By Lakmali Hemachandra –
“History tells us that many of the fundamental rights we enjoy today were obtained after generations before us engaged in sustained protests in the streets: the prohibition against child labor, steps toward racial equality, women’s suffrage – to name just a few – were each accomplished with the help of public expression of these demands. If freedom of expression is the grievance system of democracies, the right to protest and peaceful assembly is democracy’s megaphone. It is the tool of the poor and the marginalized – those who do not have ready access to the levers of power and influence, those who need to take to the streets to make their voices heard.” – “Take back the streets” Repression and Criminalization of protest around the world October 2013
The Constitution of Sri Lanka declares that ‘We’ the people are sovereign, that the people’s sovereign executive power will be exercised through the office of Executive Presidency, people’s legislative power will be exercised through the Parliament and the sovereign judiciary power of the people is to be exercised through courts and tribunals constituted by the Parliament. We the people are very important it would seem when one reads the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. However, that is not the story that we hear from the Courts appointed by we the people’s sovereign powers, the courts are singing a different tune these days and it says that we the people are in fact criminals, that We the people do not have the right to dissent and protest using the roads built by the We the people’s money, because We are a danger to public property and public order.
This is the official reason given by the Police in applying for injunction orders against mass protests by students, that they are obstructing public order, creating public nuisance and posing probable threats to public property. Some of the bail conditions issued by the Courts in fact ban student activists from organizing and taking part in protests. Magistrate courts, including the Mahara Magistrate Court that issued an injunction order against the IUSF student protest march on 19th of March and later on arrested 14 student activists, have issued many an injunction orders to protect this ‘public’ from the ghastly nuisance of students and other dissenters. The public should be very safe in the hands of the police and the Magistrates, the way they issue order after order to protect the interests of the public.
However, what is happening in reality is that in the guise of public order and public nuisance, the very rights of the people, the supposedly sovereign people, are being violated by the institutions whose primary responsibility is to protect them. People are rapidly being converted into criminals. It is important for everyone to understand what this trend of criminalization of dissent is undermining and what the eventual outcome of these arbitrary and anti-people decisions would be. We the people are being usurped of our democratic rights, right under our noses. If we do not take action against it now, at the end of the tunnel we will lose all our democratic rights to engage in politics, to dissent and protest government policy. It is the very essence of democracy that the courts are restricting in the interest of the state, against the interest of the people.
Right to Dissent
People have the right to protest, against government policy that concerns them. People are the ingredients of a country, a society, therefore it is their right to know what is happening to them, what the outcomes of government policy means for them and it is their right to protest such policy if they believe that these policies are not in the interest of the people, that they serve the interests of a privileged crowd.
The question then arises how can the people express this dissent?
If you know the President or the Minister whose plans are in violation of your rights then of course you can personally inform them. If you are rich and your money is important for these important elected representatives of the sovereign people to run their election campaigns and prolong their stay in power, then you have better chances of having your way, of changing certain decisions. The most recent example of this is the reversal on the Round up Ban. People had to die in thousands for the President to ban Round up, a Monsanto pesticide that is linked to the kidney disease that killed more than 20000 people in the North Central Province. However, the pesticide companies did not need to protest along the streets of Colombo to reverse that ban. Unlike the suspensions on Rajarata studens activists, Round up ban was lifted, without the slightest reluctance, in spite of medical opinion and research that linked Round up to the deaths of thousands of people. Round up did not receive any injunction notice, from any Magistrate Court.
How can the people, the very people, who are being obstructed and whose property is damaged, express their dissent? How does the oppressed, the marginalized, the underprivileged who have no means, other than the power of the masses, express dissent? Protests, sit- ins, strike actions, these are the democratic weapons of the ordinary people. Therefore, when the government makes a policy decision to defund education, to privatize education, the students have the democratic right to protest it. When the four year degree they enrolled for is reduced to three years, halfway through the degree program, the students have the right to dissent, when the administrations are violating their right to unions, the students have the right to protest, when they are thrown out of the hostels, when the hostel fees are increased the students have the right to protest. Students have the right to protest and tell the government that they oppose these decisions, that they are violating the interests of the people.
