Photo courtesy Vikalpa

Protests in Katunayake Free Trade Zone: No police in sight has audio and video footage of the violent protests over the course of the week in the Katunayake Free Trade Zone. A 10 minute video of the protests on Thursday, after the Police killed 21 year old Free Trade Zone (FTZ) worker Roshan Chanaka, can be seen below.

As Rasika Jayakody notes in an article dealing with Rohan’s killing,

“Apart from this tragic death, this brutal police attack against Free Trade Zone workers left more than 200 people injured. On Monday evening, Ragama and Negombo hospitals were flooded with injured protesters. It is, undoubtedly, one of the brutal crackdowns in recent history. There are several video footages which clearly show the barbaric and inhuman manner that some police officers carried out attacks against unarmed protesters.”

The withdrawal of the proposed pensions bill is a major embarrassment for the government. So embarrassing in fact that some reports suggest the President’s media unit coerced mainstream media to not give it the prominence it deserved in media coverage.

The protests over the course of the week weren’t the first mass scale protests against government since 2005, but they’ve certainly been by far the most forceful. In November last year, the government was forced to shelve plans to develop the Negombo lagoon into a sea-plane friendly area. Their livelihoods threatened, hundreds of fisherfolk – those who had in fact voted in this government – took to the lagoon and the streets against it. As we observed,

“Neither the Police nor the Army could not control the crowd. This is evident in the video footage, in which person after person openly taunt the authorities and mention that this is not what they expected from a government they had voted into power.”

On Friday, Colombo saw for the first time hundreds of Buddhist monks protest outside the President’s house. See dramatic photos from the demonstration taken by Vikalpa below.

The area surrounding the President’s house is a high security zone, and even violent protests last year involving university students who tried to give a petition to the President weren’t allowed anywhere near it, and were repelled back by tear gas.

Not so with the Buddhist monks on Friday, who numbering around 600 sported placards openly and explicitly against the government and the President. Tellingly, the monks even refused refreshments sent out to them from Temple Trees.

As we noted last year,

“There is growing social tension in Sri Lanka. Over 2010 alone, student unrest in Universities increased considerably. A number of trade unions are joining the fray. Any one of these incidents alone can be cast aside or seen as isolated incidents by minority groups. Collectively though, tens of thousands of people have been involved in demonstrations against government (including those who voted it into power), and there is no sign that this trend is abating.”

The violent protests this week by thousands from the core vote base of the incumbents only strengthens the contention that even a government which won the war cannot by extension harbour the belief that it can, carte blanche, do whatever it wants with public coffers through illiberal governance.

  • Magerata

    Disturbing, and it hurts to see the oppressed.

  • Thambi

    Inspiring. Finally the Sri Lankan people are standing up for what is right!

  • ravana

    I have mixed feelings about this. Basil Fernando of the Asian Human Rights Commission recently articulated how successive governments since 1978 have subverted the workers rights and the Unions in Sri Lanka. In fact since 1971, I understand that GoSL has been progressively eroding the independence of the Judiciary until today when it is entirely violated.

    So whilst it is good to see people from all walks of life protesting against Government tyranny, I am aware of how successive Governments have managed to keep the suppressed “minorities” at bay by dividing them. It is in fact the racist policies of Tamil leaders which led to this. This does not mean that a fight against racism should not have occurred. However, if Tamil leaders had sought to marry racism (a form of oppression) and oppression of the poorer sections of Sri Lanka then there could have been real opposition to tyranny of the two main parties. This was not to be mainly because the Tamil leaders themselves were tyrants and used race based politics for their own aims. Tragically, this meant that the poor Tamil people were highjacked down a racially based political path.

    If only they had joined the others oppressed through poverty… perhaps a 100 000 or more youth (the ones with most initiative) would have survived and contributed to Sri Lankan society by invigorating it.

    Without them what Sri Lanka is left with is an inhibited population of poor and middle class, the latter having no sense of social conscience if we are to view Mr. Fernando’s video.

    Well, my middle classed kith and kin. The time is coming for you to wake up and see what is happening around you.

  • Sand

    “Machang Umbala uniform eka galawala gedara palayang” candid but thoughtful words, hope as the next conscious step, these workers will question what happened in the North and East during and the final phase of the civil war and unite their fate with the Tamil oppressed masses as well.

    Inspiring!

  • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

    Interesting developments in a Nazi-like fascist dictatorship, huh? I can’t remember equivalent outcomes in the North east when Prabhakaran and his Tigers were ruling …

    In the meanwhile, the best perspective on the recent unrest and the surrounding social situation is the column by young Indi Samarajiva in the current issue of the Sunday Leader.

  • sabbe laban

    These monks(“cheevara dhaareen”) represent the JVP’s University front. Thousands of them were killed by the government Forces and paramilitary groups in 88-89 period. It’s sad to see how easily these oppressed young people can be brain-washed.

    The workers protest seems to be a genuine response. Signs of dark clouds for the government! One stupid action can have a cascading effect. When will our police learn its lessons?

    • ravana

      Machan Saban! That’s why SL needs an Independent Police Commission.

      • sabbe laban

        200% true Machang!(Sorry, Mythical Great King!)