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‘The latest attempt to suppress a peaceful protest in the North and East’ – Adayaalam, PEARL & TCSF

Responding to the violent crackdown on Tamil protesters during Thai Pongal, a joint statement from Tamil civil society actors has condemned the actions of the Sri Lankan police and called on the Sri Lankan government to take tangible steps towards accountability for past and ongoing crimes.

The protests came as Sri Lanka’s President Ranil Wickremesinghe visit Jaffna during the harvest festival. The demonstrators demanded an immediate release of Tamil political prisoners, land occupied by the Sri Lankan military, and an account for Families of the Disappeared over their loved ones who were abducted during the armed conflict. They were organised by the Student Union of the University of Jaffna, along with the Tamil Families of the Disappeared and other civil rights activists.

The statement highlights that this crackdown comes amidst continuing militarisation, surveillance, intimidation, land grabs, and a culture of impunity for past atrocities both during the armed conflict and those ongoing.

During the peaceful protests, the Sri Lankan army intervened to prevent the Tamil Families of the Disappeared from participating in the protests and disrupted their journey to Jaffna from Mullaitivu at the Elephant Pass. They engaged in tactics of intimidation and noted down the details of their vehicles.

Sri Lanka’s police would also attempt to disperse demonstrators through the erection of roadblocks and the violent use of riot shields and water cannons.

The joint statement highlights that during the Aragalaya in March 2022, a violent crackdown was conducted against the Families of the Disappeared amidst a visit by then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.

“The Families of the Disappear lamented the general apathy shown by the government to their plight, and the protesters generally expressed dismay over the prevalent system of hefty surveillance in the North-East against the activists and suppression of peaceful protests” the statement reads.

Commenting on Wickremesinghe’s pledge to address the demands of Tamils before the island’s Independence Day, the statement highlights that he is yet to acknowledge or respond to the demands of the Tamil Families of the Disappeared or wider civil society. Nor has he engaged with the prospect of a long-term political solution for Tamils based on the principles of self-determination.

The statement called on all stakeholders to:

  • Condemn the violence perpetrated against the peaceful protesters and the Tamil families of the Disappeared, while amplifying the demands of the Tamil protesters, namely: to provide answers to the Tamil Families of the Disappeared on the whereabouts of their loved ones, the release of Tamil land in the North-East, and the release of Tamil political prisoners.
  • Ensure the immediate, meaningful action is taken to end the Sri Lankan government’s culture of impunity, systematic repression, police brutality, and continuous surveillance and intimidation in the North-East.
  • Ensure that meaningful steps are taken by the government of Sri Lanka to demilitarise the North-East, returning Tamil lands back to their rightful owners.
  • Ensure that the government refrains from actions that are intended to suppress and silence peaceful protests and other peaceful civic movements.
  • Call on the Sri Lankan government to take meaningful steps towards achieving justice and accountability for its past and ongoing crimes against the Tamil people and ensure a long-term political solution that is acceptable to the Tamil people, including the Tamil people’s right to self-determination.

The statement was signed by the Tamil Civil Society Forum, People for Equality and Relief in Lanka (PEARL), and Adayaalam Centre for Policy Research.

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