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Protests in Sri Lanka against arrests for remembering war dead

Four people were arrested for giving alms in memory of their loved ones who perished in the 26-year-old civil war
Priests and activists stage a protest in Colombo, demanding action against police for arresting four persons for organizing a ceremony to honor the island nation’s civil war victims.

Sri Lankan Christian priests and rights activists during a protest in Colombo against the arrest of four people for organizing a traditional ceremony to honor the island nation’s civil war victims. (Photo: Supplied)

Published: May 16, 2024 11:23 AM GMT
Updated: May 17, 2024 04:35 AM GMT

Christian leaders and rights advocates held a protest against Sri Lankan police for arresting four people, including three women, for honoring victims of the island nation’s civil war.

The protestors on May 15 assembled outside the police headquarters in capital Colombo and demanded the release of the four people and strict action against officers who arrested them.

Father M. Sakthivel, an Anglican priest and convener of the Christian Solidarity Movement, stressed the citizens' right to commemorate war victims.

“The police going to houses at night and arresting people can’t be accepted in a civilized society," the priest said.

He handed over a petition to  Inspector General of Police Deshabandu Tennekoon after the protest, which was organized by the Families of the Disappeared (FOD) along with other rights organizations.

The four people were arrested for distributing the traditional kanji (porridge) in memory of their deceased relatives who perished during the 26-year-old civil war in the Indian Ocean nation.

Police officers arrived at their homes late in the night and forcibly took them to a local police station.  They secured a court order prohibiting the distribution of kanji and secured the remand of the four people until May 27.

A police spokesperson on May 14 said honoring civil war victims could have incited hatred among Sinhalese and the Tamil communities who fought the civil war in the island nation.

However, Father Sakthivel dismissed the apprehension saying it had become “a fashion for the police to present facts unilaterally."

FOD's chairman Brito Fernando said that in 2017, the Human Rights Commission had directed the authorities not to interfere with the citizens' right to remember their deceased.

"We strongly condemn the despicable act of the police and assert our right to give alms in memory of our loved ones," he told UCA News.

The Sri Lanka Young Journalists' Association (SLYJA) urged the Human Rights Commission to launch an investigation against police officers involved in the arrests.

SLYJA President Tharindu Jayawardhana demanded strict action against guilty police officers as they had violated the fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution.

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