A few thoughts on yesterday’s protest of families of the disappeared held in Jaffna,
On Friday morning (15/11/2013) at around 10.30am approximately 100-150 family members of the disappeared along with Christian clergy and activists gathered at Nalloor Temple premises in Jaffna. Among the politicians present were Mr. Gajen Ponnambalam, Mr. Kajendran, Mr. Saravanapavan, Ms. Ananthy Sasitharan, Mr. Sivasakthi Ananthan, Mr. Sidharthan, Mr. Sivajilingam and several newly elected Provincial Council members. Mr. Sampanthan, Mr. Maavai Senathirajah and Mr. Adaikkalanathan arrived later. Mr. Senathirajah thereafter left for the Valikaamam protests while Mr. Sampanthan left, I assume, for his meeting with the PM.
Emotions were understandably high by the time the crowd staged a sit- in at the entrance to the Library and blocked its entrance just after 3pm. It was only on the previous day that they had been prevented from travelling to Colombo by the SLA for the Samagi Human Rights festival. On Friday morning a police application banning protests in Jaffna was overturned after an intervention by Attorney- at- law Thirukkumaran. There was a high presence of military intelligence officials with one lady even sitting among the families (she was sent away after her bona fides were questioned by Ms. Sasitharan and was later seen speaking to police personnel). At around 11.30am, family members proceeded to the Muniyappar Kovil in the vicinity of Library, where they waited for close to 2 hours for the Prime Minister’s arrival. At 1.15pm, after sighting a helicopter which was thought to be carrying the Prime Minister (we later learnt it carried media personnel) there was an ad- hoc procession to the entrance of Duraippah Stadium in an attempt to grab his attention. The vans which carried these personnel were surrounded by the mothers in an attempt to grab their attention. We later returned to the Muniyappar Koyil and waited a further while. At 1.40pm we proceeded to the vicinity of the Jaffna Public Library and the families lined up along the street for a further hour. A van which arrived with around 10 youth was packed off by Mr. Sivajilingam and other activists. At around 2.40 pm it was decided that we proceed towards the library. A police truck had been stationed across the road and there was considerable police presence.
It was around this time that Jon Snow of Channel 4 joined proceedings. He was soon mobbed by the families who handed him documents containing details of their family members who had disappeared. At 2.50pm, after Snow had left, arguments broke out (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VvF0AhmLW-Y) after police refused to allow the families to proceed towards the library. At 3.10pm after an immense struggle the police relented, the security cordon was breached and the families, clergy and activists ran towards the library. Mothers were shoved back by the police and clergy were manhandled, with one priest being stamped on after he fell to the ground.
A short while later, just opposite the library, two buses containing media personnel were surrounded (https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10151740761285163 and https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/david-cameron-mobbed-by-protester-on-sri-lanka-trip/). After the buses left, the families staged a sit- in opposite the library in the hope that a dignitary would stop by to listen to their desperate pleas.
It was at this point, at around 3.20pm, that the vehicle carrying Mr. Sampanthan proceeded towards the gates of the library and towards the families, who, for two days straight, had been refused any avenue for their concerns to be heard. After the vehicle was surrounded and its doors opened, it immediately reversed back into the library. We later learnt that Mr. Sampanthan had left via another exit (From my position in the 3rd/4th row of the crowd I felt Mr. S was actually attempting to alight from the vehicle and the decision to retreat was made by the MSD personnel seated in front. But I could be wrong).
None who had gathered were pleased by the developments and their displeasure at Mr. S’s exit was expressed in no uncertain terms. I personally felt Mr. S could have come back and spoken to the families and activists who had braved sun and rain for close to 6 hours that day.