These decisions have direct consequences for not only the students who are within the university system at the moment, but also for every student, every child in this country, whose right to education is being violated by the government, by the education policy of the government. The people have the right to say NO, when the policies are not in their interests.
Dissent as an expression of Democracy
Dissent, unlike consent, is a powerful expression of the will of the people. Politics of consent, like elections, make the people feel like mere onlookers; their votes are counted only at the last step of a long political process that consists of different politicians, spending large amounts of money to woo the people into voting for them. Politics of consent, excludes the people, from the policy making process, it transfers the power of the people to the hands of a few and decorates that process with big words like ‘sovereign legislative power of the people’. At the end of that process, people are left with no power at all to decide on the policy that is to be adopted by the representatives they have chosen.
President Mahinda Rajapakse in fact has vowed to protect and expand free education in, the Mahinda Chinthana. No politician ever claims on an election stage, that privatizing education is the government policy on education, that privatizing health service is in fact the government policy on healthcare. They run their election campaigns on entirely different policies and programs. The whole election process is like a black hole that absorbs the power of the people into the hands of a few powerful who are going to serve their interests and the interests of the rich.
Politics of dissent on the other hand, is the inverse of this process. Dissent arises out of the people against the policies of the governments who are using public money and public power to serve the interests of a few. Whereas elections transfer the power of the people into the hands of their fraudulent representative, protests, sit-ins, strike actions and hunger strikes bring that power back to the people. During the elections the roads are closed so that a few politicians can take the stage to address the audience of people in order to take their power. During a protest the roads are closed for the people to take to the streets to demand that they be heard. Protests and other expressions of dissent are tools of direct democracy, where people demand the audience of those in power.
Dissent, therefore forms the essence of democracy, the ultimate expression of the people’s power. One only needs to look into the history to understand, that it is through actions of direct democracy that people won their rights. It was only through mass movements that marginalized sections of the society like women and property less won the very right to vote at elections. Mass protests won the workers the eight our working day, the weekend, minimum wage and many other protections against the exploitation of their masters.
It is the duty of the courts to protect these democratic rights of the people to dissent, instead of colluding with the culprits in violating them. The real obstruction to public property lies in the destruction of the free education system and the free healthcare system. These are the true properties of the public. These are the public properties that should be protected by the Courts of the country. The real obstruction to public interest lies in the criminalization of dissent and the criminalization of grass root organizers and activists. The injunction orders issued by the courts, at the end of the day, are banning the people; the bail conditions are restricting the people, the political freedom of the people. The real nuisance to public lies in this criminalization of the people, this illegalization of the people and it is all done in the name of the people, through the exercise of the sovereign judicial power of the people!
JimSofty / March 31, 2014
Lakmali is out of mind.
Give every Sri Lankan citizen, whether they earn or not, a social security number and track them with that number. Make them earn every day what ever way they can in order to pay taxes. Then they don’t have time to talk about democracy. Instead, they talk and think about how to pay bills and taxes.
Create a NSA like organization which will monitor every phone call made by them; every email they sent; and every mouse click or every key they pushed in their key board.
Then all these BS politics will stop.
Amarasiri / March 31, 2014
You mean North Korea?
In North Korea, they have a Dead Man as head of State.
JimSofty / March 31, 2014
Yes, NSA is in North Korea.
Lasantha / March 31, 2014
Why don’t you go to North Korea with your family to settle down there.
They will be glad to give permanent residence and a Job in the military.
Please take your bag of “Polkudu” with you.
Javi / March 31, 2014
◕ NSA – Non-Standard Appearance (what a FLK grows into)
◕FLK – Funny Looking Kid (sometimes suggests rural inbreeding)
. (^o^) . ▂▂▂▂
Park / March 31, 2014
When the Chief Justice is a Cheap Justice at the beck and call of the President what can we civilians expect other than illegal – judgements. The appointment of the Cheap Justice was called illegal by the courts and after the appointment of the Cheap Justice this call was reversed. Where on earth can you find this type of justice? Only in Sri Lanka, are we truly Free Lanka? Never in the history of Sri Lanka there had been a supreme court bench which was so open in violating natural justice!
