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Protests across North-East call for release of Tamil political prisoners

A series of protests were carried out last week on Tuesday (5th January) demanding the release of Tamil political prisoners and for the Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to issue amnesty to them.

Batticaloa

Protesters in Batticaloa gathered outside Gandhi Park calling for the immediate release of Tamil political prisoners.

Demonstrators demanded the Gotabaya Rajapaksa to grant a presidential pardon and immediately release all Tamil political prisoners in response to the Sri Lankan government’s failure to hear cases against its Tamil political prisoners and the surging rates of COVID-19 infections in prisons across the country.

They highlighted the need to urgently address this issue, with the incident of a COVID-19 outbreak recently in Welikada Prison and the overcrowding in prisons, causing Tamil political prisoners to express grave concern for their safety in prisons. 

Families carried posters and banners with slogans such as “Don’t let our beloved ones die in prison cells”. 

A speaker at the demonstration claimed the coronavirus has put two forms of justice on display - that cases of Tamil prisoners are met with reluctance and Sinhalese are met with fair trial, leniency and even release. The Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) was also described by protesters as a government tool to further oppress Tamils.

Mannar

Protestors, including civil society groups, carried out a demonstration in Mannar and Murunkan on Tuesday morning advocating for the immediate release of Tamil political prisoners.

The protest took place in front of the Mannar District Secretariat and at the Murunkan bus stand, with families of Tamil political prisoners, civil society groups and locals across the North-East taking part in the demonstration.

A letter addressed to Gotabaya Rajapaksa was read at the protest, pleading him to release the prisoners while they were still alive, as concerns for their safety were heightened due the COVID-19 threat across prisons.

Posters emphasising that political prisoners are not terrorists, referring to comments made by a government spokesperson in December, were displayed.  Many demonstrators carried banners to protest against the Sri Lankan government's failure and reluctance to hear the cases against its political prisoners, whose lives are now at a disproportionate risk in detention, due to the coronavirus.

Vavuniya

Protesters in Vavuniya gathered outside Gamini Maha Vidyalaya (National School) calling for the immediate release of Tamil political prisoners.

Demonstrators included families of currently incarcerated Tamils, civil society organisations and other locals, who voiced that Tamil political prisoners are the most affected and most vulnerable to COVID-19 and their immediate release needs to be authorised by the Sri Lankan president.

Families carried posters and banners with slogans such as “Immediately release all Tamil political prisoners” and “Tamil political prisoners are not terrorists”.  

Mankulam

A protest was held in Mankulam Nagar area at 10 am today demanding the release of Tamil political prisoners.

Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO) MP for Vanni District, Vino Noharathalingam, was among social activists, families of currently incarcerated Tamils, civil society organisations and other locals, at the demonstration.

A letter, that was sent to the Sri Lankan president was read out at the protest. The protest called on the president to give amnesty to the Tamil political prisoners, who have been detained under the PTA for many years. The letter highlighted the state’s failure to give a ruling on over 60 cases of detention under the PTA, and the imprisonment of many teenagers.

As conditions in prisons worsen and the government delays taking any action, more and more protests have taken place across the island to show support for the incarcerated Tamil political prisoners, with cross-party Tamil MP’s also urgently calling for their release.

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