Exclusive demonstration zones for the ruling party

Reuters Pictures :
A fire with torches and broken glass burns on the street near a supporter of jailed former army Chief Sarath Fonseka, after his supporters were attacked by a mob, in Colombo February 4, 2011. The opposition protesters were planning on marching to the prison he is being held in, to mark Independence Day when they were attacked, injuring several protesters and some journalists. The sign reads "Free Our General Who Gained Freedom For The Country".
by Thrishantha Nanayakkara

(February 06, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) I have seen Sri Lankans demonstrating against the LTTE’s atrocities while the LTTE supporters demonstrating against the Government of Sri Lanka right across from the same street or open space in several major cities like Washington, New York, and London. Nobody gets an exclusive zone to demonstrate, and all demonstrators know that law will be equitably applied to all. Therefore, one can often see parties with conflicting objectives demonstrating in front of the United Nations building in New York, in front of the White House in Washington DC, and in front of the Westminster Parliament in London.

Sri Lankan opposition had called for a peaceful gathering at Punchi-Boralla junction on the eve of 4th February, 2011, the 63rd Independence Day to light candles and wish for justice and liberty in Sri Lanka. They had also called for a peaceful march towards the Welikada prison where the opposition presidential candidate General Sarath Fonseka is held to demand for his release. What happened to that group of peaceful demonstrators is a black mark on the Sri Lankan civilization.

I am not very surprised by the turn of events given my knowledge about how the Government reacted to opposite views in the recent past. However, what the Colombo DIG, a respected professional, told in News 1st after his miserable performance at the sad collapse of rule of law at Punchi-Borella was shocking! He said that a group of Government MPs had planned to demonstrate in front of the Welikada prison on the same eve. Therefore, he could not allow the opposition to march towards that way. He seemed to have known that the group of Government MPs would attack the peaceful protestors of the opposition. He went on to say that another group of Government MPs were holding an event in a Buddhist temple in Punchi-Borella. Therefore, he could not allow the peaceful opposition demonstrators to hold their demonstration in that area. I can understand if the group of Government MPs was on a meditation retreat in the open gardens, because the noise of the demonstrations would have disturbed them. However, the Colombo DIG somehow knew the true nature of this so called Buddhist ceremony.

If the DIG’s professional prediction was right, these so called Buddhist practitioners attacked the opposition demonstrators and damaged their vehicles in Punchi-Boralla. Those attackers were right behind the circle of police officers. They had even penetrated the defense circle to grab the video camera of the News 1st reporter. None was arrested on the spot.

Then came the most hilarious statement from the DIG. He promised to hold an impartial and thorough investigation into the matter and bring those perpetrators before justice. It seems that the new Sri Lankan strategic technique of enforcing the law on mob gangs is to first let them attack peaceful civilians, let them go about grabbing cameras that recorded the event, and then prove in the court that there is not enough evidence to prove anybody of any wrong doing. The issue is, this strategic technique turns 180 degrees if the group of Government MPs were the victims.

Shame on you Colombo DIG! Peace loving TAX payers of the Western Province pay you. Your job is to protect their rights to practice civil liberties.

I take this opportunity to remind the opposition that your behavior has also been not very different when you were in power. Abuse of power has been rampant in the JR Jayawardana and R Premadasa eras. On behalf of all law abiding citizens I appeal that you determine not to fall down to this level again if you ever come to power.

Thrishantha Nanayakkara is a lecturer at King's College, University of London. He has also been a Radcliffe Fellow at Harvard University, research affiliate at MIT, and postdoc fellow at Johns Hopkins University, USA. He is a product of the University of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka, and subsequently followed postgraduate studies leading to a PhD degree in robotics and systems control at Saga University, Japan.

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