5 March, 2024

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Moral Justification For Protests To Continue 

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

The government has decided to present its proposed Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) to parliament for debate on April 25. The decision to delay calling for a vote on it, and using the government’s majority not to bulldoze its decision is to be welcomed. The government needs to reconsider its present formulation as it would impact on the democratic space and rights available to political parties, trade unions and civic activists. In any legal reform, the fundamental rights and protection of citizens need to be guaranteed. The power of the people is shared with the government for their benefit as per the constitution. The ATA fails to achieve both these objectives. The draft ATA presented by the government has several features that are worse than the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) that it is intended to replace.

#nofuelgama protest |
Picture by Angelo Samarawickrema | Facebook

Unfortunately, it appears there is no change in the mindset of those who have framed the replacement legislation. Instead, there are indications of a mindset that wishes to suppress political activism on the grounds of terrorism. Among the worst features of the proposed ATA is its vague and broad interpretation of terrorism that would include theft of government and even private property and trade union action. It brings legitimate activities within the scope of terrorism including protests, publishing material, demands for action by the government, strikes and disputes relating to racial and religious places. The law permits police or military or coast guard personnel to arrest anyone without warrant on whom they have “reasonable suspicion” of being involved in acts such as those given above.

There are two opposing views of what might happen with the passage of the Anti-Terrorism legislation (ATA) that is presently pending in parliament. Some members of the government have said a parliamentary debate on the matter could be held on April 25 while others say that this is unlikely to happen as the government has already decided to shelve the matter for a better time due to the international and local pressures that have been brought to bear upon the government. The ATA is proving to be more controversial than the PTA it seeks to replace due to the pressures brought on successive governments to bring it in line with international standards at a minimum or risk the economic sanction of losing the GSP Plus tariff concession granted by the EU.

Suppressing Protests 

The abuse of the PTA by successive governments has been adversely commented upon and noted by human rights organisations and by foreign governments which is why it is subject to the EU’s warning that there need to be substantial changes in the law that are narrowly defined to tackle the problem of terrorism. The GSP Plus concession is given to countries that are both developing themselves from under development and demonstrating a genuine willingness to protect the human rights of their people rather than to oppress them. At this time, in the midst of an economic crisis, losing existing economic assistance and being subject to economic sanctions are the last thing that the country needs.

A key feature of the proposed ATA that has been criticized by local and international organisations, including the Bar Association and now the Organisation of Professional Associations (OPA) is that it brings in a whole host of activities within the scope of what can be considered to be terrorism. These would include trade union action in pursuit of workers’ rights which could also have an impact on government’s economic functions and therefore on the national economy. As a result, there is widespread unanimity among analysts and scholars that the real purpose of the ATA is less to control terrorism in the form of terror attacks on the country and more to focus on effort to curb the ongoing protest campaign against the government’s efforts to restructure the economy, the plans of development  which also seem questionable.

What has changed most since the protest movement came on to the streets a year ago and the present time is the appearance of law and order. There is also the reappearance of nearly all economic items and commodities rather than the severe shortages of a year ago. The protests started with the shortages of fertilizer to begin with and then progressed to protests against the shortages of fuel and gas — and dollars, which was the mother of all shortages, whether food, medicine, fuel or electricity. It was these shortages that led to chaos on the streets with tens of thousands of people protesting against the sudden and totally unexpected decline in their standards of living that brought a once prosperous middle and working class to the level of penury where 70 percent of families had to cut back on their daily intake of food. In addition, a quarter more of the population of the country fell below the poverty line due to the fact that although available the prices and the cost of living have not returned to their former levels though the income remains lower or same as before. 

Moral Justification 

The reasonable and legitimate demand of the people is that those who are, and were, responsible for the impoverishment of the country and have siphoned money abroad one way or the other should be held to account and punished. It would also be the case that in the aftermath of the economic collapse that any responsible government would seek to take responsibility for the deterioration and continuing non-performance of the economy and the sufferings it has thrust upon the people. People have a moral right to protest when the government they have entrusted their collective futures to behaves in a self-seeking and non constructive manner. Over the past year the government has used the security forces to crackdown on the protest movement and to quell public protest and also embarked on a process of IMF-directed economic recovery in which the main burden of price rises and cuts in social welfare have fallen on the poorer sections of the population.

