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ECONOMYNEXT – Protesters in Sri Lanka said they had called for a state of emergency to be lifted and to find out the reasons for the public protests instead of arresting key activists and putting them behind bars.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe met several GotaGoGama representatives on Friday (05) to listen to their demands.

The protest group Black Cap Movement has called for a “commission to find the causes of the 2022 popular uprising”.

All the groups had demanded that the president lift the state of emergency imposed on the island, but the president had not agreed.

“[Wickremesinghe] until the crisis is resolved, the emergency laws must be there,” said Buddhi Karunaratne of the Black Cap Movement.

“He can use the emergency law to circumvent certain laws in Sri Lanka. It’s not very democratic, but that’s what he said.

Arrests and surveillance continue, protesters said amid calls to lift emergency rules.

“On his part, he said that in the current situation, he could not lift the emergency law, because if he had to make new laws, it would take him time,” said Samith Bodhipaksa of the Sarwapakshika Aragalakaruwo group. .

“The president is saying publicly not to make arbitrary arrests, but even now the police are entering people’s homes,” Bodhipaksa said.

Several key protesters were arrested, including Joseph Stalin, the secretary of the Sri Lanka Teachers’ Union. Several political parties who met with the president on Friday also raised the issue with the president.

Several protesters told EconomyNext they are not returning to their hometowns because police are questioning their families.

The Sarwapakshika group had asked the government to cease all action against the demonstrators.

Some had been arrested for defying a court order to leave the GotaGoGama area, while others were also charged with damaging public property because they knocked down police barriers.

Sri Lanka has arrested protesters for acts like sitting in a chair in the presidential palace after storming the building earlier this month. Authorities also appealed for public support in identifying lesser-known protesters.

“Even in the past, rioters have obtained public pardons. This is a popular protest, and it does not require any pardon, but we are calling on the government to drop the legal charges against those who participated in the protests,” said Bodhipaksa of Sarwapakshika Aragalakaruwo.

“Just because someone stormed a house, knocked down a fence… held up a sign and chanted slogans… if they’re illegally and arbitrarily arrested, that’s wrong.”

Western governments and rights groups have also called for the protection of the rights of peaceful protesters.

Protesters also said there was selective implementation of the law and that the people behind the May 9 attacks on peaceful protesters are being released, while GotaGoGama protesters are being arrested on flimsy excuses.

The Liberal Fellowship group has called for ‘swift action’ in the May 9 attack, in which allies of then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa attacked peaceful protesters.

The group also called for youth engagement in governance and called for a “Cabinet capable of winning public trust”.

Meanwhile, the Black Cap Movement had asked the president to appoint a commission to ensure that the arrests are carried out within a legal and constitutional framework.

“He wasn’t very happy with the commissions,” Karunaratne said. “He said it would take years, and he was very keen to take legal action and get it all done in a few months.”

President Wickremesinghe told parliament earlier in the week that he would appoint a body to which those who believe they have been unfairly arrested can complain.

Bodhipaksa said the president promised to discuss with the Cabinet what to do about the arrests.

The Liberal Association had demanded that the majority of peaceful protesters be separated from the violent minority.

Meanwhile, former army general Sarath Fonseka said protesters in most countries are not as peaceful as those in Sri Lanka and are protesting under heavy pressure. (Colombo/August 06/2022)


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