Tamils brave police blockades and win legal battle to honour their war dead

Sri Lanka police in spite of being in a court -which allowed the war-affected Tamils the right to mourn their dead at Mullivaikkal- haven’t given up their effort to block the annual remembrance.

At first police officers tried to stop organisers entering the venue arguing that court orders have not reached them. Failing that effort, they have now imposed a pandemic lockdown in the area and cordoned it off.

Armed military has been heavily deployed in the area.

Tamils in the North and East of Sri Lanka won a major court battle on Monday (17) in reiterating their right to mourn those dead during the brutal civil war.

Mullaitivu district judge T Satgunaraja allowed the appeal by the Tamils who emphasised their right to mourn their kith and kin killed in the war.

The court issued an order in favour of the Tamils to pay homage at the Mullivaikkal ground where thousands were killed during the war on Tuesday (18) with a rider clause.

“The event will be allowed subject to not glorifying terrorism and following Covid-19 regulations and guidelines” the order said.

The court also made it clear that it had never banned the event as such.

Lawyers representing the Tamils argued that the police have misguided the court without any basic reasons and with the only sinister motive to stop the annual event of recalling the dead and paying tributes to them.

Senior lawyer and legal secretary of the Tamil National People’s Front Nadaraja Kandeepan told reporters after the order the police did not put forth any evidence while seeking an injunction order.

“The Police did not provide any evidence either from the district health officer or the Public Health authorities to suggest the possibility of the spread of Covid-19 infection at the venue”

He also told media people outside the Mullaitivu court complex that they submitted pictures of the event in the earlier years and the letter of approval to erect a monument at Mullivaikkal to the court which was accepted by the judge.

Jaffna lawyer Sugas Kanagaratnam who also represented the Tamils defending their right to homage questioned the authority of the police is stopping people in paying their homage.

“I lost my father-in-law during the war and have a right to mourn him and pay homage. What authority does the police have to say not to do so and stop me from doing it”.

Jaffna Magistrate Peter Paul told the police when they applied for the restraining order that they could approach the court after the event if there are breaches in the Covid-19 safety regulations and not before on presumption.

Armed with the court judgement the organisers who went to make arrangements for the event were not allowed entry by the Police and an altercation ensued between both sides. In a video capturing the heated arguments it could be seen the Police officer questioning the court order.

The Police officer could be seen saying that his is not clear about the content of the judge’s order when lawyers pointed out not abiding by the order would amount to contempt of court.

'Total lockdown'

Attorney at law Sinnarasa Dhanenjeyan who was one of the lawyers who represented the Tamils at the Mullitivu court said that the organisers will abide by the Covid-19 regulations as they did last year. Also, the organisers would discuss the safety protocols with the Ministry of Health officials and carry on with the event.

Police who left the venue after the assurance have made a comeback with imposing a total lockdown. Mullaitivu, Puthukudiyiruppu and Mullivaikkal police areas were declared as isolation zones from one hour to midnight claiming 261 at a Mullaitivu garment factory were tested positive for Covid 19.

Tamil Activists are highly suspicious of the timing of the tests.

Earlier on Friday (13) Police in the North and East have obtained restraining orders against at least 25 Tamil leaders, grassroots activists and journalists based on what they call ‘intelligence inputs’. They have informed the magistrates that “under the guise of paying homage to those Tamil dead during the war, they are trying to indeed to recall the LTTE cadres who died in the war”. Disobeying the ban carries the threat of arrest.

The earlier court order restrained the persons mentioned from 6 AM to 10 PM on May 18.

On that day, Tamils all over the world commemorate their loved ones. The key event is held annually in Mullivaikkal where the blood of thousands of unarmed Tamils flowed during the last days of the war.

Tamil grassroots activists talking to JDS feared that the police ban could spread throughout the north and east, and pre-emptive arrests might happen.

Just four days ago a massive granite plaque brought to the memorial site went missing while the area was under heavy military guard.

Journalist harassed

A Tamil Journalist from the east, Punniyamoorthy Sasiharan - one of those against whom the court order was obtained - refused to accept the court order when the police went to serve it on him at this residence late evening on Sunday (16). The restraining order wrongly identified him as a ‘leader of the fishermen’s organisation’.

“I am a journalist, I don’t have any connection to the event. My job is to report what happens. So, I can’t accept the court order. This is gross human rights violation and I am going to complain to the Human Rights Commission today (16)” he could be seen telling the police in a video which has gone viral overnight.

He could also be seen telling the police officer that “they should revert back to the court and inform the Magistrate that the information he got from the intelligence officials are not true”.

On Friday last courts in Batticaloa and Mullaitivu issued restraining orders against more than 25 people prohibiting them from participating in the Mullivaikkal memorial event citing Covid-19 restrictions.

Those individuals restrained by the earlier order included present and past Tamil lawmakers, activists, local body members, religious organisations.

Tamils in accordance with their tradition of paying homage to those departed loved ones by symbolically offering prayers and lighting a lamp in their memory. Ever since the brutal civil war came to a bloody end on the 18th of May 2009, Tamils in their traditional homeland of North and East of the country pay homage to their kith and kin who lost their lives in the conflict.



Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

  • JDS is the Sri Lankan partner organization of international media rights group, Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The launching of this website was made possible by the EU’s European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), of which Reporters Without Borders is a beneficiary.