Early warning of attempts to arrest SJB frontliner Harin Fernando, who has since been admitted to hospital has raised the alarm about plans by President Nandasena Gotabaya Rajapaksa to make a spate of arrests of key opposition lawmakers.
Fernando was summoned to the CID and about to be arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and slapped with a 90 day detention order that would deny him an opportunity to get bail or have access to legal counsel.
The list of parliamentarians already singled out for legal action is long. Rishard Bathiudeen became the Government’s latest target last week, but strong opposition orators Rajitha Senaratne, Champika Ranawaka, Azath Salley have already been arrested and are facing prosecution. Salley and Bathiudeen have both been arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, like Hejaaz Hizbullah who has been incarcerated for over a year under the draconian anti-terror law.
Colombo Telegraph learns that plans are afoot to take action against JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake, Manusha Nanayakkara and at least one Tamil lawmaker in a bid to silence critical voices in Parliament.
Sources told Colombo Telegraph that a series of explosive speeches in Parliament had irked President Gotabaya Rajapaksa who has expedited plans for sweeping legal action to end the barrage of criticism against his regime by these popular politicians.
Dissanayake, M.A. Sumanthiran, Bathiudeen, Fernando and others were sharply critical of the Government in Parliament last weeks and in the weeks preceding, as the reports on the Presidential Commissions on the Easter Sunday attacks and political victimization came up for heated debate. Many of those speeches have been widely circulated on social media, online news sites and messaging apps.
Sri Lanka is in the grip of a tight media clampdown on news unfavourable to the Government while media powerhouses aligned with the Nandasena Regime continue to prop up a ruling party that is flailing and failing in the face of massive economic and public health crises. The Government has already drafted laws to crackdown on so-called “fake news” on social media experts say will post huge security risks for citizens exercising free expression on these web-based mediums.
“Under these circumstances, Parliament is quite literally the last place standing, where courageous opposition MPs can exercise parliamentary privilege to expose the Government’s misdeeds,” opposition activists alarmed by the President’s latest moves told Colombo Telegraph.
Members of Parliament cannot be arrested for statements made on the floor of the House, where they exercise powers under the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Act.
“The fact that MPs stop themselves from exposing certain things at press conferences and other public forums, and wait to make these speeches in Parliament itself tells you the kind of repression that is ongoing in Sri Lanka right now. But it appears as if President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is about to break that tradition too, and is ready to arrest opposition MPs for speaking in the House, in complete violation of the Act. This way, he will secure a completely pliant Parliament, where he holds a super majority to pass any law” the activist warned.
This week the National Movement for Social Justice, once led by Maduluwawe Sobitha Thero expressed horror and outrage over the moves to arrest parliamentarians for exercising parliamentary privilege and speaking on the floor of the House.
“If these illiberal policies continue, Sri Lanka risks further isolating itself on the world stage. We cannot face these affronts to the sovereignty of our country and our fundamental democratic traditions in isolation. These challenges can only be overcome if all Lankans who value their freedom and liberty join hands and unitedly face this threat,” the NMSJ urged. (By Chinthika De Silva)