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'This is fascism' - Tamil political leaders condemn Mayor of Jaffna's arrest

Following Sri Lanka’s Terrorism Investigation Division (TID)'s arrest of Jaffna Mayor Viswalingam Manivannan, Tamil political leaders have issued stern condemnations of the police and TID’s actions.

Manivannan was arrested under charges of attempting to resurrect the Liberational Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) following allegations that the uniform worn by the Jaffna Municipal Council Task Force resembled those worn by the LTTE’s police. The Task Force was established to enforce penalties against environmental infractions such as littering and spitting.

Responding to the arrest TNA parliamentarian, M A Sumanthiran demanded his immediate release stating that this “heinous arrest” was indicative of the government openly desiring to “keep the Tamil people in a state of panic”. Sumanthiran also questioned why the Jaffna Municipal Council had been scrutinised and "restricted" for using its powers to enact change, whereas other councils had been allowed to set up similar task forces. "If this is permitted in Colombo but not in Jaffna, does that mean the law is different for different districts?," asked Sumanthiran. 

Following the release of Manivannan on Friday evening, Sumanthiran who represented him as a lawyer, reiterated that the Jaffna Mayor "was just doing his job" and that "no laws had been violated". Sumanthiran insisted that the Sri Lankan government was too stuck in the past and highlighted that "the LTTE still haunts the Sri Lankan government" even 12 years after the armed conflict. "Even those working in parking lots in Colombo wear similar uniforms.  Men usually wear blue uniforms so does that mean they are all also Tigers?," he asked.

Sumanthiran also emphasised that Manivannan has the necessary powers to appoint who he wants and select uniforms to wear. Sumanthiran stressed there was nothing to suggest that this was uniform relating to the LTTE. "Was there an LTTE emblem on the uniform?," questioned Sumanthiran. 

Sumanthiran's full statement is available in Tamil here.

Similarly, the leader of the Tamil Eelam Liberation Movement (TELO), a partner party of the Tamil National Alliance, Selvam Adaikalanathan, condemned the arrest stating it was an attempt by the Sinhala government to deny Tamils any governance over their land. He further described the reason given for his arrest as “childish” and demanded that he be released, and the task force be allowed to carry out their duties. Adaikalanathan stressed the task force was created by Manivannan to creater a cleaner and safer district. 

The TNA criticised the arrest and said on Twitter, "We condemn the unjustifiable arrest of the #Mayor of #Jaffna #Viswalingam_Manivannan by the #TID purportedly in connection with “the revival of the #LTTE.” Most ludicrous claim, given that he only authorized a uniform that is very similar to the Traffic Wardens of the Colombo MC." 

The leader of the Tamil National People's Front (TNPF), Gajen Ponnambalam MP, condemned the arrest stating: “The severe racial and political insecurities of this regime have reached such heights that a steady path towards fascism is inevitable”.

In parliament, he further described the charges against Manivannan as “preposterous”. He further added, “If this is not political victimisation, I don’t know what is”.  

“What the government is doing is just going beyond the pale of political victimisation. This is fascism. You are militarising the country on the one hand; you’re creating racism on the other hand. Now you are preventing any form of other opinions. This is nothing but fascism, you must stop this”.

TNA MP Sivagnanam Sritharan also condemned and addressed the arrest in Parliament today. "A Jaffna Municipal Council Task Force was launched for monitoring purposes to allow policing towards creating a clean [district]. The uniform worn was similar to that of the Task Force ran by the Colombo Municipal Council. However, they have painted this as an act of terrorism and it saddens me greatly that the TID arrested him yesterday. If this country wants to maintain democracy, please address this very carefully as this is a very dangerous and scary issue. I urge the Sri Lankan government to immediately release Manivannan," he demanded.

Tamil Makkal Thesiya Kootani (TMTK) leader C V Wigneswaran responded by questioning the government’s arrest and asked if “the ghosts of brutally killed tamils” continued to disturb the powers that be. In his statement he emphasised that if the government believe that the “questioning and incarceration of Tamils […] would prevent Tamils from asking for their lost rights, it would be sadly mistaken”.

More repression will only lead “the determination of the Tamils will grow ten-fold”, he adds.

Read his full statement here.

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