Elite police stifle peaceful rally by families of disappeared as Cameron visits Jaffna

Showing sheer ignorance to mounting international pressure over alleged war crimes, hawkish Sri Lankan government on Friday deployed anti-riot elite police squads to violently stifle a peaceful demonstration by hundreds of family members of disappeared and effectively prevented them from meeting the visiting British Prime Minister David Cameron in the war-hit northern Jaffna peninsula.

Talking to the JDS via phone from Jaffna shortly after the incident, a member of the newly elected Northern Provincial Council, Ananthi Sasitharan (Elilan) said that the anti-riot police personnel have brutally beaten up the families of the disappeared people near the Jaffna library, when they tried to draw the attention of the visiting British Prime Minister.

According to Ananthi Sasitharan, the wife of former political commissar of the LTTE for Trincomalee district, around 250 of them, including Catholic priests, elderly mothers, wives and children of the disappeared were staging a very peaceful protest near the Jaffna library, without causing any disruption to the visiting foreign delegates.

Anti-riot squads deployed

She said that while they were waiting along the roadside with placards depicting their plight, a group of nearly 30 pro-government protesters were brought in two posh jeeps right into the gates of the Jaffna library, where the meeting between the British Prime Minister and Chief Minister of Northern Province C.V Wigneswaran was taking place.

“When we tried to wave flags and chant slogans, the anti-riots squad police personnel unleashed waves of brutal attack on us. They beat us with batons and kicked us with boots on. Even the Catholic priests and wailing elderly mothers of the disappeared were badly assaulted as the VIPs were going pass as mere onlookers,” Ananthi said, adding that she too was baton charged.

She said the senior police officer present there without name badges have repeatedly attacked her despite knowing that she was a privileged member of the Northern Provincial Council.

“The senior most police officer at the scene publicly warned me that he would ‘deal’ with me on a later occasion. If this can happen to innocent people in the presence of world leaders, it is high time for the world to realise the suffering we are going through daily in the hands of this authoritarian government,” said the provincial councillor, who secured the second highest number of votes at the recently concluded provincial poll.

Disappointment over Cameron's visit

Expressing the collective disappointment, she said that Prime Minister Cameron has had “plenty of time to visit Uthayan newspaper office, but for the reason best known to him, he did not have time to stop and listen to our plight”.

Ananthi said that her protesters, however, managed to issue some leaflets and memos to the visiting foreign media personnel, who were in the VIP vehicle convoy.  She said that this peaceful rally was organised not for political reasons, but to “demonstrate the plight of hundreds of thousands family members of the people who have been suffering immensely as a result of the ongoing enforced disappearances by the state”.

“Not only the Rajapakse regime, even the international community should share responsibility for failing to save the lives of the hundreds of thousands of Tamil people, before, during and after the war. It is upto the British Prime Minister and the other world leaders to ensure the safety of today’s protesters, who have already been threaten with dire consequences,” Ananthi told the JDS, adding that a large number of military intelligence personnel were tailing the protesters from the very beginning.

“The Channel 4 News crew were mobbed by government supporters at the Katunayake international airport, and their train journey to Jaffna was stopped at Anuradhapura by the Sinhalese protesters. Ironically, the police helped the protestors in both occasions and went one step further to send the media crew back to Colombo. But today, we were badly assaulted by the same police simply because we are Tamils,” she pointed out.  

Commenting on the decision by the British Prime Minister to attend CHOGM in Colombo, she said that Tamils in Sri Lanka “did not want him to attend CHOGM because it would mean a reward and appreciation to the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who has been substantially accused as a war criminal”.

'Walking corpses'

“Now that Prime Minister Cameron has come to Sri Lanka and to Jaffna, we wanted him to witness the real ground situation. An election may have been held, new roads may have been laid or new building may have been erected here, but the normalcy has not returned to this part of the country even four years after the war. The values of Commonwealth are on whole sale here and we are living under extremely difficult conditions with the huge military presence. We want him to know just that,” she said.

“We are living here like walking corpses, prepared to die anytime, but we want to secure a safe and healthy future at least for our future generations,” Ananthi Sasitharan said.

Ananthi’s husband Sasitharan Elilan surrendered to the army along with his family and several others in the presence of a Catholic priest. Ananthi says she saw her husband last while being taken away by the military along with many others, but there was no news of his whereabouts to date. The government categorically denies any knowledge of him.

Meanwhile, Tamil media sources in Jaffna told JDS that intelligence officials deployed to cover Prime Minister Cameron’s visit to Jaffna, have forced the Tamil photo journalists to take photos of all active journalists and activists during his trip. They now fear of violent reprisals after the CHOGM festival.