Ahead of the major anti-government protest on Saturday, an indefinite curfew has been enforced in entrance areas to capital Colombo from Friday night and the Defence Ministry warned police and military have been empowered to act against those engaging in any form of violence.
A major people’s protest march to Colombo from around the island is planned by religious leaders, political parties, medical practitioners, university teachers, civil rights activists, farmers, and fishermen on Saturday demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
“People living in the areas where police curfew had been enforced should strictly limit themselves to their houses and law would be enforced severely against those violating curfew,” the Inspector General of Police (IGP) announced in a statement on Friday night.
However, legal practitioners have termed the IGP’s curfew orders as illegal and claimed that the police chief has no authority to issue curfew under Sri Lanka’s law. They demanded that curfew orders be withdrawn forthwith.
The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) contended that Police Ordinance does not have a provision for the imposition of curfew and warned that failure to withdraw curfew order will have severe consequences for the country.
“The declaration of curfew is clearly intended to stifle the freedom of expression and dissent and is totally unacceptable and undemocratic and will gravely harm Sri Lanka’s economy and its social and political stability. It will affect Sri Lanka’s international standing,” BASL President Saliya Peiris said.
“We call upon the people of Sri Lanka to take all necessary steps to safeguard their democratic rights and to use every peaceful means at their disposal to protect such rights,” he added.
Reports have revealed that over 6,000 military and police have been summoned to the capital where protest by university students were violently controlled by police and military on Friday evening.
Fearing violence and clashes between security and the protestors, the United Nation’s Human Rights Office urged Sri Lanka government to show restraint in policing of assemblies and ensure every necessary effort to prevent violence.
“As a general rule, the military should not be used to police assemblies. Where, in exceptional circumstances, members of the military carry out law enforcement functions they are bound by international norms and standards and must remain fully subordinate to civilian authorities and accountable under civilian law,” Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said.
“The people of Sri Lanka are already suffering enormously and live in continuing uncertainty of how they can meet their basic needs including access to the right to food, health and education. They have a right to peacefully protest to demand a better life and an end to economic and social hardship,” the UN spokesman emphasised.
Responding to demands by people to step down, President Rajapaksa charged that opposition political groups have misled the people and claimed the move would reverse progress of the country again.
He requested the people to properly understand the current situation and act peacefully and intelligently without getting caught up in wrong ideologies, the President’s Office said.
Sri Lanka is undergoing a severe economic crisis with no food, fuel, medicine and education for children and had defaulted foreign debts in May. The country awaits a bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to get financial assistance from India, China, and Japan.