Joint Operation Launched to Secure Presidential Secretariat

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As protesters continued to ignore repeated requests by the Police to vacate the Presidential Secretariat, a combined operation by Police and security forces had to be launched to rescue the besieged State building, Police spokesperson SSP Nihal Thalduwa said on Saturday (23).

He said the Police acted in a flexible manner during the initial stages of the peaceful struggle, yet, the protesters later started acting impetuously, disregarding law and order.

While noting that it is the responsibility of the Police to secure the State building that housed the office of the President, SSP Thalduwa pointed out that a joint operation was launched to evacuate occupants as the new President could not function without an office.

“We no longer could trust the words of the protesters who kept on giving us different dates on which they would vacate the building,” Thalduwa added.

He said this during a press conference organised by the Police at the Government Information Department on Saturday (23), where they explained the current situation in the country. Deputy Inspector General of Police (Legal division), Asanga Karavita, was also present.

Views expressed by SSP Thalduwa:

There was a big crisis in the country due to the lack of fuel and gas in the past several weeks and problems arose in providing electricity continuously as well. As a result, public was thoroughly inconvenienced. The Police intervened in all these matters in the last few months as the Police have the right to maintain law and order in all matters.

As a result of these inconveniences, there were protests in different areas. The Police intervened to suppress these protests. However, since the Police understood the public woes and the prevailing conditions, the Police acted with restraint. Even then, Police officers were abused on various occasions, often with harsh words, and sometimes they were even assaulted. Police acted with restraint and in a flexible manner not because they were incapable of taking actions by enforcing the law but because the Police did not want to put already inconvenienced people into further trouble.

By 9 May, a violent and chaotic situation was created due to escalation of protests all over the island. Regardless of the situation in the country, over 3,000 people were arrested throughout the day in connection with these incidents. Over 2,000 people were granted bail. A comprehensive investigation has already been started in connection with these incidents.

However, later on, while giving the opportunity to protesters to carry out the peaceful struggle without any hindrance, a number of protesters obstructed the Police officers and behaved in a manner that hindered Police personnel from implementing the law anywhere in the country.

A court order was issued recently. Information was received that the statue of former Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike was going to be damaged. Accordingly, a court order was taken to prevent this and the Police took the order received by the court to protect the statue so that no one could enter within 50-metre radius of the statue. However, the protesters disobeyed the court order and did not even let the Police to handover the court order to those near the statue.

In an ordinary society, the Police have an opportunity to go to a village, go to a house, inspect them and hand over a court order. These are the people who are protesting, urging for law and order and a system change in the country. Ironically, one has to think twice about these people who do not obey even existing law and order.

These protests continued for a few more months and during the massive protest held on 9 July, the protesters took control of three important places, namely, the President’s House in Fort, Temple Trees and the Presidential Secretariat. On the same day, they also set fire to the private residence of the incumbent President, who at the time was the Prime Minister. Especially, the President’s House, Temple Trees and the Presidential Secretariat are places with a historical value. The protesters entered those buildings and inflicted damages to some of the valuable things and antiquities there. They also entered the Prime Minister’s Office and the Sri Lanka Rupahavini Corporation.

The main entrance to the Presidential Secretariat had been blocked by the protesters since 9 July. The OIC of the Colombo Fort Police had requested the protesters on nine occasions to stop blocking the entrance and clear the area. However, they disregarded that request.

Later, on 14 and 18 July, the Senior Superintendent of Police in charge of the Colombo Central Division, his ASP and the OIC of Fort Police asked them to vacate the building.

However, the protesters responded aggressively to the requests and refused to vacate the premises and as a result, the Police had a problem with placing their trust in the protesters.

The new President does not have an office to carry out his duties and responsibilities. The Presidential Secretariat is the only office. The Presidential Secretariat is the main administrative building where decisions are taken for the people of the country. After a new Executive President is elected, it is our duty to have the premises cleared in order to ensure that the officers could carry out their respective duties. We were in a situation where we could not trust their word when they stated that they would vacate the premises on an alternative day. This is why the tri-forces, the Police and the STF worked together to remove the protesters who were illegally stationed at the premises.

Even then, the Police did not impose Emergency Regulations and the law enforcement authorities and the military operated as per the common law of the country. Throughout all these incidents, ordinary people did not respect the law.

Due to these incidents, a very wrong precedence was set for the society. There were problems in the implementation of the law. Especially they reached a point where they did not respect the Police officers and ridiculed them. You can see many proofs and examples of this on social media.

The Director General of Archaeology and the officials of the Government’s Analyst’s Department are conducting further investigations on the damage caused to those buildings in collaboration with the Criminal Investigation Department.

Ultimately, the goal of all citizens should be the development of the country. Therefore, the law should be obeyed. Also, the public should understand that the Police officers are performing their duty and they are operating within a certain legal framework. They have a responsibility to act according to the instructions given by the President. By constantly behaving in a violent manner like this, they are obstructing the maintenance of essential services. Tourist arrivals are affected. Because of all this, the country’s economy will only collapse further.

He said a citizen has the right to express his views and objections according to the rights given by the Constitution and should enjoy those rights in a manner that does not disturb the law and order of the country.

DIG Asanga Karavita of the Legal Division, commented on the State of Emergency imposed by the President recently.

He said a special gazette No. 2289/7 issued on 18 July 2022, imposing a number of new laws in relation to emergency situations in accordance with section 5 of the Public Safety Act.

“This gazette consists of seven parts, which give special powers to the Police and the armed forces. In particular, it includes the provisions necessary to carry out the essential services without interruption. According to this gazette, a person who obstructs the running of any service designated as an essential service. If he is found guilty, he can be arrested and prosecuted in the High Court on the advice of the Attorney General. If he is found guilty, his immovable and movable property can be confiscated,” he said.

Commenting further on this, he mentioned that the powers of the Police and the Army regarding the Penal Code will also is amended.

“It also provides that the Police or the armed forces do not need a warrant to search, detain and arrest in relation to offenses related to the body as well as sections from 427 to 446 of the Penal Code. In particular, these sections include offenses such as criminal trespass, housebreaking, etc,” he said.

He said according to these new legal regulations, the Inspector General of Police has been empowered to impose Police curfew.

“Furthermore, it is stated in this Act that creating and sharing false news through electronic communication media networks is a serious offence. We previously punished such offenses under computer crimes, but from now on they will be punished under this emergency law. All the offences mentioned above, “There is a possibility of imprisonment for a minimum of three months and a maximum of five years,” he said.

By Sahan Tennekoon