Uproar in Sri Lanka over police shooting

October 27, 2016 by  
Filed under newsletter-asia

Colombo, October 26, 2016: Sri Lankan civic rights activists, including priests are demanding justice for two Jaffna University students who were allegedly killed by police.

Wijekumar Sulakshan and Nadarasa Gajan, two undergraduates, were allegedly shot dead by police while riding a motorbike on Oct. 20 at Kulappidi Junction in Jaffna.

The police ordered the pair to stop and allegedly opened fire when their orders weren’t obeyed. The officers then filed a report claiming the young men had died in a traffic accident. Jaffna, like much of Sri Lank’s northern provinces, has remained heavily militarized since the end of the civil war in 2009.

During the demonstration in Colombo on Oct. 24, activists condemned the alleged killing. They brandished placards which read: “Are the bullets the only gift for Tamils from the government?” and “such killings destroy reconciliation.”

“We condemn this unlawful act. Those who are found guilty should be severely punished. The loss of these two students can never be undone,” said Father Sarath Iddamalgoda, who was among the demonstrators.

“The national reconciliation process will be disrupted due to this. We haven’t seen justice for such killings in the past therefore this matter should be handled with full impartially by the government,” he added.

The five police officers have been arrested and remanded by Jaffna magistrates until Nov. 4.

President Maithripala Sirisena said the parents of the dead students will be compensated and launched an independent inquiry.

The National Peace Council has condemned the reported shooting.

“In restoring normalcy to the north and east of the country, where most of the three decades long war was fought, we call on the government to emphasize the building of good relations between the police and the people,” said the council in a statement.

“The recruitment of more local police officers will be necessary so that the people feel greater confidence that all levels of government are functioning for their benefit,” the statement added.

Meanwhile, a massive protest march was organized by Jaffna University students to deliver a petition to the Jaffna district secretary demanding an impartial inquiry.

The petition also pressed for international and local human rights organizations to be allowed to monitor court proceedings.

Udul Premaratna, former convener of the Inter-University Student Federation and a lawyer, said that the shooting must be seen in the context of the militarization of north Sri Lanka.

“Through past experience, we know that if people raise their voices against the government they will be threatened, assaulted or abducted and this culture still remains in the north,” he said.

“We demand the government take action against the police and also remove the military presence from the north; only then can we talk about real reconciliation,” he added.

For decades the Sri Lankan government was embroiled in a brutal civil war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, an insurgent group that fought to carve out a separate Tamil homeland in the country’s North and East until it was defeated militarily by government forces in May of 2009.

Jaffna was at the epicenter of this war and under heavy mortar fire and subjected to close-quarter battles. It was intermittently under government or rebel control. Jaffna Diocese still is reeling under a shortage of manpower to help people rebuild lives, with many of its priests and religious killed or disappeared during the war.

– ucan

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