Under cover of darkness, even as protestors had informed authorities that they would leave contested locations today, and the removal of banners lay as signals of their departure, the repressive arms of the state chose to brutally attack the Gota Go Gama (GGG) at Galle Face. Journalists were attacked, a lawyer has been arrested and many peaceful protestors have been injured and arrested. This is a dark day for democracy that will stand out in the history of this country.
As the national trade union representing university academics, which has stood firmly with the people’s struggle for democracy, the Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA) strongly condemns these brutal attacks by the armed forces on GGG and the senselessness violence meted out on GGG protestors. This violence is an attack on all the people of Sri Lanka who have been demanding democratic system change. The new President, Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe has now clearly demonstrated the type of rule that we can expect from him. This attack on Galle Face has been sanctioned by Emergency regulations providing greater powers to the military to maintain “public order”. In short, this is President Wickremesinghe’s first onslaught on our democracy under his direct rule and will remain a blot on his legacy. He cannot and will not be permitted to continue this outrage on the rights of citizens, nor to irrevocably destroy basic democratic norms and decency through the arbitrary use of military force.
The attacks on GGG require a reckoning of how this moment came to be. Mr. Ranil Wickramasinghe gained the opportunity to become president because of a people’s movement that condemned the very type of rule that he has now espoused. Rather than acknowledging the role this movement unwittingly played in his ascendancy, Mr. Wickremesinghe’s deployment of the military in this manner fails even to acknowledge the pain and suffering that led to the protests throughout the country and to the creation of the GGG sites. Instead of listening to the voices and sentiments of the people, this violence is designed to simply silence and threaten them by brute force. Social media and eyewitness accounts of attacks on journalists, whose job it is to keep the public informed, and lawyers, who were attempting to engage with the security forces, suggest that the space for any form of dialogue between the State and the people is rapidly disappearing.
In addition to being a gross violation of the basic right to dissent, attacks of this nature undermine the political and economic stability based on democratic values that people want. An artificial stability enforced through military power and attacks on dissenters has dangers of shifting the protest movement underground with catastrophic consequences as we have learned from our history.
FUTA stands with the protestors who have been attacked today and on the side of democracy. We renew our pledge to work with all trade unions and people’s movements to mobilise support that will take forward further struggles to protect the democratic rights and freedoms of all the people in this country.