Sri Lankan Police have been strongly condemned by a leading international Human Rights Organisation for their highhandedness in dealing with peaceful protestors.
Dublin-based Front Line Defenders (FLD) while expressing their deep concern over repressive measures of the state in dealing with the peaceful protestors supporting Tamil livestock farmers in Batticaloa district in a statement said the authorities have responded to their expression of dissent, protests, and the exercise of the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly with assault and intimidation.
“Sri Lankan police employed excessive force against a gathering of peaceful protesters who had convened to express solidarity with minority Tamil livestock farmers and their families from Madhavanai and Mayilathamadu in Batticaloa”.
War-affected Tamils have repeatedly accused the racist Sinhala elements of scuttling their livelihood and depriving them economically.
For over a decade now, pasturelands in Madhavanai and Mayilathamadu have been occupied by majority Sinhalese settlers from districts like Ampara and Polonnaruwa, which share a border with Batticaloa, with state backing.
This occupation has forced Tamil livestock farmers to sell their cattle, leading to increased cattle mortality and the need to seek alternative employment opportunities FLD said further in their statement.
The livestock farmers of the area are now protesting for over a month seeking to graze their cattle in the lands authorised by the government, a portion of which has been forcefully occupied by Sinhala who was allegedly brought there during the ousted president Gotabaya Rajapaksa regime.
Tamil farmers have been continuously apprehensive about the loss of their grazing land through the forced colonisation of the Sinhala people with the tacit support of the Buddhist monks as a part of a larger land-grabbing strategy.
Their fears have now been proved right with the installation of a Buddha statue in the area on Sunday (15) under the leadership of Ampittiya Sumanarathna Thero with the participation of the former Governor of the Eastern Province Anuradha Yahampath.
Meanwhile, Tamil MPs have taken strong exception to the installation of a Buddha statue in Mylathamadu-Madhayanai. Speaking in Parliament on Tuesday (17), Govindan Karunakaran questioned the authority of such installation.
“Who is ruling this country? Is it the President or the Parliament or the Buddhist Monks or the Viyathmaga members? If such things continue it would only lead the country to be split”.
FDL has also pointed out the sinister act of the government in settling Sinhala people from other districts in predominantly Tamil areas has forced the Tamil livestock farmers to sell their cattle, leading to increased cattle mortality and the need to seek alternative employment opportunities.
“The farmers have pursued legal action to remove some of the illegal occupiers from these pastures. However, to this day, more than 500 majority Sinhalese families continue to disrupt the day-to-day activities of these Tamil livestock farmers through various means”.
Earlier this month, President Ranil Wickremesinghe visited Batticaloa for an event when hundreds of protesters and human rights defenders embarked on a peaceful march with the intention of meeting him.
However, in an effort to obstruct the protest, the Sri Lankan police intervened and set up barricades to impede further progress and the police resorted to physically assaulting them, which included women and the families of the disappeared.
FDL in their report has pointed out to continuous harassment of those who speak for the rights of the Tamil people and have called for an end to it.
“Front Line Defenders is extremely concerned by the continuing reprisals against peaceful protesters, including human rights defenders, especially in the North and East of Sri Lanka. There are daily reports of harassment of human rights defenders, peaceful protesters, civil society activists, and journalists in the country as reprisals for their genuine work. Minority Tamil and Muslim human rights defenders, especially those operating in heavily militarized, conflict-affected regions, are particularly vulnerable to reprisals. We call for an end to the repression, harassment, and intimidation against peaceful protesters including human rights defenders and families of the disappeared advocating for justice and peacefully expressing their demands in Batticaloa”.