Speaking in parliament, Tamil National Alliance MP, M.A. Sumanthiran slammed the Sri Lankan police’s response to a peaceful demonstration staged by Tamil fishermen in Mullaitivu and charged Sri Lanka’s fisheries minister with promoting illegal fishing methods.
Earlier this week, Sri Lankan police were seen firing tear gas at demonstrators as tensions flared between peaceful protesters and a mob alleged to be engaged in illegal fishing activities, with the support of Sri Lankan government officials. Sri Lankan soldiers are also alleged to be engaged in providing protection for demonstrators engaged in illegal activities in Mullaitivu.
“This is the kind of repression that the government is employing against people who are justifiably bringing their concerns to the fore, to ask questions - they have a right to ask those questions,” Sumanthiran told Sri Lankan parliament.
He added that whilst Sri Lanka’s fisheries minister had promised to end all illegal fishing activities in the region, he had told his supporters, “I’ll make all these illegal fishing methods legal very soon”.
Breaking the North-East
In his address, Sumanthiran also accused the government of deliberately attempting to break up the “natural linguistic contiguity by which the North and East are connected”.
“You have been trying to do this for several decades, you actually changed substantially the population of the East, now you are concentrating on the North of the Eastern Province, the North of Trincomalee district, and the South –East of the Northern District, the South of Mullativu district”, he told parliament.
“By these efforts - gerrymandering, changing administrative boundaries - you are trying to break that contiguity”, Sumanthiran noted. He called for an immediate halt to land grabs and the expansion of Buddhist constructions under the pretence of archaeological preservation.
“To suppress an ancient community merely because we are smaller in number, to deprive us of the areas of our historic habitation, and that area in the joined North and East, and if you don’t stop it’ll be a further disaster for this country” Sumanthiran warned.
22nd Amendment fails to reduce the powers of the president
Commenting on the proposed 22nd amendment to Sri Lanka’s constitution, Sumanthiran noted that “it in no way reduces any of the powers of the President”
“You tried to dupe the country; you tried to mislead the country into believing that you are bringing some democratic reform. And when you realised that it was going to be exposed, that the opposition was not going to play ball with you, that the opposition had indicated to you yesterday, that there is no substantial change, that even after the passages of the 22nd amendment the President is going to continue to have the full complement of the 20th amendment powers, you have retreated, you have gone on reverse gear, and that’s a fact!” Sumanthiran told parliament.
He further castigated Sri Lanka’s main opposition party for going along with the proposed amendment.
Sumanthiran also condemned the president’s declaration of “High Security Zones” and maintained that a key cause behind Sri Lanka’s economic collapse was issues of corruption.
Read a transcript of his full speech here.