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Sri Lankan religious leaders decry arrest of activists

Senior Buddhist monks call for release of detained protesters, demand probe into May 9 attack on peaceful rally

A demonstrator throws back a tear gas canister fired by police to disperse students taking part in a protest demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in Colombo on May 29

A demonstrator throws back a tear gas canister fired by police to disperse students taking part in a protest demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in Colombo on May 29. (Photo: AFP)

Published: May 31, 2022 10:07 AM GMT

Updated: May 31, 2022 10:20 AM GMT

Sri Lankan police have arrested several rights activists including Buddhist monks who participated in anti-government protests.

Demonstrations have been held in the capital Colombo and other main cities demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his government amid Sri Lanka’s worst economic crisis since independence in 1948.

Protesters accuse the government of mismanaging the economy and creating a foreign exchange crisis that has led to a shortage of food, cooking gas, medicines and fuel.

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The economic crisis has fueled political unrest with protests taking place all over the country. For the past few weeks protesters have occupied the entrance to the president's office in Colombo demanding his resignation, but he has refused to leave office.

The crisis forced Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, the elder brother of the president, to resign on May 9.

Protesters have set up temporary camps with food, water and toilet facilities besides a makeshift medical facility in the open space opposite the presidential secretariat.

"The aim is to punish and discourage Buddhist monks who speak out against the government. We demand the government release all activists immediately"

Ven. Handugala Rathanapala Thera, head of the National Bhikkhu Front, said police have arrested several Buddhist monks and activists.

"Ven. Wekandawela Thera, a prominent campaigner, was arrested by Weeraketiya police," the senior monk said, referring to the activist and environmental activist.

He demanded the immediate arrest of those who attacked peaceful protesters on May 9.

"The aim is to punish and discourage Buddhist monks who speak out against the government. We demand the government release all activists immediately,” Ven. Rathanapala Thera said on May 30.

A group of government supporters attacked the peaceful protest site and injured protesters on May 9. That same evening, the properties of some 78 ruling party politicians were set on fire. Ten people including a parliamentarian were reported dead during the violence.

"I tell Buddhist monks that, when you preach, the CID will come to take statements from you the next day"

Ven. Omalpe Sobitha Thera, an internationally acclaimed scholar, researcher and philanthropist, was questioned for two hours on his preaching by the Computer Crime Division of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) on May 30.

"I tell Buddhist monks that, when you preach, the CID will come to take statements from you the next day," said Ven. Omalpe Thera.

Police arrested activist Rathidu Senaratne, who campaigned against the government at the entrance to the president's office demanding his resignation. The magistrate ordered his release on bail on May 30.

Father Amila Jeewantha Pieris, an activist priest who was involved in the protest, was slapped with a foreign travel ban on May 23.

"The activists are being suppressed by the government," said Father Pieris.

Police spokesman Nihal Thalduwa said statements from 12 members of parliament have been recorded regarding the attack on the peaceful protesters on May 9.

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