Peaceful protesters in the capital were outnumbered by police who arrested almost all the participants who were later released on bail. Tamil human rights lawyer Swasthika Arulingam who questioned the heavy-handed police brutality was among them. Policemen were seen throwing at least one woman into an open truck.
The first ever assault on a protest in the Sinhala majority south since Gotabaya Rajapaksa assumed office as president last November is “a threatening message to intimidate those who organise protests,” said a statement by leading trade unions and activist groups. It recalls that police discriminate even when applying quarantine laws.
Police had earlier secured a restraining order claiming that that protesters would violate Covid 19 health and safety guidelines.
However, social distancing observed by participants was disrupted by police who moved in and bundled people into vehicles, according to Frontline Socialist Party (FSP), which organised the protest.
“By assaulting protesters who abided by quarantine laws while not taking action when government supporters violated quarantine law, police have clearly demonstrated their readiness to violate rights guaranteed by the constitution according to the bidding of the ruling party,” said the statement released by trade unions and rights groups.
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Activists, health workers and election watchdogs had questioned police inaction when thousands attended the funeral of Government Minister Arumugam Thondaman less than two weeks ago. Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa attending the funeral was filmed violating several social distancing guidelines including hugging.
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The attack comes a week since the president established a task force “to build a Secure Country, Disciplined, Virtuous and Lawful Society”. The task force led by the defence secretary is completely made of current and former top officers of the security establishment.