formed special units to target all those who are
facilitating and attending the protests including members of the expatriate community.
The situation appears to be developing into a nightmarish scenario where thousands could
die or be made to disappear, and abductions, torture and degrading punishments could
become the norm, as has happened repeatedly in the past. From August 22, in tandem
with the deployment of security forces in all 25 districts of Sri Lanka to maintain public

Sadly, the history of Sri Lanka is replete with heavy-handed police and security forces’ responses to peaceful dissent against State oppression and tyranny.

The situation appears to be developing into a nightmarish scenario where thousands could
die or be made to disappear, and abductions, torture and degrading punishments could
become the norm, as has happened repeatedly in the past. From August 22, in tandem
with the deployment of security forces in all 25 districts of Sri Lanka to maintain publiජ order, certain pro-Ranil and pro-Gota military officers have been promoted to the ranks of
Major Generals. Any opposition to the government is being maliciously and falsely
interpreted as fascist or terrorist activity. Amnesty International, UN Special Rapporteur on
Human Rights and other human rights organisations and civil society actors have already
expressed their serious concerns about these developments.

Sadly, the history of Sri Lanka is replete with heavy-handed police and security forces’
responses to peaceful dissent against State oppression and tyranny. The PTA was
originally enacted in 1979, to crush the Tamil youth of the North and East who took up
arms to fulfill the mandate given to the Tamil leaders at the August 1977 General Elections
to secure a separate state for the Tamil speaking people of Sri Lanka. Rather than
negotiating with the Tamil political leaders to accommodate their clarion call for federalism,
which they have been demanding since 1949, the JR Jayawardena government set out to
suppress the militants by whatever means, labelling them ‘terrorists’. A 30-year vicious war
followed and billions of rupees were spent to find a military solution for a political problem
that saw numerous extra-judicial killings and thousands of people disappear with total
impunity.

By applying targeted repression against the protestors, the ruling elite is engaged in sophisticated political manoeuvring to blunt the will of the populace for long-lasting political and structural change.

That draconian PTA, which was to have eradicated the so-called terrorism within a year or
two, is still being used today against the peaceful activists and youth of the South, who are
campaigning for their just demands for economic wellbeing, fundamental rights, political
reforms and government accountability. The suffering people of a failed state have no
choice but to persist with their protests; oppressing and terrorising them is not an option.

By applying targeted repression against the protestors, the ruling elite is engaged in
sophisticated political manoeuvring to blunt the will of the populace for long-lasting political
and structural change. The Ranil-SLPP regime by granting political concessions to some
social groups while violently suppressing others is trying to sow the seeds of disunity, yet
again, thwarting their desire for building a united country through truth-seeking, righting the wrongs of the past, and a fair go for all.

President Nelson Mandela once said: “… it is the oppressor who defines the nature of the
struggle, and the oppressed is often left no recourse but to use methods that mirror those
of the oppressor. At a point, one can only fight fire with fire.”

Today, the Sri Lankan state cannot feed its people, and the power and wealth of the nation
are in the hands of a few. Instead of dealing with the economic crisis, and the institutions
and individuals who perpetrated it, they are resorting to their old political playbook of
looking for scapegoats to hide their criminal actions. This is done so by escalating violence
against those who are seeking peaceful change. These actions clearly breach international
human rights and fundamental freedoms of the people.

Australian Advocacy for Good Governance in Sri Lanka (AAGGSL) is an organisation committed to positively contributing to the establishment of practising democracy and rule of law in Sri Lanka respecting the rights and will of all its peoples.

Appeal to the international community

Under these dire circumstances, we appeal to the international community, the United
Nations Human Rights Council, trade unions, progressives and all those who value
democracy and human rights to resolutely oppose the escalating human rights violations
under the Ranil Wickremesinghe presidency and stand in solidarity with the people of Sri
Lanka whose legitimate campaigns have been suppressed by arbitrary arrests and
detention. Any international bailout and support from the wealthy diaspora must be
contingent upon curtailing corruption, wastage and mismanagement of the economy,
freedom of expression, and respect for the rule of law.

AAGGSL calls upon the Ranil-SLPP government to immediately rescind the Detention
Orders issued and to take all necessary steps, along with the opposition parties, to abolish
the draconian PTA.

We strongly believe that only democratic and constitutional reforms, not repression, will
end this spontaneous people’s struggle for a holistic system change that will pave the way
for sustainable economic prosperity and peace in Sri Lanka.

Until then, the people’s struggle through peaceful means must go on.

Signed:
Dr Lionel Bopage
President
Australian Advocacy for Good Governance in Sri Lanka
Melbourne, Australia
Mobile: +61 405 452 130
Email: [email protected]

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