Lawyers for Democracy (LfD) in a statement yesterday said it was shocked at the violence meted out to protesters at the Katunayake Free Trade Zone (FTZ) and called for an immediate halt to such violent practices and an independent investigation as to what transpired.
The use of force was against workers who challenged the government’s decision to introduce a contentious pension scheme, which is objected widely by trade unions, political parties and many other groups. The incident at the FTZ with hundreds of peaceful protesters being hospitalised sends an alarming signal, particularly when the police had used live ammunition on protesters. One worker had succumbed to injuries. The position of the police that the crowd attempted to enter a police station is contradicted by TV footage shown on private TV channels which in fact show that the unarmed protesters were ruthlessly attacked and provoked by the police themselves. This is the newest development where the defence establishment has used maximum force to suppress any peaceful protest in Sri Lanka. In the recent time, we also observed the armed thugs attacking peaceful protesters, with impunity, even in the vicinity of the highest court of the country.
The right to support or criticise the views of the government is fundamental in a functioning democracy and every citizen should be able to enjoy this right. “Stifling the peaceful expression of legitimate dissent today can only result, inexorably, in the catastrophic explosion of violence some other day. (Justice Mark Fernando in Amaratunga v. Sirimal)”. We note from the well established jurisprudence on peaceful expression of political dissent that the freedom of association and expression does not allow governments to make criminal peaceful protests or dissenting views. The most recent conduct of the government brings us to the fundamental principles of constitutional freedom which requires the police to act with restraint even in the case of unruly behavior. Use of live ammunition against peaceful protesters is seen today only in failed or authoritarian States, where the police and governmental action is not accountable and law enforcement can easily be manipulated with impunity. It is extremely important and timely for the government to demonstrate their commitment to respecting the rights of all citizens of Sri Lanka.
We therefore urge the government to act with restraint when dealing with protesters and to respect the right of citizens to peacefully express their political views.
Lawyers of Democracy (LfD) is a representative body of legal practitioners and include Lal Wijenayaka, Chandra Kumarage, K.S.Ratnavale, V. Sumanthiran, Sudath Nethesinghe, L. Jothikumar, Ranjit Wijekoon, Sujeewa Lal Dahanayake, J.C.Weliamuna and Sudarshana Gunawardena.