Conflicts & War

Sri Lankan protesters fear arrest amid police crackdown

Colombo, Jul 27 (EFE).- Sri Lankan anti-government protesters on Wednesday said they were scared of being repressed or arrested months into mass protests that have toppled president Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

“We live in constant fear these days. I personally don’t know what to do now,” Chanu Nimesha, 47, tells Efe at the Gota Go Gama camp, the epicenter of the protests that broke out in late March.

A recent police crackdown on those who have damaged “public property” and “incited violence” led protesters to consider hiding, disguising themselves or even deleting their social media comments.

“It is very unsafe to stay at Gota Go Gama now,” adds Nimesha, who considers that the country has hit a deadlock despite Rajapaksa’s exit. Ranil Wickremesinghe took the helm afterwards.

“We came here to protest when the government was ignoring the suffering of the people. The economic crisis turned into a political crisis. Even now there is no solution to the economic crisis,” she says.

The protesters denounced a police crackdown on activists and protesters, including Danish Ali, a member of Gota Go Gama who was arrested at a Colombo international airport after boarding a flight to Dubai.

Ali faces several charges for interrupting a live broadcast at the country’s state television headquarters on July 13, and attacking army intelligence officers, according to the police.

Colombo Police also arrested activist Verange Pushpika on Wednesday, while security forces raided the church of priest Jeevantha Peiris, who participated in the protests.

Despite the state of emergency declared in the country, some protesters are still calling for the rallies to continue until their fellow demonstrators are released, although the turnout at the camp has dropped since Wicremesinghe came to power last week.

“Ten were arrested by the police. We want to know what wrong have they done? Where is the proof? We will not abandon this struggle until they are released,” Jeevan Suranga, 26, tells Efe.

“We came here for a system change, and we are even ready to die for it,” Rizna Kareem, 40, adds.

Mass demonstrations erupted in Sri Lanka at the end of March to protest a serious economic crisis.

The nation has been witnessing acute shortages of essentials such as fuel and cooking gas, as it struggles to keep afloat with no foreign currency for imports.

The protesters blamed Rajapaksa for his handling of the crisis partly triggered by heavy debt, misguided government policies, and the impact of the 2019 Easter attacks and the pandemic on tourism.

Sri Lanka is negotiating a bailout package with the International Monetary Fund and other donor countries. EFE


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