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Sri Lanka: Protests In Katunayake Free Trade Zone

Categories: South Asia, Sri Lanka, Human Rights, Protest

Earlier this month clashes at the Katunayake Free Trade Zone (FTZ) in Sri Lanka between protesting workers and police claimed life of an young worker and injured over 200 workers and policemen [1]. The FTZ workers were protesting against the Sri Lanka government's proposed Private Pension Scheme.

Katunayake FTZ manufactures around [2] 30% of export products, most are involved in the garment industry, one of Sri Lanka’s top three foreign exchange sources. After the clashes the FTZ remained closed for 2 days resulting in huge loss.


Protest against the Police attack against the unarmed workers at FTZ in front of Railway Station in Colombo (01 June) – Organized by Trade Union Alliance. Image from Flickr by Vikalpasl. CC BY – NC

Rasika Jayakody notes [4] at Groundviews:

“Apart from this tragic death, this brutal police attack against Free Trade Zone workers left more than 200 people injured. On Monday evening, Ragama and Negombo hospitals were flooded with injured protesters. It is, undoubtedly, one of the brutal crackdowns in recent history. There are several video footages which clearly show the barbaric and inhuman manner that some police officers carried out attacks against unarmed protesters.”

Groundviews posts [5] some videos (by Vikalpa [6]) of the protests on Thursday, which occurred after the police killed 21 year old FTZ worker Roshan Chanaka. Here is one:

Srilankan Inspector General of Police (IGP) Mahinda Balasuirya resigned [7] after the incident and two police officers who escalated the clash were arrested [8]. A presidential inquiry was initiated.

On the next day hundreds of Buddhist monks came out [9] for the first time to protest against the killing outside the President’s house.

Blogger Serendipity questions [10]:

Who ordered live bullets? who ordered iron bars? why were trained riot police not used? and why was water cannon not brought in?

It is also surprising that no Employer of the FTZ has come out to protest, which I can only presume to be the govt. has bought their silence by implying that ‘if you go against us we will find a means to make it difficult for you’, fear psychosis!

So what does this protest mean for Sri Lanka? Rasika Jayakody explains [4]:

This particular protest, done by Free Trade Zone workers in Katunayake, has given an unexpected shock therapy to the ‘big shots’ of the government who are intoxicated with power and high-handedness. It has sent them a clear-cut message about people’s agitation towards their snobbish political behavior.