Voices of dissent asked to justify cause by ‘faceless group’

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Social activist and former politician Dr. Ajantha Perera (Extreme right) sees her peaceful protest along with a few others staged at Liberty Roundabout coming under attack by a group of masked men on Thursday (25 January)

  • The protestors had then proceeded to sit on the sidewalk, when another group joined the masked men and surrounded the protestors at Liberty Roundabout
  • According to Dr. Perera, when the men were unsuccessful in chasing the protestors away, they began shoving the five protestors and shouting at them

The chants for good governance, system change, and accountability that once resounded across Galle Face Green have quietened now. No sign of the ‘People’s struggle’ that began with silent protests and led an entire government to step down not two years ago remains at the site today. But with corruption clearly rampant today and the people’s representatives of the previous regime having resumed their usual posts, has the ‘People’s struggle’ truly come to an end? 
In August 2022, a mere month after President Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in, social activist Thasneema Dahlan and a handful of protestors who had lost faith in the newly appointed government took to the street once again in silent protests. Converging at the Liberty Roundabout on Thursdays, and at Thimbirigasyaya on Sundays, Dahlan and others hold placards echoing their previous call: the need for good governance, a change in political culture, accountability for making Sri Lanka a bankrupt nation, and a call to bring back looted money, among various other pressing issues.

This peaceful protest came under attack by a group of masked men around 5:20 p.m. last Thursday (25 January). 
Attack by a masked mob
Social activist and former politician Dr. Ajantha Perera who was among the silent protestors at Liberty Roundabout during the said attack spoke to Daily Mirror about her experience. 
“There was a big group of people that got off a vehicle and were gathering to cross the road to get to our side. It was around 30 men, and just 5 of us. We looked around to see if there were any Policemen in the area where they are usually stationed, but there were none at all. We suddenly got the feeling that something could happen. It was definitive. 
“They kept telling us to leave; they wanted to chase us away. We said that this country belongs to us and we have every right to be wherever we want to. They started telling all sorts of stories about NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations)– they kept saying that there are no issues in Sri Lanka, there’s enough food to eat, and there is no issue for anyone. Then they said, ‘Look at us, we are eating, drinking, and living well; we have enough money”. 
According to Dr. Perera, when the men were unsuccessful in chasing the protestors away, they began shoving the five protestors and shouting at them. She added that when they (the protesters) did not budge, the masked men began to remove the posters hung on the pedestrian guardrails. The protestors had then proceeded to sit on the sidewalk, when another group joined the masked men and surrounded the protestors, recalled Dr. Perera. “The police who were supposed to be there were not there, so we couldn’t do anything except scream or shout,” she said. 
Dahlan also recalled Thursday’s events with the Daily Mirror. 
“They (the mob) came from behind. One person removed my flag which was tied to the railing and said, ‘You can’t hang a flag here, you can’t protest here, we want you to go’. Then they removed one or two posters and tore some. The man held me by my left arm and shoved me. They said we have to remove our posters and flags and get out of there because the country is doing so well. They said, ‘There is no problem in our country, there’s fuel, everybody is living a very good life now; why are you standing here and protesting?’ That’s when we sat [on the sidewalk]. Until we watched the news we didn’t know that one person had a weapon. ”

When the Daily Mirror asked Dr. Perera whether the masked men carried weapons she had this to say, “Video footage of the attack reveals an object hidden beneath the t-shirt of one individual. They had weapons hidden in their shirts. They came with the purpose, I believe, of harming someone or doing something, so that no more such protests will take place. They wanted to frighten the people. They were expecting us to retaliate in such a way so they could harm us. But we didn’t do that. We were seated. Their mission failed.”
Another question posed by the public is where the Police was during the attack?
Dr. Perera and Dahlan alleged that as the masked mob began to arrive, the Police officers who are routinely stationed at the Liberty Roundabout during their weekly protests, began to move away.

Dr. Perera claimed, “When the big group of people was gathering to cross the road to get to our side, we realised suddenly that there was none of the Police officers at the island where they are normally stationed and who were there when I was coming in [at around 5.15 p.m.]; and 1 or 2 [Police officers] were still moving towards Temple Trees”.
“The men were starting to cross the road in our direction. At the same time, the policemen slowly disappeared,” Dahlan alleged.
Stating that the Colpetty Officer-In-Charge (OIC) and other Police officers arrived at the scene approximately 30 minutes after the arrival of the masked group, Dahlan added, “When the Police came none [of the masked men] took a step backwards. They were not afraid of the Police. The Police didn’t even ask us what they [the masked men] were doing to us, why were these people surrounding you? Why did I get a call saying there was a commotion at Liberty Roundabout– they didn’t ask us anything. They [the Police] just dispersed them [the masked group].” 
Dr. Perera further claimed, “When we were at the Colpetty Police Station there was some reluctance in taking hers [Dahlan’s] and my complaint. They only took the gentleman’s [another protestor present during the attack] complaint. They said that women’s complaints are taken by female Police officers only. There was one policewoman who came and said she would come back and never turned up. We were waiting and it was getting late so we included our comments into the gentleman’s complaint. They [the Police] also asked us if we know the names of the people and if so can you tell us.”
“When we went to the Colpetty Police Station yesterday [Saturday, 27 January], we had three questions,” Dahlan charged. “One, why were the perpetrators allowed to go home just like that? I asked the Policemen: men who dash coconuts on the ground were arrested, a woman who was walking with a flag was arrested, but why were these people who had harassed 4 women for 30 minutes allowed to walk away? When I told the OIC yesterday, ‘Your 6 policemen who were standing there with us– you know their names– I want you to find out why they left us at the mercy of those thugs. But he said he didn’t know who they are. Two, why didn’t the Police inquire into the incident when they arrived at the scene? Three, why did the police back away when they saw the mob arriving? They usually stay the entire hour [the duration of the protest] with us. Why did they leave?”
Dahlan also said that the Police had requested one week to investigate the incident. The protestors have lodged complaints regarding the incident to the Colpetty Police Station, Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, and The Bureau for the Prevention of Abuse of Children and Women.

Courtesy Daily Mirror

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Disclaimer: Voices of dissent asked to justify cause by ‘faceless group’ - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Latheefarook.com point-of-view

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