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Sri Lanka: Prominent ‘aragalayites’ intimidated and surveilled

Key figures of the “aragalaya” (struggle) are facing intimidation at the hands of the Government, the Police, and the military, activists allege, with arrests as well as surveillance measures, including wiretapping their phones, taking place.

According to sources, Attorney Nuwan Bopage, Catholic priest Fr. Amila Jeewantha Peiris, Inter-University Students’ Federation (IUSF) Convener Wasantha Mudalige, and former IUSF Convenor Lahiru Weerasekara are facing intimidation by the Government.

It is also alleged that the security forces are following these activists while tapping their phones and trying to intimidate the people who support them.

Yesterday (27), freelance journalist and IUSF activist Veranga Pushpika was taken away in a blue jeep by a group of six persons suspected to be Police officers. The activists of the “RanilGoGama” public protest site at the Galle Face Green in Colombo claimed that Pushpika was travelling in a bus after taking part in a demonstration in front of the Colombo Fort Railway Station yesterday afternoon, when he was taken away by a group of six persons in plain clothes, in a jeep numbered GC 0342.

Meanwhile, the “RanilGoGama” activists said that the members of several trade unions (TUs) and other civil organisations had gone to the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) yesterday (27) and informed it regarding the continued arrest of activists involved in the public protests that initially demanded the resignation of then-President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and are now demanding the resignation of President Ranil Wickremesinghe.

It was also reported that after the HRCSL inquired from the Police, it was confirmed that Pushpika was arrested by the Divisional Crime Detection Bureau (DCDB) – Colombo South, and that a HRCSL team was to visit the DCDB. However, when contacted by The Morning, an official of the Kirulapone Police, where the DCDB is located, said that such a person was not detained at that Police Station as of yesterday evening. Furthermore, when contacted by The Morning, Police Media Spokesman, Senior Superintendent of Police and Attorney-at-Law Nihal Thalduwa said that he was unaware of such an arrest as of yesterday afternoon.

Elsewhere, it was reported that a Police team had raided a Catholic church in the Ratnapura Diocese searching for prominent “Aragalaya” protestor Catholic priest Fr. Amila Jeewantha Peiris yesterday. According to reports, the Police team had told those at the church that there was an order to arrest Peiris on sight. However, when contacted by The Morning, an official of the Ratnapura Police stated that they had not carried out such a raid.

Most of the Galle Face protestors have faced intimidation by the military after the recent tense situations at the protest site and they claim the military is blocking the protestors from re-organising the protest site. “At the moment, we are reorganising and restructuring our protest and protest site. Most of the tents were damaged by the attack conducted jointly by the Army, the Police, and the Special Task Force (STF). But the protestors were not allowed to take the materials for the tent, and they were intimidated by the military at the entrances to the Galle Face protest site,” a protestor told The Morning.

A tense situation was reported early morning on 22 July as the Armed Forces stormed the protest site at the Galle Face Green to clear the Presidential Secretariat and its main entrance of demonstrators. Several protestors were attacked by the Security Forces and beaten.

Speaking to The Morning, a witness claimed that he was assaulted at around 1.30 a.m. by the Security Forces. “It was early morning when the armed troops came and attacked us. I was just next to the Presidential Secretariat. They beat us all, including women and children,” he further claimed.

Protestors have held several protests near the camping site at Galle Face since 22 July.

The massive public protests that began demanding the resignation of Rajapaksa have now turned into those demanding the resignation of Wickremesinghe. Earlier, on 22 July, the Police had arrested a few activists, as well as journalists and lawyers, during the attack carried out on the “RailGoGama” protest site by the Security Forces that morning. The arrestees’ whereabouts were made known on that day only after a few hours of their arrest.

by BY Dinitha Rathnayake and Buddhika Samaraweera /The Morning 



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