The system of democracy is based on notions of social contract that go back three centuries in time. According to these theories, people give up parts of their rights and freedoms to the government which promises to fulfill those rights and obligations to the people’s benefit. However, this governmental obligation has not been fulfilled with the collapse of the Sri Lankan economy in a short space of time in which prices shot up by 100 to 200 percent while incomes remained the same or even fell. In a situation where people lost their jobs in the shrinking economy which shrank by 9 percent last year and is expected to fall by 4 percent this year the people have a legitimate right to protest when they see that the corruption and mismanagement within the government is not being adequately dealt with.

Protest is morally justified when basic human rights are violated and the door to legal and democratic political remedies is shut with the government refusing to accept responsibility and resigning in the face of calamity. More than a year after the economic collapse and resignation of the government most of whom were reappointed, there have neither been elections to give people a new set of elected representatives whom they might place their confidence in, nor has there been progress in the holding of those who created the economic collapse accountable for their wrongdoings. It is obnoxious to see those who broke the economy sitting in office and trying to repair the damage as if nothing had happened.  Instead, there is the placing of more and more economic burdens on the masses of people in the form of tax hikes and anticipated cuts in jobs. While many lost income and assets over this period the burned and looted houses of parliamentarians and government supporters alone  and generous allocations for the losses they suffered have been made which seems inequitable. While more loans have been obtained from the IMF, the decisions on how to allocate and spend those resources lie with essentially the same group who were instrumental in bringing the country to its present state. There is nothing to ensure their will not be a repeat of the past. They have neither been held to account or removed from positions of power. These form the basic MORAL justifications for the continuation of the protest movement which the ATA seeks to suppress.

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Latest comments

  • 7
    1

    Jehan Prerera, How can a middle aged man who lives in Lanka, writes here weekly, unable to see the future?


    Why I didn’t listen to Native’s ugly Tamil Nadu Fin Minister PTR Thiagarajan and watched beautiful Tamil Nadu actresses instead ………. I’m bored to death: I know the future ……. don’t need no Thiagarajan to tell me the future. I wrote the future.

    Although Leaders have changed and supporters have changed – Eagle Eye, Soma, et al replaced by Native, OC, Sinhala_Man et al …….. this applies to Ranil now ….. cause …….the leaders are Lankan, the supporters are Lankan. ………… If anything change, it won’t be Lanka anymore.


    nimal fernando / September 12, 2019 ………. https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/exclusive-how-ranil-squashed-2015-currency-smuggling-allegations-against-gotas-son/

    People who believe that Gota is going to solve all Lanka’s problems because he is capable of reading out a speech written for him by someone else are the same gullible who five years ago believed Yahapalanaya of Sirisena was going to solve all Lanka’s ills.

    • 7
      1

      continued

      The politicians are the same. The people are the same. Nothing has changed. Nothing ever change. The cycle repeats every five years bringing in the same old new hope leading to disappointment. All what happens is, people just get older with the gullibility intact. Then they die and pass on their gullibility to their children. And them to their; on and on ……………..

      Three months after Ranil became the PM in 2015, he went to Indonesia and away from the glare of the Lankan public, gave an interview to an Indonesian TV outfit. I wrote here then, don’t wait five years, make up your minds now, no one is going to be prosecuted for corruption or murder. People’s body language gives them away. He was making all the excuses not to catch anyone.

      It’s a free world, support any candidate you want; that’s what people do.

      But to believe that there is a single Lankan who can solve our problems is to be plain simple stupid. Plain gullible.

