‘GotaGoGama’ rises through ashes after Monday’s nightmare

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In a matter of hours protesters have managed to pump life back into ‘GotaGoGama’ 

 

A half burned down tent standing on plastic pillars, heaps of rubble from the aftermath on May 9 piled in various corners were signs that partly destroyed ‘GotaGoGama’ has once again been resurrected. Protesters are in their element having press conferences on one end, organising meetings and arranging logistics on the other end while student unions and the youth continuing their chants near the now infamous ‘Gate Zero’ in front of the Presidential Secretariat. And just like that, in a matter of hours, protesters have managed to pump life back into the conflict zone showing that the setback they had was only for a brief period of time.  However, victims of the attacks have suffered severe injuries and some are in critical condition. They demand law enforcement authorities to serve justice to victims and punish perpetrators including the former Prime Minister. 

“Many protesters have suffered spinal cord and head injuries”
– Dr. Prasanna 

On May 9, angry mobs destroyed the St. John’s Ambulance tent that was providing free medical services to protesters and everybody who visited the tent. “In total, around 218 people have suffered injuries following attacks at the Galle Face Green,” said Dr. K. P. J Prasanna. “More than 20 of them have suffered spinal cord injuries and a majority of them have head injuries. Four of them are critical and have been admitted to the Intensive Care Unit at the National Hospital. Two of them have been pronounced dead. Today we came across a patient suffering from a chest pain and we transferred him to the National Hospital as well.

 

“Angry mobs destroyed the St. John’s Ambulance tent that was providing free medical services to protesters and everybody who visited the tent”

“On the day of our incident both our tents and the tent providing Ayurveda medicines were destroyed. We have been treating many patients who seek medical attention due to high blood pressure, chest pain and fever and so on. There was nobody to clear the roads yesterday when we were taking patients to hospital. There were 25 in our team who worked during the night shift and they did a tremendous job assisting the injured. Apart from that my bag has gone missing and I have misplaced my Sri Lanka Medical Council ID card and the Postgraduate ID. I lodged a complaint in Police today,” Dr. K. P. J Prasanna. 

“The entire incident is a nightmare”– Sakunika

Piuni Sakunika has been at the protest site since its inception. She is engaged in organising activities at the Youth Centre and is one of the victims who suffered injuries on May 9. “We were informed that the Rajapaksa supporters were attacking our comrades at MainaGoGama. Then a group of us decided to go that way. But we were totally unarmed and we didn’t want to create any issue. When we went there we saw a male mobster threatening the protesters at MainaGoGama and advancing. The Police distanced us from them, but didn’t prevent the Rajapaksa supporters from attacking them. We rescued some of our friends and came back to Galle Face Green. The Police literally escorted the mobsters all the way to Galle Face Green, so that they were able to attack us. There was a barrier near Shangrila Hotel entrance and there were around 200 police officers. The mobsters were armed with iron bars and weapons and they moved past the barriers and started attacking us. We saw the high pressure water truck moving towards Shangrila entrance, but instead of releasing water onto the mobsters, the Police released water on us,” said Sakunika. 

Protesters at ‘GotaGoGama’ stay up till late in the night, catch some sleep and get ready for the next day. “There weren’t many people at the Youth Centre tent at the time the incident happened. It was at this tent that they assaulted me. There was a provincial councilor who came here and assaulted one of our friends. Another two or three people came with wooden rods and assaulted me. There was a knife to cut king coconut and serve as refreshments to those who visit our tent. As soon as he assaulted me he took the knife to his hand. But I managed to stop him and we ran away. Somehow I managed to escape, but the entire incident is a nightmare,” reminisced Sakunika. 

 

“A shortage of drugs and surgical consumables could increase and cause a serious impact on the health service, if violence continues and more patients are admitted to hospitals”

Even though she is in pain she isn’t willing to take rest. “I cannot leave this place. The mental agony is greater than the physical pain. My neck and upper arm got injured and the stick they threw hit my thigh and there’s a small injury there as well. I was unable to walk and it was then that one of them tried to stab me with a knife.

“One person I know is hospitalised and is in a critical state. Many fear whether he would go into a coma. What happened is totally unacceptable since it was a planned attack. We have never been violent here and it was a peaceful protest. We provide food and everything to whoever who comes here and even to the Police. What we are trying to do is to change the tide in politics and bring about a shift in the governance structure. None of us represent any political party, but they are trying various tactics to disrupt these efforts. We have a common objective. Already one person has stepped down and there are many more to follow suit,” she added. 

“The former Prime Minister is responsible for this violence”– Dushantha

Speaking on behalf of the protesters Vimukthi Dushantha said that the entire attack was well planned. “It is very clear from video footage and speeches given that these supporters and provincial councilors were encouraged to go towards Galle Face Green, assault the peaceful protesters and destroy the tents. Many of them were intoxicated. The former Prime Minister is responsible for the violence and the current situation in the country.  Gathering and sending people to attack peaceful protesters at a time when a state emergency has been declared is a planned attempt. We have lodged a complaint to the Inspector General of Police and are lodging another complaint with the Human Rights Commission. We are also planning to write to international organizations such as the United Nations. This is a criminal act as they attacked unarmed civilians. They attacked young girls and had name lists with them. These kinds of incidents are similar to acts of terrorism,” said Dushantha. 