BBS Rep / March 31, 2014
Remember what Navi Pillay said, that Sri Lanka is moving more towards authoritarian rule. Well, muzzling protest is one of the parameters of measuring authoritarian rule. The Rajapaksa Clan have all the ingredients already in place with regards to authoritarian rule. Sri Lankan media is no longer independent. The judiciary is not independent. Police is not independent. Close connections with the criminal underworld. Close connection with highly bigoted Buddhist groups led by thuggish monks. Muzzling protest by the GOSL comes as no surprise to me.
Palayang yako! / April 2, 2014
One thing that can be said for the current regime is that it enables the Jim Nutty’s to emerge and for us to identify them for the time when they will be administered their just deserts!
Amarasiri / March 31, 2014
Dear Lakmali Hemachandra –
“History tells us that many of the fundamental rights we enjoy today were obtained after generations before us engaged in sustained protests in the streets: the prohibition against child labor, steps toward racial equality, women’s suffrage – to name just a few – were each accomplished with the help of public expression of these demands. If freedom of expression is the grievance system of democracies, the right to protest and peaceful assembly is democracy’s megaphone. It is the tool of the poor and the marginalized – those who do not have ready access to the levers of power and influence, those who need to take to the streets to make their voices heard.” – “Take back the streets” Repression and Criminalization of protest around the world October 2013″
Read the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
As for women, Read about the A,American Women who fought for the right to vote about 100 years ago, including Susan B Anthony.
Ram / March 31, 2014
” Read the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights. “
Well, it may be a good read, and probably was relevant some years ago, but your faith in them is misplaced. Remember those protesters during the Bush years, completely marginalised, the protesters against Wall street (Occupy movement) assaulted, reminicent of a police state and today the population is completely under surveillance, and that includes the Congressmen and the Senators. The TSA demonstates your freedoms at every opportunity. Press and media freedom, that’s another story. Who Owns News and Media Networks?
JimSofty / March 31, 2014
Only a dictator can govern Sri Lanka.
If not the governing party fails in Sri Lanka.
Javi / March 31, 2014
“Only a dictator can govern Sri Lanka.”
the poor fools who vote for them- broken wings!
Lasantha / March 31, 2014
We had “Andaraes” and “Mahadena Muttas” in our history, during kings era.
Also now we have a f….king in our top seat and not a dictator.
Hope you got your free Laptop and the duty free car.
Rohan / March 31, 2014
Does Sri Lanka have a governing party, outside Medamulana Family? In UPFA, the real SLFPers have no real power.
Javi / March 31, 2014
Spice Colony on Penal Colony run.
Some Wall street protesters are still in the missing list.USA|
soma / March 31, 2014
Looking at all these being out of the country, having lived on the west for the last 25years, I feel, current regime is every means a dictarian rule but showing the world only holding elections could polish the outer cover of their book as the role of an advert putting on CNN to promote the nation´s development. Had the general public given to grasp the reality through free media, nodoubt, high literate nation (over 92%) would vote for the opposition, since the change of current system is a must to every right thinking person.
They manipulate data, facts in accordance with stupid aims. It is almost hurting and even stir up the wounds not respecting the folks least. Below is one good example for that… but very same people would not able to make fools forever is my hope.
Unfair to compare with previous results: UPFA
SUNDAY, 30 MARCH 2014 21:29 E-mail Print
The ruling UPFA today said it was not fair to compare Saturday’s Provincial Council (PC) polls’ results with the 2009 results, to indicate that the UPFA had suffered a setback this time, UPFA’s election campaign manager Minister Dullas Alahapperuma said.
He added that the 2009 PC polls in the two provinces were held under the euphoria of the war victory and the opposition was then in tatters and extremely weak.
