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Worshippers arrested at Vedukkunaari temple hunger strike now in its 3rd day

Five out of the eight Tamils who were arrested last week at Vedukkunaari Hill Athi Sivan temple have launched a hunger strike to demand their immediate release.  

Thampirasa Mathimugarasa, Thurairasa Thamilchelvan, Thilakanathan Kinthuyan, Subramaniyam Thavapalasingam and Rasaratnam Vinayagamoorthy all refused meals since the day before adding that they will remain on a hunger strike until they are acquitted of charges and released. Yesterday, Vavuniya court ordered that all eight individuals will remain in remand custody until March 19th.  

Family members speaking to reporters said the individuals had been wrongfully accused and confirmed the hunger strike. When the detainees were produced before a magistrate yesterday, Sri Lanka's archaeology department claimed that they were arrested during the Shivarathri for damaging the temple's antiquities. 

Appearing on behalf of those arrested, lawyer Kanagaratnam Sugash said that the archaeology department had falsely accused the eight individuals of damaging historical monuments at the temple.  The lawyer told reporters that they would appeal on behalf of those who have been wrongfully accused, stating that the accusations levelled by the department are baseless and untrue. The eight devotees will remain in custody. 

Since their arrest, the devotees including the priest have been denied a request to change their clothes and only a lawyer has been able to communicate with those who were detained. The detainees have said they were manhandled and ill-treated by the police. The courts have also requested a medical report. 

Last Friday (8) Sri Lanka police unleashed violence at the temple, deploying riot police and forcibly taking away devotees who were engaged in worship. Member of Parliament Selvarajah Kajendren was assaulted by Sri Lankan police, and a further 8 worshippers were arrested during the incident.

Despite the ongoing dispute over the temple, the observance of Shivarathri by locals was allowed to go ahead by the Vavuniya Magistrate’s Court. Despite this, Sri Lankan police officers stormed the religious event and seized valuables estimated to be worth around 10 lakhs, including food, Pongal, and puja items, disrupting the puja services midstream. 


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