Choking civil society!

Tuesday, 5 August 2014 01:30 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • Fourth civil society event stormed and disrupted since May
  • High-level US diplomat and representatives from other DPL missions in Colombo on the scene
  • Monk-led group claims activists gathering info from Maha Veer families to hurt GoSL
  • “I have seen firsthand the intimidation you face”: US Acting Deputy Head of Mission tells families
By Dharisha Bastians The disruption of civil society events appeared to be a continuing trend with families of the disappeared from the north allegedly threatened by a mob led by Buddhist monks in Colombo yesterday, this time in full view of the diplomatic community. Families of missing people from the Northern Province had gathered at the Centre for Society and Religion in Deans Road, Maradana yesterday, for a sharing of experiences that was by invitation only. A crowd of about 20 people stormed the meeting, the organisers said. Several diplomats had also been invited to the event and happened to be in attendance during the disruption. This diplomatic group included the US Embassy Acting Deputy Head of Mission, Mike Honigstein and representatives from the UK, Switzerland and EU missions in Colombo. Shouting angry slogans about NGOs sponsored by the US, the mob led by several young Buddhist monks walked into the meeting venue and snapped photographs of several activists and families present at the meeting, organisers told the Daily FT while the mobs were still present on the scene. “You are living lavishly on the US dollars you earn,” the mob shouted at the activists and families. “I have seen firsthand the intimidation you face as families of the disappeared,” Honigstein told missing people’s families as the meeting was disrupted. “I honour your courage to come forward and share your stories with us,” he said. Security officials from the US Embassy and the EU mission arrived at the Centre in Maradana as the disruption continued. Once the Police arrived, the mob continued to block the entrance of the premises, trapping civil society representatives, families of the missing and members of the diplomatic corps inside the building. The disruption came only one hour after the event had commenced. Police found it difficult to control or disperse the mobs but finally managed to get the crowd out of the venue where they continued to block the entrance. After the monk-led group made a statement at the Maradana Police Station, the Police personnel insisted that lawyers for the organisers also make a statement at the station. Making a complaint to the Police regarding the missing people’s meeting in Maradana, the monk-led group claimed human rights activists Nimalka Fernando and Brito Fernando had gathered together ‘Maha veer’ families from the north and were in the process of gathering information to hurt the Government of Sri Lanka. In their Police complaint, the group said they had the right to disrupt any “anti-national” meeting held by “traitors”. Last weekend angry mobs disrupted a training for Tamil journalists from the north at the Sri Lanka Press Institute, a US-funded program organised by the civil society group Rights Now for Democracy.