Prominent civil society leader Velan Swamigal was released on bail after being arrested by Sri Lankan police earlier this evening for reportedly 'obstructing the duties of police' during a protest on Sunday.
Swamigal joined Tamil families of the disappeared and University of Jaffna students as they protested while Sri Lankan president Ranil Wickremesinghe visited the town to mark Thai Pongal. Protesters were calling on Wickrememsinghe to address their demands: release all lands occupied by the state; provide answers on the whereabouts of the forcibly disappeared and release all Tamil political prisoners.
Sri Lanka's security forces beefed up their presence in Jaffna and attempted to disperse the protesters by erecting barricades and using water cannons on the demonstrators.
Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP and lawyer M A Sumanthiran represented Swamigal at Jaffna's Magistrate Court.
Speaking to the press after his release, Sumanthiran said the Sri Lankan police arrested Swamigal at lunch time for "hoisting a black flag against the Sri Lankan president, obstructing the duties of the police, and wounding a police officer" during Sunday's protest.
"It was a peaceful protest. The people here have the right to show that they reject the current president Ranil Wickremesinghe," Sumanthiran added.
The @TnpfOrg condemns vehemently the unlawful arrest of Velan Swami as a fascist act. An act of a rogue regime. An act that once again makes a mockery of the terms democracy and freedom of expression and freedom of speech. After 75 yrs of failure no lessons have been learnt!
— Gajen Ponnambalam MP (@GGPonnambalam) January 18, 2023
Following Swamigal's arrest, Tamil National People's Front (TNPF) leader Gajen Ponnambalam called the arrest "a fascist act".
"An act that once again makes a mockery of the terms democracy and freedom of expression and freedom of speech," Ponnambalam added.
PEARL is alarmed by the arrest of Tamil civil society leader Velan Swamigal for his participation in the recent protests in Jaffna. Tamil groups that oppose state oppression are frequently harassed by the police and threatened with detention under the draconian PTA. https://t.co/UApUPpcLOr
— PEARL Action (@PEARL_Action) January 18, 2023
US based advocacy organisation, PEARL, also expressed their concern over the arrest.
The organisation highlighted that "Tamil groups that oppose state oppression are frequently harassed by the police and threatened with detention under the draconian PTA."
Swamigal, a vocal activist, has previously called on the international community to to support a referendum in Tamil Eelam, so that Tamils on the island could determine their own political future.
In February 2021, Swamigal headed the Pottuvil-to-Polikandy march. Tamils and Muslims in the North-East mobilised en-masse to begin a peaceful march from Pottuvil in Amparai to Polikandy in Jaffna, two points delineating the furthest ends of the traditional Tamil homeland, in defiance of numerous court orders.