Sri Lanka: Police look on while Sinhala goons threaten peaceful Tamil march

Hundreds of Tamils on a peaceful march calling for the release of Tamil political prisoners were threatened upon their arrival in the north central province, by Sinhala extremists whilst police were looking on.

The march led by undergraduates in northern and eastern Sri Lanka walked over 190km, passing several Tamil majority areas before it entered the Sinhala dominated region on the fifth day

Receiving tremendous support from Tamils that were of various walks of life, it reached Anuradhapura on 13 October without meeting any opposition.

The Jaffna University Students Union (JUSU) organised the march when an indefinite hunger strike was launched by more than fifty Tamil political prisoners who urged the government to release them or expedite their cases, which fell upon deaf ears.

Intimidating student protestors

When the student representatives were leaving the Anuradhapura prison after meeting fasting prisoners, they were accused of representing Tamil Tigers (LTTE) by a group of Sinhala youth who behaved in an intimidating manner.

Police and prison officials looked on.

“If you came on behalf of the LTTE, you better leave,” said one of them in Sinhala.

Another challenged “anyone representing the LTTE” to “come forward and talk”.

“I don’t wear a uniform, I don’t work for the government,” he said.

The marching Tamil protestors were pushed to respond in Sinhala. Tamils in the North are not familiar with Sinhala, the language of the majority.

After a few minutes, a Tamil protestor came forward to say, “We came to call for the release of political prisoners.”

“No LTTE connection?” asked a Sinhalese.

When the protestor rejected the suggestion, and asked whether the LTTE is still in existence, he was told to “shut up and listen”.

It was followed by the threat, “If the news tonight says that you came on behalf of Tamil political prisoners, there won’t be any issue. But, If the media tonight say that you came for the LTTE, you’re finished. Don’t get it wrong,”

He did not seem to be satisfied by the explanation that the banner at the head of the march said "release political prisoners."

'No political prisoners'

Colombo based media had been continuously describing the Tamil prisoners on hunger strike as “LTTE terrorists” and those campaigning for their release as “Tamil Tiger sympathisers”.

Arrested under draconian terror laws, for being involved in an armed political uprising, the prisoners have been held in detention up to ten years without any judicial review.

Justice Minister Thalatha Athukorala had categorically rejected accepting them as political prisoners. “Who says that there are political prisoners in this country” the minister told journalists a week ago when asked about the hunger strike.

The student leaders from Jaffna and civil society activists who met the prisoners later said that the hunger strike was called off following assurances by the country’s parliamentary opposition, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) to get “definite answers on their release from president Maithripala Sirisena by next week”.

The meeting between the president and Tamil politicians is scheduled for Wednesday (17).

The student protestors left the Sinhala areas the same night.