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Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Sri Lanka: Crackdown on protests into high gear

  • Pathum Kerner arrested, hunt on for Fr. Amila Jeewantha
  • Warrants on Lahiru Weerasekara, Sugathananda Thera

BY Dinitha Rathnayake 

The authorities who arrested one of the founders of the “GotaGoGama”, Pathum Kerner yesterday (28), have also stepped up efforts to arrest key figures of the “aragalaya” (struggle) that is calling for the resignation of President Ranil Wickremesinghe and the Government, including searching several church premises to nab Catholic priest and activist Fr. Amila Jeewantha Peiris, and the questioning of the media and journalists.

Kerner was arrested by the Colombo Crimes Division (CCD) yesterday (28) in connection to the public protest that was held near Parliament on 13 July and the unruly incidents that occurred at the entry road to Parliament near the Polduwa Junction during the public protest that the public had staged against the Government urging for the resignation of Rajapaksa. According to the Police, he had been summoned by the CCD on 18 July. However, he had disclosed via his attorney that he was unable to appear before the CCD, citing ill health.

According to sources, the Police are searching for Peiris, a key figure in the peaceful protest at the Galle Face, in several churches. It is also learnt that the Police are seeking to arrest him under charges pertaining to allegedly causing damage to public property during a protest held in front of the Police Headquarters. Police fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse the protestors who were marching toward the Police Headquarters in Colombo on 9 June. Riot Police resorted to using tear gas and water cannons on protestors as they attempted to breach the barricades and roadblocks along York Street and marched towards the Police Headquarters. Tear gas was fired at the protestors near the entrance to the Police Headquarters.

Colombo Fort Magistrate’s Court yesterday issued arrest warrants on activists Lahiru Weerasekara and Venerable Tampitiye Sugathananda Thera over their failure to attend a court proceeding. When a case pertaining to unlawful public assembly was called yesterday, Weerasekara and Sugathananda Thera did not appear before the court. Accordingly, the Police requested the court to issue a warrant for the arrest of the duo.

Meanwhile, the Digital Journalists’ Collective claimed that Police officers came to the Xposure News media station in the afternoon of Wednesday (27) and questioned several journalists. Issuing a press release in this regard, they said that the suppression of the media under current President Wickremesinghe, and the Government should be stopped immediately.

“Currently, journalists and social media activists are facing serious threats including arrests, assaults, and abductions. The authorities are also pressuring Xposure News. Police officers who came to the entrance of the Xposure News media house showed some photos to the security and asked if those people were staying at the premises, and also asked to check the closed circuit television camera (CCTV) footage, and left saying that they would come back later.”

Three of the journalists who were badly beaten while reporting on the military attack launched on 22 July at Galle Face are journalists working under this agency.

“The freedom of speech is guaranteed by the Constitution itself and it is the responsibility of the State to uphold it. Therefore, we have emphasised that they should not suppress the media and instead allow them to carry out their duties freely,” the release added.

Meanwhile Pathum Kerner claimed on social media that the Government is trying to hunt the leaders of the “aragalaya” by isolating them and using different tactics. He also urged the public to support those leaders and to help stop the terrorism spread by the Government.

TM

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