Sri Lanka’s newly-elected President Ranil Wickremesinghe has reaffirmed his commitment to uphold the rights of peaceful and non-violent assembly, saying the protest site was left untouched in Friday midnight operation to remove protesters from the Presidential Secretariat, his office said on Sunday.
Sri Lanka’s security forces forcibly evicted anti-government protesters camped outside the presidential office in Colombo in a pre-dawn raid on Friday on the order of Wickremesinghe.
Protesters were camping outside the presidential office for months, demanding the resignation of former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who fled the country on July 13, and Wickremesinghe, a key Rajapaksa ally.
During a meeting with the diplomatic personnel in Colombo on Friday, President Wickremesinghe affirmed that the Government will uphold both Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 14 (1) (b) of the Constitution of Sri Lanka, which governs the right to peaceful assembly, said a statement issued by the President’s office.
The statement came as US Ambassador Julie Chung had taken the Lankan government to task for the attack on the unarmed protesters.
“The President further explained that the instructions given by the American Civil Liberties Union stated that protesters were not permitted to block government buildings and interfere with other purposes the property was designed for,” the statement said.
“Addressing concerns regarding the GotaGoGama protest site, it was explained that it had not been removed by security forces, contrary to erroneous social media reports,” it added.
Furthermore, the participants were also briefed by the Attorney General on the legal avenues being pursued, including producing all those arrested by the police before the Colombo Magistrate Court, it said.
The protesters blocked the secretariat gate on April 9, demanding the resignation of then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
On July 9, they stormed the official residence of the president forcing him to flee to safety and occupied his office, the site of the continuous protest since April 9.
The removal of the protesters came on the same night as Wickremesinghe took oaths as the succeeding president for the balance under three-year term of Rajapaksa.
Protestors on Saturday stayed about 100 metres away from the Presidential Secretariat and held no protest during the day.
The protest, also known as the Aragalaya – a Sinhalese word for “struggle” – disrupted work for a prolonged period at the Presidential Secretariat, which has gone through heavy damages during the agitation and requires necessary renovations.