Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka declares state of emergency amid unrest; empowers military to arrest and imprison suspects for long periods without trial

Friday, a day after hundreds tried to storm the president’s home, the island nation declared a state of emergency. Sri Lanka President Gotabaya Rajapaksa issued a Gazette Extraordinary declaring the public emergency in Sri Lanka with effect from April 1, 2022, according to local media reports.

President Gotabaya issued the gazette under the Public Security Ordinance, which gives him power to make regulations “in the interests of public security, the protection of public order and the maintenance of supplies and services essential to the life of the community”.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa invoked the tough laws on Friday allowing the military to arrest and imprison suspects for long periods without trial as demonstrations calling for his resignation spread across the South Asian nation.

The emergency was declared for “protection of public order and the maintenance of supplies and services essential to the life of the community”, he said in a proclamation.

Under the emergency regulations, the president can authorise detentions, taking possession of any property and search any premises. He can also change or suspend any law.

Meanwhile, senior DIG Ajith Rohana said a police curfew was imposed within the Western Province from midnight to 6 am Saturday, as per reports. There are also calls for an island-wide public protest on Sunday.

On Thursday night, hundreds of protesters clashed with police for several hours as anger against Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa’s handling of a deepening economic crisis spiralled into violence. A severe shortage of foreign currency has left Rajapaksa’s government unable to pay for essential imports, including fuel, leading to debilitating power cuts lasting up to 13 hours.

Earlier in the evening, dozens of rights activists carried handwritten placards and oil lamps in the capital while demonstrating at a busy intersection.

“Time to quit Rajapaksas,” said one placard. “No more corruption, go home Gota,” said another – referring to the president.

In the highland town of Nuwara Eliya, activists blocked the opening of a flower exhibition by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s wife, Shiranthi, police said.

The southern towns of Galle, Matara and Moratuwa also saw anti-government protests, and similar demonstrations were reported in the northern and central regions. All held up traffic on main roads.

‘Intelligence failure’

Two government ministers said a major intelligence failure had placed the lives of the president and his wife in danger on Thursday.

“Both the president and his wife were at their home when the protests were going on,” health minister Keheliya Rambukwella told reporters in Colombo, discounting earlier claims that they were away at the time.

“We had information of a demonstration, but nothing suggesting that it could turn violent. This is a major intelligence failure.”

Transport minister Dilum Amunugama said “terrorists” were behind the unrest.

Rajapaksa’s office said Friday that the protesters wanted to create an “Arab Spring” – a reference to anti-government protests in response to corruption and economic stagnation that gripped the Middle East more than 10 years ago.

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