Police stick to their guns on protest response 

Thursday, 11 June 2020 00:05 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • Insist protestors were in violation of court order 
  • All 53 arrested to be slapped with 10 charges 
  • Health Min. slams protest, says COVID-19 regulations should be respected 
  • FSP insist Police response used excessive force, protest adhered to guidelines

By Asiri Fernando

The Police department yesterday justified their actions in arresting and disbanding protests organised by the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP), stressing that the protestors had violated a court order issued against staging the demonstration. 

The Police action to arrest and disband the protests on Tuesday which were broadcast live, led to an outcry about Police brutality, with many taking to social media to express frustration at the lack of accountability for what is seen as a longstanding issue plaguing the Police department. Especially the treatment of women protestors by male policemen caused much debate about the Police abusing the powers entrusted to them. 

The protest had been organised in support of the global ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement against systemic racism and Police brutality which spread after the death in custody of George Floyd in Minneapolis, US two weeks ago. 

However, Sri Lanka Police Department had obtained a court order preventing the protests which was planned to be held in front of the US Embassy. However, Police moved to disband a protest staged near the Lipton Circle, which the protestors argue was beyond the area prohibited by the court order.  

However, SSP Ruwan Gunasekara yesterday stated that the Police was duty bound to enforce the court order and pointed out that protests have been deemed unsafe under the quarantine regulations. He made the statement addressing a special press conference held at the Police Media Unit yesterday. 

“The Director General of Health Services Dr. Anil Jasinghe has clearly noted those who attend protests cannot be always expected to follow the public health regulations which have been enforced,” Police spokesman SP Jaliya Senaratne said, pointing out that the entire island was currently under quarantine regulations. “There is no possibility of protests due to the public health regulations in place,” he added. 

Gunasekara said that the 53 members of the FSP who were arrested for violating a court order and produced before Colombo Magistrate were charged on 10 counts including violating quarantine regulations, violating a court order, obstructing Police officers, damaging public property and being a member of an illegal assembly. He pointed out that the court order was valid for 15 days. 

“We are reviewing video footage of the incident, including some that was not aired, which show that the Police first approached the protestors and handed over the court order, which had already been delivered to their residence in advance. The video also shows the reaction of the protestors to being served court orders,” Gunasekara said. The suspects were granted bail by the Magistrate. 

FSP in a statement said that one injured person was hospitalised for treatment. The party stated that they organised a peaceful protest and maintained social distancing and wore masks in accordance with the public health regulations. 

“The Police tried to convince the Magistrate that we breached a quarantine regulation and the court order, but failed to do so,” said FSP member Pubudu Jayasinghe, pointing out the protest was held beyond the vicinity of the US Embassy and that they were not in breach of the court order. 

The party also questioned why the law was being selectively applied to them while, several protests were held during the last few weeks, and questioned why legal action was not taken against mass gatherings at political party head offices and at State funerals of politicians.      

SP Jaliya Senaratne stated that two Police officers including an Officer-in-Charge of a Police station were injured during the arrest. The Police will continue legal action against all 53 suspects. Senaratne called on the public to assist the health and State officials to maintain the success of containing the COVID-19 outbreak by protecting public health regulations already in place.   

Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi also said that protests at this stage in managing the COVID-19 crisis is against quarantine regulations which are in force, and as such appealed to the public not to attend such gatherings.