Catholic priests express serious concern

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Catholic priests expressed serious concern about the imminent arrest and alleged state repression against Fr. Jeewantha Peiris and other protestors of the Occupy Galle Face movement and demanded the Government to stop its witch-hunt against those who actively participated in the ‘Aragalaya.’

In a statement yesterday (31), Catholic priests said, “We demand the Government to stop the repression of those involved and supporting the Aragalaya and focus on listening to grievances and aspirations of people and take action to address both immediate and long-term problems. We are happy to see the support extended by ordinary people against the state repression. We will do our best to support Aragalaya and protect those involved, and we appeal to our fellow citizens, as well as foreign governments and international organisations to do the same.”

“On 25 July, media reported that the Colombo Magistrate Court had issued a travel ban on Fr. Jeewantha Peiris and several others involved in the protests and on 27 July, a church was visited by Police, who had told the priest resident there that they had received orders from Colombo to arrest Fr. Jeewantha.

The Government had ordered a military raid in the early hours of 22 July, despite an announcement by protesters at Galle Face that they would hand over the small section of the Presidential Secretariat which they were using to run a library for the public benefit. Unarmed protesters were brutally attacked, tents and other properties destroyed and stolen. Protesters, including those injured, were not allowed to leave the site for several hours. Ambulances, journalists, lawyers, religious leaders were not allowed to reach the Galle Face. Lawyers, journalists and those video recording and photographing were also beaten, tortured and arrested. Several protest sites outside Colombo have also been attacked and other protest sites have been pressured to withdraw by the Police.”

On 26 July, a person involved in protests at Galle Face was arrested from a flight that was about to leave from the Bandaranaike International Airport, after he had legally cleared immigration. Uniformed Police Officers arrived on the scene and reasons for arrest were only given after vocal protests by fellow passengers, they stressed.

On 27 July, the day a church was visited by Police looking for Fr. Jeewantha, was a day of repression. Veranga Pushpika, an active protester at Galle Face, a former student activist and journalist, was abducted from a bus in broad daylight by men in civils. Police had later acknowledged his arrest, but not given clear indication of his whereabouts to lawyers and the Human Rights Commission for several hours. Four protesters who had handed over to the Police large amounts of money found at the President’s House on 9 July were also arrested.

Police had tried to obstruct lawyers from meeting these arrested persons. Persons in civil claiming to be Policemen had visited the office of ‘Xposure News,’ demanding the security guard to identify persons in photos and to see CCTV footage and monitored the entrance for around one hour. Xposure News had provided extensive coverage of the raid on the Galle Face protest site and violence in nearby places and one of their journalists was amongst the journalists attacked in the early hours of 22 July. A complaint had been made by the Young Journalists’ Association to the Human Rights Commission about the imminent arrest of investigative journalist and human rights defender Tharindu Uduwaragedara, who was summoned for questioning by the Criminal Investigation Department a few weeks back.