Sunday, June 23, 2024

An open letter to US Ambassador Julie J. Chung

You are mindful no doubt that there are no office hours for arrests of wrongdoers and the Police and armed forces have the legal right enforce the law night or day

Dear Madam Ambassador,
On April 2, 2022 you tweeted “Sri Lankans have a right to protest peacefully–essential for democratic expression. I am watching the situation closely, and hope the coming days bring restraint from all sides, as well as much needed economic stability and relief for those suffering”

 Salutary words Madam. Neither the then incumbent President, the opposition, the Aragalaya or anti Aragalaya forces nor the members of the ordinary general public to which I belong, tweeted, face booked, instagrammed any objection to this rational and admirable point of view and justifiably so.

When you declared that Sri Lankans have a right to protest peacefully we presume that right to peaceful protests you condone are those that are truly peaceful, held in a manner where no laws are flouted. We presume you would not condone any protests, where protesters occupy state property and refuse to vacate the premises forthwith, when court orders are issued, directing them to do so. A protest, based on the upholding of democracy and eradication of corruption, must practice what they preach and violate no laws themselves. A protest engaged in defacing public and private property in the name of democracy, a protest with slogans violating the constitution of our country cannot be defined as a peaceful protest by any means!

As you were watching the situation closely in Sri Lanka, you would have no doubt observed the repeated requests from the government, the police and court orders to vacate state owned property, that were being scorned by the protesters. They in fact treated the police with jest and ordered them to leave the area occupied by them when the police visited the area to deliver notice of court orders and advice them on the offences, as seen in the video clips circulating on social media. The “peaceful protesters” did not vacate the Presidential Secretariat premises on the 20th July 2022; which they were unlawfully and illegally occupying from 09th July 2022 – committing the offence of criminal trespass, an offence recognised by the Penal Code. No law enforcement authority is obliged to consent to the protesters’ stance that they will vacate in the near future. You will appreciate that they could not have awaited for auspicious times to vacate a premises illegally occupied and must do so forthwith when they are duly noticed to vacate, as every moment they occupied state property is considered as acting in violation of the law of this land. The law should be applied equally to all. The definition of criminal trespass cannot vary exclusively for aragalaya protesters. If Aragalaya protesters are exempted from the charge of criminal trespass, then the same exemption should apply to all accused presently prosecuted for criminal trespass throughout the country. 

You are mindful no doubt that there are no office hours for arrests of wrongdoers and the Police and armed forces have the legal right enforce the law night or day. 

In your wisdom you would have drawn parallels with the law and order in your own country and assessed how your own law enforcement agencies would have handled a similar situation where protesters are trespassing on state property. You would have recalled the manner in which your own forces treated those who stormed the haloed capital building of the land of the free and home of the brave. There are many clips on You Tube for you to watch how the US law enforcement reactz to protesters be it, storming the capitol building or engaging in street protests. Did they handle the protesters with kid gloves? Did you issue statements and criticise your own government for using force on protesters by your own forces? I wonder whether there is a single country on earth, which had not exercised minimum force when evicting trespassers from state property?  A country where those illegally occupying state property are given red carpet royal treatment to vacate!

No one in Sri Lanka will condone violence. Our multi religious society does not propagate violence. However, at times for the greater good of the nation, the exercise of minimum force becomes the need of the hour. The clearing of the Presidential Secretariat of the Aragalaya Protesters must be assessed against the detrimental impact their behaviour was having on the stability of the country both economic and social, and you will agree it cannot be equated to unsolicited, illegal use of excessive force. 

Madam Ambassador, you must be aware, on that fateful day of 9th July 2022, when the Aragalaya protesters stormed the President’s House, the Prime Minister’s official residence was destroyed. The private residence of the Prime Minister of the country was trespassed and destructed. Acts of hooliganism were shown repeatedly in the global media; resulting in irreparable loss and damage to the Sri Lankan economy. We are a country predominantly based on an export market and we are at present losing a large number of overseas orders and investors due to our inability to maintain law and order. Who would give orders to a country which cannot guarantee secure delivery? Who would invest in a country where the safety of their investment is in doubt! The State must protect and secure their own state property first in order to guarantee safety and security to its investors and its citizens. 

As a person who wished for much needed economic stability and relief for those suffering, you should applaud that the State took right royal steps to clear the Presidential Secretariat of trespassers, which was the need of the hour to bring stability. You would have noted that the GotagoGama on Galle Face which is a recreational area for the public is very much in tact and the law enforcement agencies confined their operations to clearing the premises of the Presidential Secretariat. Having visited your country and observing the level of high security, surrounding the public areas near the white house and the state buildings, it is apparent your own country does not risk or tolerate any invasion of state property.  

As such as a ordinary citizen of Sri Lanka, I implore you to be circumspect and fair in your tweets, by assessing all facets of the issue and refrain from unfairly demonising the necessary action the State implemented on July 9, 2022 to clear the all important Presidential Secretariat of trespassers !
Citizen Jane

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