On August 30th, the police attacked a rally collectively organized by the Inter University Students’ Federation, trade unions, multinational organizations, artists, and other civil activists. At the time of writing this article, 28 persons have been arrested.
The attack was a highly sadistic, cruel, and inhumane one. Police officers tore off the clothes of men as well as women. People were captured and held in tight holds. Unbearable and dangerous tear gas was fired. Videos even recorded how elderly people were dragged away from their shirt collars.
It’s apparent that there was no reason for the attack. Nobody behaved aggressively or attempted to break into any place; there was not even a hint of such behaviour.
You may have heard of sadism, a perverted desire commonly associated with sexual behaviour. It’s a twisted mental condition of enjoying inflicting pain on another. We wonder whether President Ranil Wickremesinghe enjoys spreading violence among the public due to such a mental condition. Because today, the protesters they attacked were peaceful protesters who first avoided confronting the police and then, when the police closed the roads, simply sat down on the road. Protesters did not confront the police, but the police went to them and assaulted them with water cannons.
President Ranil Wickremesinghe does not have the support of the people. He did not come to power by the people’s vote. When he contested from Colombo district for the 2020 General Election, he scored only a few votes and was defeated. Although Ranil’s party was a powerful one for many years, his party only received one bonus parliament seat in this election. This bonus seat which this party held on for nearly a year from the 2020 General Election was how Ranil Wickremesinghe entered the parliament. After former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa resigned, he was elected President through an interim vote in which 134 parliamentarians voted in favour of him. Therefore he, who has no public support, fears the public the most.
He further seems to have a hatred towards the public, whom he blames for setting his house on fire on July 9th.
So, he is afraid of the public. Hates the public. Attacking the public seems to be a twisted desire of his. Today he’s fulfilling this desire by deploying many police officers whose salaries are funded from taxpayer money. In the next part of this note, let’s talk about the value of the public property that is wasted by the perverted desires of a single person.
The Inter University Students’ Federation (IUSF) had previously announced that the protest to be held on August 30th was a march followed by a rally. This was mentioned in their Facebook posts and the protest was publicized through Facebook for several days.
Although protesters had planned to go through Technical Junction, one of the main junctions in Colombo, towards the Colombo Fort Railway Station, police officers stationed themselves at Technical Junction and closed the roads. It was the police that had in fact closed the roads; protesters had allowed vehicles to pass through.
Then protesters started moving in the opposite direction. They walked towards Colombo Townhall. Townhall and the Lipton Circus situated there are places in Sri Lanka where peaceful protesters have demonstrated for decades.
The police then closed off this new route protesters took. Police officers armed with water cannons, batons, and tear gas blocked the road. Protesters who saw this from a distance stopped without clashing with the police. Most sat down on the road peacefully.
Subsequently, what the police did was to approach the protesters and attack them.
President Ranil Wickremesinghe is a ‘constitutional enemy’.
Ranil has been accused of assassinating those who were anti-government as a young minister during his uncle’s term in the 1980s. In 1995, a commission comprised of High Court judges investigated these accusations. It is famously known as the ‘Batalanda’ Commission.
The Commission accused Ranil of abducting those who were anti-government, taking them to the ‘Batalanda Housing Complex’ owned by his Ministry of Industries, torturing them, and even killing and disappearing some of them. His official residence, bungalow, and the residences of his officials were within the region of where torturing took place.
The Commission revealed that other houses in the Batalanda Housing Complex were illegally reserved under names of police officers and were used for torture. At this time Ranil failed to explain the legal basis for the reservation of these houses and torture.
But the Ranil today is no longer the ‘amateur’ Ranil back then. No one knows what was discussed at periodically held meetings headed by Ranil and held at the Batalanda Housing Complex. The way houses were reserved was illegal. Had a proper law been implemented in this country, Ranil would have been in jail for cruel torture even until today.
But today, Ranil is using the police to attack protesters quoting sections of the Penal Code, an Ordinance in Sri Lanka.
Yes, today’s attack is against the country’s constitution and the principles of internationally recognized universal human rights. The attack was unlawful. But let’s set that aside for a moment. As soon as the protest march started, they quoted the clauses of the Penal Code as if to make the attacks on people seem lawful.
The police interpreted this protest as unlawful assembly and attacked the protesters.
The officer who read the statement said, “This order is made under Section 95 (1) of the Code of Criminal Procedure. All members of this unlawful assembly of five or more people committing a felony under Section 78 (2) of the Police Ordinance and any other felony, without having provided advance notice of six hours to the OIC of the police command not too far from where this protest march started, are hereby ordered to disperse …”
He said that this protest will be interpreted as “unlawful assembly” under the powers “granted to me by Section 95 (1) of the Code of Criminal Procedure.”
Here are Sections 95 (1) and 95 (2) of Code of Criminal Procedure:
“Any Magistrate or police officer not below the rank of Inspector of Police may command any unlawful assembly or any assembly of five or more persons likely to cause a disturbance of the public peace to disperse, and it shall thereupon be the duty of the members of such assembly to disperse accordingly.
If upon being so commanded any such assembly does not disperse or if without being so commanded it conducts itself in such a manner as to show a determination not to disperse, the Magistrate or the police officer may proceed to disperse such assembly by the use of such force as is reasonably necessary to disperse the assembly and may require the assistance of any person (not being a member of the Army, Navy or Air Force, whether of Sri Lanka or of any other country, acting as such) for the purpose of dispersing such assembly and if necessary arresting and confining the persons who form part of it in order to disperse such assembly or that they may be punished according to law.”
Accordingly, this Code authorizes the dissolution of a gathering if it seems like an “unlawful assembly”. But how can this be called unlawful assembly? Was it because the six-hour advance notice was not provided? Because they did not use loudspeakers?
The fine for not using loudspeakers is a small one. It’s merely two hundred rupees or less than a dollar.
At this rate, if a group of ten or fifteen friends meet somewhere, the police may very well attack them saying that they did not inform the police six hours in advance. They will attack people if they happen to have a personal grudge against them, as an unlawful gathering is a group of no less than five people.
Let’s say we violated a small clause like this. It is still illegal to use taxpayer money to assemble a large police force to attack people. It’s also inhumane to violate the right to protest and peaceful assembly that is protected by the constitution as well as the principles of universal human rights.
Even previously, various laws were passed following assaults on protests. One of them was the National Road Act. They brought forth its laws regarding the illegal blocking of roads and Article 138 of the Penal Code.
On August 18th they attacked a demonstration by students and presented them to court, arguing that the police received intelligence reports that these students were planning to occupy the President’s official residence once again. But President’s Counsel Saliya Peiris and a team of others pointed out that people were chased to Borella town and arrested at a location quite far from the President’s house, making the reasons stated by the police invalid.
The other grave problem behind these unlawful assaults and arrests is waste, corruption, and the misuse of resources. A complaint can and should be lodged with the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption regarding this. This is a serious type of property misuse.
For every hour a police officer spends on duty, his salary is paid for by the people. The police force is expected to reduce crimes such as murders and shootings, prevent cases of theft which have increased, and investigate past cases of corruption and fraud. Yet police officers are deployed to brutally attack peaceful protests. Police jeeps and buses from various police stations like Wellawatta, Colombo Fort, Cinnamon Gardens, Maradana, are used for the suppression of these protests. They are burning fuel at a time of a fuel scarcity. They even buy tear gas from taxpayer money.
Afterwards, the arrested suspects are presented to magistrate courts maintained at a large cost.
This is waste at a mass scale.
From here onwards, Sri Lanka may lose international support due to ongoing human rights violations and Sri Lanka may receive a black mark in the face of investors and tourists visiting the country.