Injuries more serious in nature – SLMA 

Issuing a statement Sri Lanka Medical Association (SLMA) has condemned the attacks on unarmed civilians in front of the Prime Minister’s residence and the Galle Face Green. “Over 100 injured patients have been admitted to hospital following this brutal attack by a group of government supporters. These attackers were armed with batons and sticks, which indicate that the attack was pre-planned. The injuries caused today (Monday) were of a more serious nature than the ones caused in recent previous incidents,” the statement read. 

 

“Sri Lanka Medical Association (SLMA) has condemned the attacks on unarmed civilians in front of the Prime Minister’s residence and the Galle Face Green”

“More violent incidents are likely to occur in the coming days unless serious remedial action is taken. The shortage of drugs and surgical consumables could increase and cause a serious impact on the health service, if violence continues and more patients are admitted to hospitals. The continuous trade union actions planned from today will add to the woes of the people. The government has lost its ability to govern the country peacefully. Therefore, the SLMA appeals to the government to bow to the wishes of the people. We also appeal to the citizens of this country to carry out their protests in a peaceful manner,” the statement further states. 

In an earlier statement the SLMA condemned the use of tear gas and the use of violence by the law enforcement authorities against peaceful protesters and fellow citizens. “The chemicals contained in tear gas are well-known to cause respiratory difficulties, irritation in the eyes and skin, and carry significant health risks,” the SLMA said. 

Launch a fully-fledged investigation
– AG instructs IGP 

In a letter addressed to IGP C. D Wickremaratne, Attorney General Sanjay Rajaratnam said that the peaceful assemblies of protest were interfered by a large group of people in breach of the Constitution of Sri Lanka and the penal laws of the land as could be seen from the incidents that occurred in Colombo on May 9.  “People in the exercise of their constitutional rights as guaranteed in terms of Articles 14 (1) (a); (b) and (c) of the Constitution, have been engaged in freedom of speech; peaceful assembly and association at various places in the country over the past few weeks. In this regard, it is the constitutional duty of all organs of Government to respect, secure and advance the fundamental rights in terms of Article 4 (d) of the Constitution.”

The Attorney General advised the Inspector General to conduct fully-fledged investigations into the incidents of unlawful interference into peoples’ constitutional rights; the circumstances that led to them: and, the consequent commission of penal offences in the process. He further advised the IGP to investigate the aftermath of incidents that unfolded on May 9 while stressing on the fact that these investigations should be completed on urgent priority basis. 

“Former Prime Minister Rajapaksa should be arrested”– Wanninayaka 

At a special media briefing held at the Colombo Magistrate Court, Attorney-at-Law Gunarathna Wanninayaka said that May 9 is a day where democracy was buried in Sri Lanka. “Unarmed civilians were assaulted by a sponsored armed mob. They didn’t have any weapons when they visited Temple Trees. The Police has allowed the mobsters to engage in violence. The respondents include former Defence Secretary, IGP, Deshabandu Tennakoon and several other police officers who allowed violence to take shape. The Former Prime Minister too is part of the plan and he should be arrested for aiding and abetting these acts of violence. Speculation is rife that the Rajapaksa family is going to flee the country and relevant authorities should take action with immediate effect.”

Rights groups raise concerns regarding prisoners deployed to assault protesters

Footage of a group of prisoners from Watareka Prison who were brought down to assault protesters at the Galle Face Green is going viral on social media. Speaking to the Daily Mirror, Attorney-at-Law and Chairman of the Committee to Protect the Rights of Prisoners Senaka Perera said that prisoners at various prisons have been deployed at various workstations. “A prisoner should be sent for rehabilitation and not to assault someone. But instead prisoners are being used to commit wrongdoings. They have been intoxicated. This would have remained a secret if they were not exposed. The prisoners themselves say that they are part of a rehabilitation programme. It is said that around 150-200 prisoners are missing. Who knows if they are being kept somewhere else to launch an attack on protesters once again,” queried Perera. 

Prisons Commissioner Thushara Upuldeniya released a statement denying the allegations and saying that the video released on social media is fake. “But the prisoners themselves are asking people not to assault them. They are trying to cover up the incident.  As such the Prisons Commissioner should be taken into custody as this poses a threat to the lives of prisoners. The Prisons logo says Custody, Care and Correction and that is their primary objective. But is this how they do correction? We request them to stop these acts and if they don’t respond we would write to international organizations as well,” said Perera. 
It is alleged that these prisoners were deployed by a businessman who has close links with the Rajapaksa family. 

“Prisoners didn’t engage in any acts of violence”
– Ekanayake

Issuing a statement Prisons Media Spokesman Chandana Ekanayake said that 181 prisoners from the Watareka Prison were deployed to three workstations at Kollupitiya, Rajagiriya and Battaramulla. While on their way back to the prisons these prisoners were in civil attire and people who stopped their vehicle had been confused as to whether they were groups of protesters at the Galle Face Green. But they never got engaged in any acts of violence. However 58 of them are now missing. We urge the public to produce these individuals to the nearest police station or prison camp in the event they are spotted. Prison officers and some of these prisoners have been hospitalised. There is a video being circulated on social media, but I confirm that they haven’t engaged in any sort of violence,” said Ekanayake. 

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