Sri Lanka’s new president must immediately end the shameful and brutal attack on peaceful protesters, Amnesty International said today after the army carried out a pre-dawn attack on the site of a peaceful protest in the exterior of the presidential secretariat, “GotaGoGama”, a few hours before the departure of the demonstrators. due to leave the area in Colombo.
In the early hours of Friday, a massive joint operation by army, police and special forces forcibly removed protesters sleeping in tents at a peaceful protest site established in Colombo in April this year. Demonstrators were beaten and assaulted. The area was blocked off, preventing access to media, lawyers and activists. According to reports, more than 50 people were injured and 9 people were arrested.
Amnesty International strongly condemns the pre-dawn attack by security forces on peaceful protesters at Galle Face. It is shameful that the new government resorted to such violent tactics within hours of taking office.
Kyle Ward, Deputy Secretary General of Amnesty International
“Amnesty International strongly condemns the pre-dawn attack by security forces against peaceful protesters at the iconic ‘GotaGoGama’ protest site in Galle Face. It was the main site of anti-government protest and had drawn world attention to the dire situation facing the people of Sri Lanka as a result of the economic crisis in the country. It is shameful that the new government resorted to such violent tactics within hours of taking office. The right of the people to demonstrate must be respected. All charges against those arrested for peacefully exercising their rights must be immediately dropped,” said Kyle Ward, Deputy Secretary General of Amnesty International.
“Protesters have the right to demonstrate peacefully. Excessive use of force, intimidation and unlawful arrests seem to be an ever-repeating pattern in which Sri Lankan authorities respond to dissent and peaceful assembly. These repressive actions are in clear breach of Sri Lanka’s obligations under international human rights law, including with respect to people’s freedom of expression.
Attacks and ill-treatment of demonstrators
At around 01:00 local time (19:30 GMT Thursday), soldiers and police armed with riot gear violently invaded the protest camps, beating and assaulting indiscriminately everyone and everything in their path, dismantling the tents in which the protesters. for more than three months.
All access points to the protest site were blocked prior to the raid. Eyewitness accounts and media reports indicate that the army attacked many demonstrators, especially those trying to film the events. The soldiers demolished “one tent after another” in the section leading to the Presidential Secretariat and dismantled the site of the demonstration.
An eyewitness interviewed by Amnesty International early Friday morning at the site of the attack said: “There were around 200 to 300 protesters at the time, I would say. Suddenly (the forces) came out from (behind) the barricades and totally destroyed and demolished the tents. There were enough police and military to overwhelm the area. The police and especially the army beat up peaceful demonstrators.
“(The army) committed these acts in anger. We saw that some of the protesters engaged in (the protest) had brought their guitars. We saw them take them and smash them on iron fences. We saw them beat up people… The repression was brutal. Video footage shared by media also shows unarmed individuals/protesters being assaulted by security forces.
(The military) committed these acts in anger. We saw that some of the protesters engaged in (the protest) had brought their guitars. We saw them take them and smash them on iron fences. We saw them beat up people… The repression was brutal.
No warning given
Eyewitness accounts suggest the attack on protesters and their tents came as a complete surprise, although there had been rumors that there might be an attack. The demonstrators were taken by surprise because they did not understand the reasons for such an attack. No warning was given to leave the area by military and police personnel prior to the use of brute force against protesters.
Another female witness, who was sleeping at the scene of the demonstration at the time of the raid, told Amnesty International: “Around 1.30 a.m., shouting (from other demonstrators) shouted: ‘they surrounded us, they surrounded, get up, up.’ When I came out I saw a large group of soldiers coming towards us.Some of them had covered their faces so I don’t know who they are…There was no announcement…They didn’t tell us. They didn’t say to leave. Suddenly they started beating the tents around us. They beat the young people the same way they beat the tents.
Amnesty International calls for an independent and impartial investigation into this incident. The perpetrators of the violence and those who ordered the attack must be identified and held accountable for their actions.
They didn’t tell us to move. Suddenly they had started beating the tents around us. They hit young people the same way they hit tents.
Denial of access to lawyers and the media
The Hindu newspaper reported that around 3am, as news of the attack spread, media and activists arrived at the scene but were denied access as the raids were ongoing. A member of security staff stationed on Galle Road leading to the protest site reportedly said, “Nobody can go there. Not even the media or lawyers.
A BBC video journalist was allegedly beaten by soldiers and his phone was snatched by a soldier and videos deleted.
Lawyers who sought to intervene in the context of their professional activity were also reportedly prevented from doing so by the security forces. At least two were allegedly assaulted.
Several journalists and at least one lawyer were reportedly detained.
“Sri Lankan authorities must refrain from arresting people for exercising their right to peaceful assembly within the sight and sound of the intended target of the protest demands. In addition, any arrest must respect due process guarantees such as prompt access to a lawyer. We are deeply concerned about the human rights abuses currently occurring in Sri Lanka, as authorities use unlawful force and movement restrictions in an attempt to suppress dissent,” said Kyle Ward.
No one can go there. Not even the media or lawyers.
Media Security Personnel
Tents of monks, deaf and dumb protesters and disabled soldiers attacked
Security personnel aggressively dismantled protesters’ tents set up at the protest site, including those of the deaf-mute community and disabled soldiers who had taken part in peaceful protests since April.
“I saw them hitting people on both sides and coming towards us. We ran in the other direction because they were chasing us… The group of deaf-mute demonstrators was accompanied by a very young translator. This group is usually found in this area. Nobody knows what happened to them…nobody could find them. At the “war heroes” tent, there was a small group of disabled soldiers, there were also monks in front… they had beaten them too,” a witness told Amnesty International.
Generalized anger and fear
Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in as president on Thursday after ex-president Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country last week. A new Prime Minister was sworn in today. After 100 days of protest, protesters pledged to evacuate parts of the protest site on Friday. But the military’s aggressive takeover of the protest site under cover of darkness less than 24 hours after the regime change is shocking.
“We believe what the government did, attacking a peaceful struggle, was a mistake,” said a protester and an eyewitness to Friday morning’s incident.
We think what the government did, to attack a peaceful struggle, was wrong.
Amid calls for the international community to help Sri Lanka, Amnesty International is calling on the authorities to take immediate action to protect the rights of people peacefully protesting at GotaGoGama in Colombo and other places in Sri Lanka. The charges against all protesters must be dropped as they were detained solely for peacefully exercising their basic human rights.
“Justice and accountability from the Sri Lankan authorities are the needs of the hour as Sri Lanka looks to stability ahead of an IMF bailout to deal with the economic crisis. Amnesty has repeatedly called for the restraint of security forces under the country’s emergency regulations. Using them as a pretext for further human rights violations is deeply concerning and reflects badly on the new administration in Sri Lanka. They must not waste their chance to start afresh and break the cycle of repression of people’s rights which further aggravates the distrust and fear of the Sri Lankan people. Their right to peaceful protest must be protected,” said Kyle Ward.
The right to peaceful protest must be protected.