On the fifth of April this year falls the 50th anniversary of the first JVP insurrection, an event that shook our country as never before or since. During the course of 2021 we hope to retrieve from our archives, and place in the public domain, some of our hitherto unpublished documents of that time. For now, to revive older memories and inform younger ones, we list some relevant dates of that extraordinary decade.
13 May 1970 – General election results in United Front (UF) coming to power under premiership of Sirima R.D. Bandaranaike. The coalition is heavily dominated by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) but also comprises two left parties, the Lanka Samasamaja Party (LSSP) and the Communist Party (CP), J.R. Jayewardene is Leader of the Opposition.
July, 1970 – Members of Parliament form a Constituent Assembly, process of drafting new Constitution begins.
26 October 1970 – Constitutional Amendment to abolish the Senate introduced.
13 March 1971 – Rohana Wijeweera, leader of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP/Peoples’ Liberation Front), arrested.
16 March 1971 – Emergency declared. Wijeweera continues to be detained, now under emergency regulations.
5 April 1971 – An insurrection, mainly of rural youth, led by the JVP, breaks out in the form of simultaneous attacks on some 74 police stations in various parts of the country. (Another 18 are attacked in the next few days.) 35 police areas temporarily fall almost totally under insurgent control. The insurrection is speedily suppressed with considerable ruthlessness, and in its immediate aftermath some 16,000 persons are arrested and held under emergency powers.
14, 15 May 1971 – In last session of the Senate before its abolition, independent member S. Nadesan QC makes the first notable public speech on the April insurrection.
21 May 1971 – Bill to abolish Senate passed.
September 1971 – First Amnesty International Mission to Sri Lanka. (Report published March 1972).
4 & 5 April 1972 – Act creating Criminal Justice Commissions to try insurgent suspects debated and passed.
22 May 1972 – New Constitution adopted. “Ceylon” becomes “Sri Lanka”, a Republic.
12 June 1972 – Trial, under Criminal Justice Commissions Act, of alleged leaders of the April 1971 insurrection, begins. Commission consists of Chief Justice H.N.G. Fernando (Chair) and four others.
20 December 1974 – After two and a half years above inquiry ends with Criminal Justice Commission delivering its decision. Some including Wijeweera sentenced to imprisonment, some given suspended sentences, some acquitted. Trials of numerous other groups on a regional basis continue.
15/16? February 1977 – By this time the ruling coalition has broken up. Emergency, which had commenced in 1971, lapses. Result is persons held under emergency regulations are released. The proscription of the JVP automatically lapses, though members serving prison sentences remain in jail. Lapse of proscription enables JVP to take part in general election.
21 July 1977 – General election results in UNP coming to power under premiership of J.R. Jayewardene. Leader of the Opposition is A.Amirthalingam of Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), it having 17 seats as against the SLFP’s eight.
4 October 1977 – Amendment to the 1972 Constitution, creating an executive presidency, passed.
2 November 1977 – Pardon announced for all persons serving sentence under the Criminal Justice Commissions Act, and they are released. This includes Rohana Wijeweera and other JVP leaders.
Around this time; Criminal Justice Commissions Act repealed.
*The above is drawn from the publication 21 YEARS OF CRM: An annotated list of documents of the Civil Rights Movement of Sri Lanka 1971-1992, compiled by Manel Fonseka and Suriya Wickremasinghe, Colombo: CRM, 1993
**Suriya Wickremasinghe – Secretary, Civil Rights Movement – 3 April 2021