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SRI LANKA: Lawyers Condemn criminal violence against peaceful meetings

Urges credible probe into the actions of the mob attack on 4th August

Lawyers witnessed an event of a mob disrupting a peaceful meeting to discuss issues of disappeared families, held at Center for Society & Religion, located in the premises of a Catholic Church in Colombo 10, on 4th August 2014. This meeting was organised by Families of The Disappeared, an organisation that has been working on the rights of Sri Lankans who had disappeared including Sinhalese & Tamils, for more than two decades. The meeting was limited to invitees and attended by families of disappeared persons, lawyers, religious clergy, civil society representatives and diplomatic community.

While the meeting was on, a mob, including few Buddhist Monks forcefully entered the building. They attempted to enter the meeting hall, but were stopped by organizers and participants. But the mob managed to disrupt the meeting. They used abusing language and accused the participants of being traitors. They shouted hateful slogans and made unfounded accusations with a view to intimidating and silencing the participants, particularly the families of the disappeared and their children. Many of them looked criminals or thugs, and were seemingly well organised organised and experienced in disrupting meetings.  They threatened the participants to stop the meeting. When the participants insisted that they leave, they were threatening violence against the participants. On being informed, the police visited the scene in a large contingent, including senior police officers, but did not take any steps to maintain peace by removing or arresting the criminal trespassers despite repeated appeals by the organizers and the participants. Instead, the police appear to support the mob's attempts to disrupt the meeting, by requesting the organizers to stop the meeting and that the families from the North should go back home. When the participants expressed their desire to continue with the meeting, the police officers said that they are unable to give the participants security. The diplomatic representatives were taken out of the premises safely by their security offices after the thugs left, but few riotous Buddhist monks remained in the Church premises.

At the instance of the police, representatives of the participants were asked to go to Maradana Police Station where it was found that the criminal gang had already made a complaint against the organizers allegedly for working to discredit the country.

It was later found that before the meeting commenced, an unknown group had sent a fax message to media institutions, asking for media coverage, saying the event was to train those from North & East to give evidence to the international war crimes tribunal. At least one family of disappeared had received an intimidating phone call. Police had visited another venue families of disappeared had planned to hold a meeting and stay overnight on 4th August, asking for information about organizers and participants.

The Constitution of Sri Lanka guarantees amongst other fundamental rights the right to freedom of speech and expression; the freedom of peaceful assembly and the freedom of association which mandates the police to protect those rights. If any agent of State aids abets or orders state officials to disrupt or sabotage such rightful activity he violates the Constitution. Lawyers Collective condemns such actions vehemently and warns he author/authors of such disruptive action that he/they will be held responsible for any harmful fallout of such unconstitutional, unlawful and undemocratic actions. Lawyers Collective is of the firm opinion that these groups cannot operate in this manner without the protection of the Defence Establishments. It is unfortunate that, in the recent past, due to similar criminal actions, series of peaceful meeting organised by civil society have been disrupted with. Law enforcement authorities have maintained deafening silence on those criminals.

We urge law enforcement authorities, if they were to respect Rule of Law, to apprehend and prosecute those who were responsible for this intimidatory criminal actions depriving the peaceful citizens of their right to peaceful expression, assembly and association.

Lal Wijenayaka
Chandrapala Kumarage
JC Weliamuna

Conveners of Lawyers Collective

5th August 2014