Fury over arrest of two women for staging a placard protest   Are the police under orders to follow a ‘zero tolerance’ policy toward any form of protest? Or was last week’s police crackdown on two women’s peaceful march, merely an isolated act of a few cops going beyond the call of duty out of personal [...]


Women in the firing line as cops show ‘zero tolerance’


  • Fury over arrest of two women for staging a placard protest  
Are the police under orders to follow a ‘zero tolerance’ policy toward any form of protest? Or was last week’s police crackdown on two women’s peaceful march, merely an isolated act of a few cops going beyond the call of duty out of personal hatred to see even a solitary placard raised?

Lanka’s Human Rights Commission took no chances on what it described as ‘a serious threat to the life of a democratic society and the rule of law in the country’ and has summoned the IGP and the Police Ministry Secretary to appear on Monday before the Commission to account for the Police Force under their command.

The incident occurred in Panadura last Saturday when two women protesters were arrested during their walk from Kalutara with two placards asking for the release of two rights activists held under PTA. A heavy police contingent had been deployed to arrest the two protesters. Video footage of the incident showed cops intimidating the two women during the arrest while another senior cop did not spare the female constables either, grabbing them by the scruff of their necks and pushing them forward.

The harassment sparked a fury of protest by human rights watchers. The UN’s resident coordinator in Lanka, Hanaa Singer condemned the treatment of women in a tweet on Sunday.

The Bar Association, while condemning the attack, said: “Police brutality continues because of the failure and the lethargic attitude of those who have the power and authority to deal with them.’ The attack on the female cops made the IGP launch an internal investigation to probe why a senior cop had acted improperly towards female police constables.

But, according to a report in a Sinhala daily newspaper, the Divaina, on Wednesday, the police inquiry had so far been told by the accused cop that he had done it to motivate them while the two female cops had said, they hadn’t minded the rough treatment at all. That’s rich, isn’t it? Akin to the sadist inflicting pain on the masochist who shouts for more?

The SLFP women’s wing held a press conference on Tuesday to condemn the harassment of female protesters by the police and asked: “On what legal basis did the police attempt to block Kalutara’s peaceful march and arrest these two women?”

BRUTAL ARM OF THE LAW: IGP orders internal inquiry after police harassment of female protesters spared not even female cops

On Tuesday, another group of women protesters led by SJB’s Hirunika, who were staging a protest against the harassment of women were arrested. The arrested 14 were produced in court. Despite the court being urged by the police to remand them, they were released on bail.

In a statement issued the same day, the Rights Commission declared: “These kinds of activities cannot be condoned from a defence body bound to protect the law and order of the country.”

On Wednesday, the IGP, and four other senior officers, kept their appointed date before the Supreme Court where they tendered unqualified apologies to court for their failure to obey the court’s order and pay the salary of former CID sub inspector Sugath Mendis who was arrested and interdicted along with former CID Director Shani Abeysekera. The order, made on May 18, had not been followed for the last six months.

Now the IGP and Police Secretary have a further date at the Human Rights Commission on Monday to hear the riot act read out to them since the Commissioners have decided ‘to advise the parties on the actions that they should take to prevent human rights violations in the future’.

The Government should be thankful for the indispensable role the Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission performs to fulfill its mandate by being the constitutional check to prevent the excess of power. So must the people be grateful to the Commission, fast becoming the last resort of refuge against human rights violations, for taking, unbidden, swift action against the perpetrators.

A Commission, however high flown its name may sound, is only as good as the calibre of its members. The present Commissioners of Lanka’s human rights watch, under the alert eye of its chairperson, former Supreme Court judge Rohinie Marasinghe deserves the nation’s praise for acquitting their duties with honour.

If not for this dynamic body of human rights guardians, Lanka would have easily slid into a police state of repression. But, alas, they cannot perform the task alone. The other institutions, the four pillars on which the heavy weight of democracy rests, must fearlessly step in to reinforce the integrity of the threatened edifice.

How do you solve a problem like Diana

  • Questions raised in court and parliament over her citizenship status

Not even two months after her ritzy plans to turn Colombo into an adults playground at night was goofed up by a tepid response, you couldn’t keep down Lanka’s ‘grow more ganja’ Tourism State Minister, Diana Gamage, from cocking a snook at her envious critics.

The latest project to flare her imagination to generate billions of dollars to the country’s coffers was to turn arid Mattale into a magical wonderland for the entire family of tourists. It certainly was a far cry better than another one of her plans to bring down an upcoming band from India on a self-promotion tour to play a gig in Jaffna to make the Lankans dance. Diana said: ‘They did it in the Maldives. Now they will do it here.’

Proactive Diana planned to put Lanka on the Disneyworld map and was to fly to the US this month to woo Mickey Mouse and his sweetheart Minnie, and his pals Donald Duck, Goofy, Pluto, and the rest of Walt’s gang to play host to thousands each day in a USD 18 billion Disney project in Mattale’s vicinity.

Alas, it was goofed up and proved a non-starter when Walt Disney Company promptly reacted, stating it was totally unaware of any such project. But though this USD18b dream may have gone up in smoke before Mickey could say, ‘Oh gee’, along with the rest of her ambitious projects to channel rivers of dollars to flood Sri Lanka’s ‘drought parched’ economic lands, one plan survived the fire.