      • 5
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        continued

        Just say I support Gota; he gave a good speech. Just say I support Ranil; he doesn’t steal for himself, not because he is moral or ethical but because he has inherited wealth. Just say I support Mahinda because he has charisma. Just say I like Sajith because he is Premadasa’a son …………… but for fully grown adults with many years of life experience to say anyone is going to solve Lanka’s problems deserves the Nobel Prize for Stupidity.

        To come to think of it, that’s the only prize many Lankans have a good chance of landing.

        If you don’t believe me let’s look back to what I said here 5 years from now.

        Plain and simple commonsense can be more accurate than Sumanadasa’s crystal ball.

        If one knows one’s own people and have no sentimental delusions …….. It’s a piece of cake!


        “And while the future’s there for anyone to change, still you know it’s seems, It would be easier sometimes to change the past.”
        — Jackson Browne

        • 1
          1

          … ‘Just say I support Mahinda because he has charisma’.
          I have heard this before. … too often.
          I couldn’t believe it. But, I ignored it all.
          Now, You too?
          You lose your pedestal, nimal!

          • 4
            1

            Nathan,
            “I couldn’t believe it. But, I ignored it all.
            Now, You too?”
            How come you’re more serious than Sinhala Man today? Even I believe Mahinda has charisma. But very little else.

            • 0
              0

              old codger,
              I want to respond; but, I don’t wish to be corrected.
              So, let me have something clarified, first.
              Does ‘Even I’ have the same meaning as ‘I too’?

              • 2
                0

                Nathan,
                In this case, yes. Also, it signifies that I am not usually a MR supporter. 🙂

                • 1
                  1

                  Charisma, – A charm which inspires devotion in others.
                  Anyone on CT is devoted to Mahinda?
                  Mahinda is full of himself, I’d say. Seriously.

        • 5
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          … ‘to say anyone is going to solve Lanka’s problems deserves the Nobel Prize for Stupidity’.
          You tell it, easily.
          Do you know the competition there for that prize.
          Poor, Nobel Prize Committee. I won’t envy their task!

      • 1
        2

        Nimal Frnando says,
        “The politicians are the same. The people are the same. Nothing has changed. Nothing ever change. The cycle repeats every five years bringing in the same old new hope leading to disappointment’
        Words of wisdom!.
        Nimnal, you are going against conventional scientific truths. Change is inherent in nature, Everything changes, only the word Change remains the same.
        Nevertheless, let us move on…

        Man, politicians and systems remain the same unless an external force is strong is strong to effect changes, that is why we are fighting for systemic changes!

        Systems are entrenched, they repeat again and again, that is why we don’t believe in elections, elections changes men, one politician by another, but as long as the system remains, the merry-go- round goes perpetually!

  • 1
    0

    ‘Protest is morally justified when basic human rights are violated and the door to legal and democratic political remedies is shut’.
    I totally agree with this characterisation.
    But, why only now.
    I am wondering why there was no such attention when rights of Tamils were trampled upon.
    Better now than never.

    • 4
      1

      “Protest is morally justified when basic human rights are violated and the door to legal and democratic political remedies is shut’.”
      Should protest against any wrong wait for violation of basic human rights and closure of the door to legal and democratic political remedies?
      It is good to protest for it will keep rulers on their toes.

  • 4
    4

    Aragalaya threw the Rajapaksas out of power effectively. But they have managed to reassert themselves somewhat – using discredited Pohottuwa’s numbers in parliament and the interloper දුන්නොත් ගන්නං Ranil (dhunnoth gannang, I’ll take it if you give me). As such this government lacks legitimacy. They have no mandate to introduce a new constitution or pass the monstrous ATA. They should call elections and get ready to quit. Otherwise the people would be perfectly justified in relaunching Aragalaya and kicking them out once and for all.

  • 2
    1

    Yes protests should continue.

    System change is required.

    No turning back now.

    Politicians will have to do some thing tangible and lasting.

    This back door deal based politics with eye wash solutions to come to an end.

    Rejecting Ranil lock stock and barrel is a the first step in system change.

    The long term objective of the peoples struggle.

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