This post was first published in Groundviews, an award-winning citizen media website in Sri Lanka. An edited version is published here as part of a content-sharing agreement with Global Voices.
After 30 days of peaceful protests, the Rajapaksa regime unleashed its thugs on the protesters outside the residence of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa at Temple Trees in Colombo on Monday, May 9, 2022. After demolishing the tents and assaulting the people gathered there, the thugs proceeded to Galle Face where they destroyed the tents at GotaGoGama including the medical tent and the library, as police watched. “Gota Go Gama” means “Gota Go Village” in Sinhala, and it has been set up (similar to other occupy movements) like a small village providing food, toilets and free emergency medical services for the protesters occupying the space demanding president Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his family members resign from key government positions.
Finally, the police began to disperse the attackers with water cannons and tear gas. Riot police were called in to control the situation as lawyers and office workers came out to protect the protesters. A countrywide curfew has been imposed.
People were already getting together to rebuild GotaGoGama from the ruins.
Condemnation of the attacks on the peaceful protesters came in immediately. Amnesty International said:
Sri Lanka: The state has a duty to create an enabling environment for peaceful assembly and freedom of expression. As such, it must take necessary, reasonable and proportionate measures to de-escalate the violence at peaceful protest sites, to protect the right to protest of those who have been peacefully agitating for one month. Amidst reports of injuries sustained by peaceful protestors and of inadequate protection provided by police to guarantee the right to protest, the State must ensure prompt, fair investigations and bring those responsible for such violence to justice.
Television channels live-streamed graphic footage of the destruction and the brutal attacks on unarmed people by thugs carrying metal poles. Several people have been hospitalised.
“The use of pro-govt thugs to attack peaceful protestors was always one of the more likely ways the Rajapaksa government would try to cling to power – despite virtually the whole country wants them gone. This changes the political dynamic in major and dangerous ways,” warned Alan Keenan from the International Crisis Group.
Dr Asanga Welikala, Lecturer in Public Law at the University of Edinburgh, tweeted:
The Rajapaksas are fascists, the SLPP is a fascist party. Their instincts are always violent, their endgame is always the control of the state. Some should think again if political agreements, interim governments, and above all, constitutional change can be done with fascists.
— Asanga Welikala (@welikalaa) May 9, 2022
Former cricketing star Mahela Jayawardene condemned the attacks on the peaceful protesters:
These thugs was assembled at prime minister’s official residence this morning and walked in numbers to assault innocent peaceful anti government protesters.. how can this happen ? Police and others just watching this 😢😢 https://t.co/XnSzE0sIDu
— Mahela Jayawardena (@MahelaJay) May 9, 2022
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa tweeted:
Strongly condemn the violent acts taking place by those inciting & participating,irrespective of political allegiances. Violence won’t solve the current problems.
I request all citizens to remain calm & exercise restraint. I urge everyone to work together in solving this crisis
— Gotabaya Rajapaksa (@GotabayaR) May 9, 2022
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was expected to resign on May 9, 2022, but instead brought busloads of his supporters to plead with him to stay on, tweeted:
While emotions are running high in #lka, I urge our general public to exercise restraint & remember that violence only begets violence. The economic crisis we're in needs an economic solution which this administration is committed to resolving.
— Mahinda Rajapaksa (@PresRajapaksa) May 9, 2022
To which cricket celebrity Kumar Sangakkara replied:
The only violence was perpetrated by your “supporters” – goons and thugs who came to your office first before going on to assault the peaceful protestors. https://t.co/MxrCgcenEl
— Kumar Sangakkara (@KumarSanga2) May 9, 2022
Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa warned:
Every single time the Rajapaksa’s take the back alley instead of the high road. Violence, Emergency laws and fake followers will not stop the momentum of change. Expect serious repercussions if any peaceful protestors or media are harmed. https://t.co/gGmnAvSYxg
— Sajith Premadasa (@sajithpremadasa) May 9, 2022
The Bar Association of Sri Lanka called on the IGP and the police to take immediate action to prevent the protesters from being attacked. “There will be grave repercussions to the Government, the IGP and the police if they fail to take action to deal with this situation,” the Bar Association said.
Former speaker Karu Jayasuriya asked:
These thugs of the regime who attacked the peaceful protestors came to the Prime Minister's residence on his invitation, and walked miles beating unarmed civilians. What was the police doing all that time? Is this what the President declared emergency regulations for?
— Karu Jayasuriya (@KaruOnline) May 9, 2022
US Ambassador Julie Chung said:
We condemn the violence against peaceful protestors today, and call on the government to conduct a full investigation, including the arrest & prosecution of anyone who incited violence. Our sympathies are with those injured today and we urge calm and restraint across the island.
— Ambassador Julie Chung (@USAmbSL) May 9, 2022
British High Commissioner Sarah Hulton said:
Strongly condemn the violence against peaceful protestors today. The authorities have a responsibility to safeguard citizens’ rights to protest peacefully and to hold the perpetrators of violence to account.
— Sarah Hulton OBE (@SarahHultonFCDO) May 9, 2022
Dr. Sanjana Hattotuwa, founding editor of Groundviews tweeted:
Trending memes right now suggest GGG 2.0 is going to be stronger, more networked, more diverse, and bigger. Today's violence clearest indication Rajapaksas just don't get it. You can't shoot, kill, tear gas away this protest. pic.twitter.com/GcL9jvGxnt
— Dr. Sanjana Hattotuwa (@sanjanah) May 9, 2022
After being hit, enraged anti-government protesters chased down dozens of people who attacked them and pushed them into the Beira Lake near the prime minister’s official residence. A former minister's car was also toppled into the lake.
All government and private sector trade unions, including port, railway and postal workers jointly decided to call a general strike immediately to protest the brutal attack on peaceful protesters carried out by the supporters of the Rajapaksa regime.
Here is a reaction of human rights lawyer and researcher Bhavani Fonseka:
— Groundviews (@groundviews) May 9, 2022
This interview shows the reaction of Ambika Satkunanathan, former commissioner of the Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission:
— Groundviews (@groundviews) May 9, 2022
As per the latest news reports, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned on May 9, 2022.
On the night of Monday May 9, 2020, mobs burnt down over 38 houses and damaged 65 houses belonging to the ruling Rajapaksa family and its ministers and members of parliament. Since Monday, at least 8 people died and over 232 were injured in sporadic clashes.
On May 10 morning, the Sri Lankan army evacuated former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and his family to a safe location. Meanwhile, Mahinda Yapa Abeywardana, the speaker of the Sri Lankan Parliament, asked President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to summon parliament immediately.