On Monday, just a sniff of the President’s budget proposal to explore the possibility of cultivating ‘Triloka Vijaya Patha’, the exalted indigenous name for what is commonly called on the streets as ganja or marijuana, was enough to transport ‘Grow Ganja’ pusher Diana into a reverie.

A thoroughly elated Diana exclaimed: “I am very happy that the President has realised the value of this medicinal herb. This is why I promoted it. I am hoping to bring in investments worth over two billion dollars through cannabis plantation next year.’

Such is Dynamic Diana’s efficiency that even without the first weed planted, she has already conjured up visions of instantly bringing over two billion dollars in foreign direct investments next year. Her financial instincts and her perseverance had paid off to put her critics to shame.

Millions of worldwide Triloka Vijaya Patha users, including the locals, who swear by this substance’s immense medicinal properties to deliver instant relief to their individualistic medical ailments, will no doubt, be thankful to Diana who, just to ensure they know at whose door to lay the fragrant joint of gratitude, told the Daily Mirror, ‘I made this proposal first, some time back.’

It was Diana’s hour of exoneration. Her rewarding moment of redemption. Ever since she double-crossed her party, the SJB — which had nominated her to occupy its vacant national seat — to embrace her hero Gotabaya’s cheer squad in the government’s ranks, she had made ‘grow ganja’ as her signature jingle.

Yes, there were times, she surely knew, she’d bitten off more than she could chew but through it all, there ne’er was doubt, to eat it up or spit it out, she faced it all, and she stood tall, and did it her way to make ganja bloom in Lanka. Yes, it was Di’s way.

No mean feat for a single woman to pursue so relentless her fight to win for so tabooed a plant, the right to flower on endemic soil in native Lanka. Yet she succeeded at the end of her two-year battle to dismantle much-hailed cultural barriers that had barred for so long the country’s quest for wealth.

Her triumph is more spectacular and the sacrifices she made for the country’s sake even more admirable when it now appears she may have waged her epic battle for the benefit of a country no longer her own.

Last Thursday a magistrate’s court slapped a travel ban on Diana after a private complaint was lodged at court, claiming that she — never mind whether she was a dual or sole citizen — was not a citizen at all of Lanka.

The Colombo Chief Magistrate ordered the CID to immediately investigate whether she is remaining in Lanka without a valid visa, and submit a progress report to the court.

That afternoon in Parliament, a fiery Diana gave a bravura performance in which, instead of nailing the citizenship canard with a simple ‘yes’ as answer, she asked the House, why she was singled out and her citizenship questioned, when there were other MPs who were dual citizens in Parliament.

For some inexplicable reason best known to herself, she went as far back as the 500ADs to refer to Mahavamsa’s fabled founder of the Sinhala race. She said: ‘If we’re going to talk on my citizenship issue further, we’ll have to talk of Prince Vijaya who came from Bangladesh. But why stop there? What about the Buddha?’

What Vijaya and the Buddha had to do with Diana’s citizenship issue does perplex the mind, and is anyone’s guess. According to the chronicled legend, the Buddha came from India on three flying visits to preach while Vijaya stumbled onto Lanka through serendipity and ended up lording the land by strategic design.

On Monday, while Diana was still in elation at the budget’s ‘ganja’ good news, the Daily Mirror reporter put a damper on her high spirits by questioning her on the citizenship issue. Her terse reply was, “I don’t want to talk about the dual citizenship now as the matter lies with the judiciary.”

Pity. Instead of coming clear – as she should have done in Parliament last Thursday – with an answer straight from the heart, affirming that she is a citizen of Sri Lanka, which would have done much to dispel the disquiet, Diana lobbed the ball to a different court.

Why? It’s not sub judice to maintain one’s innocence at any forum even while it’s challenged in court. Or is changing citizenships as forgettably common as the sari she wore last morning, that she needs an external source to jog her memory? Or has her credibility sunk so low in the public eye, she needs a judge to vouch her word?

The Colombo Magistrate on Thursday granted time to the CID to submit its report and extended the travel ban on Diana to December 15. On Friday, the Court of Appeal, with regard to the writ petition filed to revoke Diana’s parliamentary membership, listed November 28 as date for submissions and ordered notice to be issued to her and 15 other respondents.

If these allegations are proved in court, the fallout will be enormous; and the collateral damage will be hard to contain from spreading and staining the entire body politic. It would also reveal Diana as an imposter, a tourist who had arrived in Lanka and outstayed her visa while pretending to be a citizen.

How an illegal immigrant could have been appointed by SJB to parliament, how the SLPP could have so readily embraced her to government ranks, and how she could have been appointed as State Minister of Tourism, will forever boggle the people’s mind; and expose the state intelligence services for appalling lapses.

If, however, the court finds otherwise, then this ‘grow ganja’ activist, this promotor of a hedonist style dusk-to-dawn night life for paradise, this adventist who believes in the first coming of Disney’s Mickey Mouse to Mattale, Diana will have the last laugh. Yes, she would have earned her redemption, her way.


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