On the day of the International Monetary Fund (IMF)-led ‘interim budget’ announcement for Sri Lanka, thousands of protesters were brutally attacked in the streets of the capital, Colombo. Over 22 were arrested and are being held without charge. It was a very peaceful protest that demanded the release of student leaders previously arrested. The convenor of the Inter-University Student Federation (IUSF) and many others were held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and are still not released. This brutal act is fully ignored by western governments and their institutions as the Sri Lankan government nears a deal with the IMF.
On the same day, protests were held in London and in other countries demanding to know the fate of tens of thousands who have disappeared. The US ambassador to Sri Lanka, Julie Chung, put out an utterly bogus tweet about the disappeared in Sri Lanka but made no comment on the arrests that had taken place on the same day. In the past, western institutions such as the European Union (EU) and the United Nations pretended to defend human rights in Sri Lanka and asked the government to abolish the PTA. It was also part of the agreement to give GSP+ tax concessions to Sri Lanka by the EU (a ‘benefit’ to Sri Lanka not to have to lower tariffs if it implements non-trade conventions in order to receive preferential access). Now, as the current government leans towards pro-western neo-liberal policies, all criticism of repression is muted by these institutions.
The anger against the current government has not gone away. Queues for fuel are starting again. The lack of kerosene oil has devastated the lives of fishermen and most of the hill country workers. But the government is determined to carry out further attacks on the poor. Frightened by the possibility of further struggle developing, the government is making sure that they implement the ‘full force of the law’ against all sorts of civil disobedience. They are using archaic laws to stop all protests from taking place. The draconian PTA is used against peaceful protesters to hold them without charge for months. In addition, the police and the army are fully mobilised to focus on suppressing student and worker activities.
The protest on 30 August was called by the IUSF mainly to demand the release of all those arrested in the past including its convenor Wasantha Mudalige. The protest was supposed to march from the Maradana district in Colombo. But it was quickly broken up by over a thousand police in riot gear armed with water cannons and tear gas. Without any provocation, police launched a pre-mediated attack on the protesters, arresting many who were at the front of the march. Those who fled were also chased and attacked.
The government aims to carry out brutal repression to carry through its attack on public services and living conditions. Attempts to frighten the population with draconian laws and methods must not be tolerated. The workers’ movement must wage a solid response to this. Trade unions must come forward to take concrete actions such as a general strike. As recently as 24 August, the union leaders had met with western diplomats and ambassadors to request their support for the abolition of the PTA and to oppose the repression. This is like asking the wild wolf to protect the sheep! They must instead come forward to take direct action against the government and the IMF-led budget.
The United Socialist Party (USP, the CWI in Sri Lanka) strongly condemns the attack on the IUSF protest and demands the immediate release of all those arrested.
- Allow the right to protest and freedom of expression for all.
- Abolish the PTA fully.
- Remove the army from the streets immediately.
- For a one-day general strike with a mass mobilisation to restart the struggle movement, oppose the planned attack on all public services, and deteriorating conditions for workers and the poor. Unions should also come forward to plan a general strike/Hartal to push out the current repressive regime.
- No to the IMF-led budget! No to the selling of resources to the West, China or India.
- Build peoples’ councils across the country to create an alternative mass platform to carry out the demands of the masses and pave the way for a workers-led government.