The Minister said the government was fully satisfied with the results of Saturday’s PC polls in the Western and Southern Provinces.
Opponents of the government were comparing Saturday’s PC polls results with that of 2009 and attempting to prove that this time’s election results were a setback to the government.
“This was a great victory for the government, as the voters have given a clear signal to those who campaigned virulently within the country and abroad to defeat the government at the elections. The voters have not heeded to the request of anti-government elements in the West and their local agents and have voted for the UPFA decisively,” Minister Alahapperuma said.
He further said the elections were held in the heat of the passing of the US-sponsored resolution in Geneva and the US-led campaign by the western countries as an initiative for a regime change. This had not happened and the voters had used their franchise wisely.
The opposition in 2009 was so weak that they were not in a position to present a manifesto in 2009 and it was a clean sweep for the government, he added.
Ajith / March 31, 2014
A brave lady tells the truth. It is not surprise that this truth is like venom for few of these who licks and in the regimes pay.
Desperateviews / March 31, 2014
I have been reading the comments and articles posted on to CT for the last 2 years. Most of them I found matched with those of my own. So, I have become a CT fan to this day.
But looking at the election results, I feel not signficant numbers are well informed about the ground realities of lanken politics.
Only a small percentage of the nation may follow/are accessed to facts and figures while others are deceived by state media again and again.
I thought JVP would have been given more power than they received – because their proved records- convinced almost every right thinking one that the change of current regime is inevitable.
I v taken back, but our struggle must go forward.
Jayantha / April 1, 2014
I think people are fed up of Self centered Rajapakse.
What Rajapakses do is to show a flourishing Sri Lanka to the locals as well as outside world, while the country is going down in economy as well as morally and socially.
But now their true nature is been realised and understood by the people and the International community.
Rajapakses spent colossal amount of Government resources as well as unlimited propaganda, gifting money and gifts to people,jobs to party members,contracts, influencing Media, judiciary, election commission and the Police, while intimidating the opposition candidates and their followers during their party rallies.
But with all that, they could not achieve their 2009 figurs. Minority parties such as JVP and DM (Gen.Fonseka) increased their vote base and won extra seats.
This shows people have rejected both Rajapakses and the main oposition UNP under Ranil Wickremasinghe.
Both UPFA and UNP should come out with new Presidential Candidates if they want to win next presidential election.
I hope Madam Chandrika will come as a common opposition candidate, while getting support from all the oposition parties.
But definitely this PC elections have drawn a Red line on Rajapakses.
Desperateviews / April 2, 2014
thanks for commenting on my views
just watching today ´s ” rathuira” I got to know that Keheliya goes on record saying that UNP has lost this time than any prvious times. One among the few callers raised the question as to why opposition´s voice is not passed to the voters adequately, even if together with JVP, UNP proved enough in their election speeches how much abuses the current regime has made sofar. Harin fernando pointed out clearly that the chances given on Opposition to raise their voice in current rule is very limited. I have no idea about this me being away from the country for the last 2 decades, but I believe what JVP and UNP have been doing is more than enough if the rulers safeguarded the democratic values of the public. It is said, that many of state channels spread only the fall of opposition.
Before the elections, I myself watched several youtube videos on political debates (SATANA, Balaya, Wada pitiya), many JVP, UNP candidates brought constructive arguments based on corruption,diverse abuses etc. They had even proof materials with them. Any right thinking that listened to them should have voted for the opposition, but to see the other way around in election results is very disappointing.
People like me would not get it easily, because we didnt live in the country. But those who live there, are convinced all the realities that opposition parties made further clear. Hope, people will work on this at least next time.
Desperateviews / April 2, 2014
did you know that only 10% of loans have been spent on all those development projects(airport, harbor, conference hall, theatre), but whereabouts of 90% remaining are not made clear to anyone yet. I think it is high time COPE and other bodies to react adequately. They also repeatedly say that crime investigations are initiated for each and every criminal case, but they keep away all the verdicts from public. I dont think that British govt will ever allow that british murder case to be ended in favour of president man (former pradesheya saba member).