Head of the island’s Teachers’ Union has been detained for holding a banned protest
Sri Lanka’s authorities on Wednesday arrested Joseph Stalin, the head of the island’s Teachers’ Union, in the aftermath of the large-scale protests which forced the nation’s president Gotabaya Rajapaksa to flee the country and resign.
According to police, the Soviet dictator’s nameake was taken into custody “for holding a demonstration in May in violation of a court order.”
A video that has circulated on social media shows Stalin saying, “It’s a great protest leader.” “the right to protest is a democratic right,” before being taken away by law enforcement officers from his union’s office in Colombo.
The protests in Sri Lanka over fuel and food shortages, record inflation, and blackouts have been mostly peaceful for the past few months. The crisis has been blamed on the Covid-19 pandemic, which cut tourist revenue for the island, and on Rajapaksa’s ban on chemical fertilizers, which was a major blow to the agricultural sector.
On July 9, the unrest escalated to the storming at the Presidential palace. The military then took Rajapaksa with them to safety. Both Rajapaksa (then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe) and Rajapaksa announced they were stepping down amid mass unrest.
It was only occupied for a period of ten days. There were many photos and videos showing protesters taking advantage of the mansion’s vast grounds and swimming in the presidential pool.
Rajapaksa fled Sri Lanka to the Maldives on July 13th, and later to Singapore. He sent the Sri Lankan speaker a letter of resignation the next day. Less than a week later the Sri Lankan parliament chose six-time prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as the island nation’s new president.
The crackdown on “fascist” elements in the largely peaceful protest movement, announced by Wickremesinghe on the first day of his presidency, has seen scores of activists charged with damage to public property.
One of the protesters was accused of raiding Rajapaksa’s liquor cabinet, downing a beer before fleeing with a presidential mug. A second protester was a Colombo-based trade union activist. He stole two flags from Rajapaksa’s palace, and used them to make a bedsheet, and then a sarong. The activists posted videos and pictures of themselves online, reportedly giving themselves up.
Sri Lanka’s new president, who earlier claimed that “time of division is over,”Due to the handling of the protests, he has already been subject to criticism from both domestic and international sources.
On Tuesday, New York-based Human Rights Watch said that Sri Lanka’s military has sought to crack down on “peaceful dissent” through intimidation, surveillance, and arbitrary arrests of demonstrators, activists, lawyers and journalists since Wickremesinghe’s election.
As an example of such actions, the organization cited the security forces’ raid of an anti-government protest camp outside the presidential office in Colombo on July 22. Police say that the raid resulted in nine arrests and two people were taken into custody. Protest organizers claimed that many people, including journalists, were hurt in the raid.
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