Lightning Attack on GotaGoGama Protesters

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Military and the Police tore down several tents at GotaGoGama protest site and forcibly evicted the protesters, who were at Presidential Secretariat, in the wee hours of Friday (22), a day after Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn as the President of the country.

This was despite the protesters announcing that the Presidential Secretariat would be handed back to the Government at 2.00 p.m. on the same day.

Thousands of security forces personnel, who arrived at the site unannounced after 1.00 a.m., tore down several tents near the Presidential Secretariat including GotaGoGama IT Centre.

All the roads and lanes leading to Galle Face had been barred by the military and Police. Even journalists and lawyers were denied access to the protest site. Journalists had been reportedly informed that they too would be arrested if they try to pass the barricades.

According to a protester at the site, the military assaulted several protesters as well. Several journalists who were on duty, including Jerine Samuel of BBC, were assaulted by the security forces, even after they told the security personnel that they were journalists.

Two lawyers had been assaulted and Lawyer Nuwan Bopage, who reached the security forces to inquire about an individual who was arrested at the scene, was also assaulted and arrested.

An eyewitness said the security forces personnel assaulted those who were filming the incident.

The security forces later announced that they arrived at the site to seize the Presidential Secretariat. They urged the protesters to go inside GotaGoGama and remain there as they did not wish to obstruct peaceful protesters.

The 1990 Suwaseriya ambulance service could not enter the protest site despite requests from injured persons for assistance as the Police did not allow anyone past the barricades, Suwaseriya Chairman Dumindra Rathnayake said.

In a Tweet, he said the ambulance service had received calls from within the Galle Face protest site and they had informed them that they were unable to send ambulances past the Police Barricades.

“We asked the injured to be brought outside the barricades,” Dumindra Rathnayake added.

Stating that no one was allowed past the barricades by the Police, he pointed out that it was also important to note that the last time ambulances were sent there they were attacked.

The armed forced removed the ‘Gate Zero’ at the entrance of the Presidential Secretariat and cleaned a radius of several metres around the building.

UN Resident Coordinator to Sri Lanka Hanaa Singer-Hamdy has expressed grave concern over the attack on protesters. 

Singer-Hamdy tweeted, “the UN is gravely concerned by the use of force to disperse protesters.” 

She further said that journalists and human rights defenders have a right to monitor demonstrations and their functions should not be impeded.

“Actions that stifle protests and the right to peaceful assembly can worsen economic and political instability in Sri Lanka,” Hanaa Singer-Hamdy warned. 

A Peaceful solution in accordance with broad public consultations is the only way forward, she said.

Furthermore, several foreign diplomats have expressed concerns over incident.

US Ambassador Julie Chung also expressed her grave concern over the Galle Face attack at a meeting with President Ranil Wickremesinghe.

“I expressed my grave concern over the unnecessary and deeply troubling escalation of violence against protesters overnight. The President and the Cabinet have an opportunity and an obligation to respond to the calls of Sri Lankans for better a future. This is not the time to crack down on citizens, but instead to look ahead at the immediate and tangible steps the government can take to regain the trust of the people, restore stability and rebuild the economy,” she said.

Canadian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, David McKinnon said, “Hearing what is happening at the Galle Face protest site. Not sure why this is happening now”. He said that it is crucial the authorities act with restraint and avoid violence.

British High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, Sarah Hulton said, “Very concerned about reports from the Galle Face protest site. The United Kingdom (UK) has made clear the importance of the right to peaceful protest. 

Political parties, civil society organisations and media unions vehemently condemned the attack on journalists, lawyers and protesters by the armed forces.

Meanwhile, the Police, in a statement, said with the help of the Armed Forces STF, they removed the protesters who were occupying the Presidential Secretariat, its’ main gate and around the office on Friday (22).

Police stated that nine suspects have been arrested in this operation. Two of the suspects were admitted to a hospital with minor injuries. The arrested suspects are 26 to 58-year-old residents of Kelaniya, Embilipitiya, Ja-ela, Ratnapura, Sewanagala, Wellampitiya, Pitigala, Wadduwa, and Nugegoda.

They were produced in Court on Friday and further investigations are being conducted by the Fort Police. According to the Police Scene of Crime investigators and fingerprint examination officers are to be called in for other scientific evidence as required.

Investigations are being conducted under the supervision of the Colombo Central Senior Superintendent of Police. Additionally, the security of the area has been ensured, the Police said.

Colombo Fort Magistrate Thilina Gamage ordered the nine protesters, including Lawyer Nuwan Bopage, who was arrested last morning near the Galle Face protest site, on the charges of damages to properties at the Presidential Secretariat premises, to be enlarged on cash bail in Rs 100,000 each and a surety bail Rs 500,000.

Among those arrested by the Fort Police were two lawyers and two journalists.

By Methmalie Dissanayake, Aloka Kasthuriarachchi and Hansi Nanayakkara