The Catholic Church and student associations protested against spending Rs 200 million on the ceremony. An activist released in recent days denounced police violence. Cardinal Ranjith: “Citizens prisoners of poverty and a brutal dictatorship”.
Colombo () – The 75th anniversary of Sri Lanka’s independence was celebrated today in the Galle Face Green urban park, the first since President Ranil Wickremesinghe was elected to head the government. However, the local Church opposed it and criticized the exorbitant expenses of the ceremony. For their part, the police violently repressed the protests by the activists.
“Our 75th anniversary of independence from British colonial rule coincides with an extremely critical and difficult time for the country,” Wickremesinghe stressed in his message to the nation. “It is a defining moment. But it represents an opportunity not only to review our strengths and achievements as a nation, but also to correct our mistakes and failures.”
Sri Lanka is going through its worst economic crisis since independence, with the exchange rate against the US dollar having fallen from 182 to 360 rupees.
The Catholic Church claimed that Sri Lankan citizens “became prisoners of poverty and a brutal dictatorship.” The Archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, issued a statement stating that “politicians have failed to find practical solutions to the crisis. A government that has no money to bring medicines into the country spends 200 million rupees (500,000 euros) to celebrate independence with great pride.
“We must reflect on how the country is heading towards misery because of selfish and power-hungry rulers who have run our country for the past 75 years,” the statement continued.
The Sri Lanka Conference of Major Religious Superiors (CMRS) organized a short silent protest outside the Center for Society and Religion (CSR) this morning, unfurling a banner reading “Where is freedom? Freedom does not belong to politicians, but to citizens.”
Father Rohan De Silva, director of the CSR, said that “after looting everything, after destroying everything, how is it that only freedom remains? We are against this ceremony which cost 200 crores.”
Last night, the Sri Lankan police along with the riot unit attacked protesters who were peacefully protesting according to the principles of satyagraha, the method of political opposition advocated by Gandhi. “In front of the Maradana Elphinstone theater, in the afternoon we sat on the ground with the children, but at night, after 10:00 p.m., we were heavily attacked with water cannons and tear gas. There were injuries,” they told Several people present at the demonstration.
The activists were beaten and some young people participating in the satyagraha were chased and beaten. A woman and three men were arrested. They also said that one of them is in critical condition and has not received medical treatment so far. Lawyers were also not allowed to contact them for information.
“I have seen many videos and they all show police attacking peaceful protesters. Even when protesters run away, they chase and attack them. It is clear that the goal is not just to disperse, but to punish. Aggression and brutality are evident. According to Sri Lankan law, this is torture,” said Ambika Sathkunanathan, a human rights activist and one of the former commissioners of the Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission.
Wasantha Mudalige, president of the Inter-University Students Federation (IUSF), who was recently released after 167 days in detention, also accused the Sri Lankan police. He stated that the goal was probably to keep them imprisoned longer or to kill them. Mudalige was blindfolded with a rag and taken to the riverbank near the Nawagamuwa Devalaya, just outside the capital Colombo. He revealed that one of the agents said on the phone: “Sir, we arrived at the scene. What do we do now?” The activist was released on January 31 under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and was granted bail for three other cases.