By Faadhila Thassim and Nabiya Vaffoor
Three Fundamental Rights (FR) Petitions were filed before the Supreme Court on Friday (9), by SJB MPs Harshana Rajakaruna, Ranjith Maddumabandara and Mayantha Dissanayake, challenging the arrest of protesters.
They stated that a press release issued by the Police Media Division stating that all protests, public gatherings and other such activities have been banned until further notice, is an infringement of Fundamental Rights guaranteed under Articles 12(1) and/or 13 and/or 14(1)(a) and/or 14(1)(b) and/or 14(1)(c) of the Constitution.
They stated that according to the terms of Section 90 of the gazetted regulations dated 15 October 2020, bearing No. 2,197/25 issued by the Minister of Health, Pavithra Devi Wanniaarachchi, every person in a public place or every person in any other place, where such person may come into close contact with another person, should wear a face mask at all times, and maintain social distancing of not less than one metre between two persons adding that thereby the only regulation issued and gazetted by Wanniaarachchi with regards to ‘public places’ is that persons wear a face mask at all times and maintain social distancing of not less than one metre.
It was stated that this ban was imposed based on guidelines issued by Director General of Health Services, Dr. Asela Gunawardena, adding that however, this would be illegal and discriminatory while it infringes the fundamental rights of the public.
The Petition further stated that Gunawardena does not have the right to issue such guidelines pertaining to the conditions to be adhered to in public places and that the purported guidelines have not been gazetted and are vague. They stated that thereby the authorities under the purview of the Inspector General of Police, C.D. Wickremaratne and all those acting under him are using the illegal press statements to quell public agitation and peaceful protests that adhere to all health guidelines issued and gazetted by the Minister of Health.
After submitting the petitions, Maddumabandara said, “The Bars, Spas and Hotels have been permitted to reopen. But the Government opposes the protests which were held adhering to all the COVID-19 prevention guidelines.
The Government is using those guidelines to suppress anti-Government movements. The incumbent Government issues circulars violating freedom of speech and right to protest of the people. Now the Police are violating the circulars which were issued by the Director General of Health claiming that they also have the power to direct individuals to quarantines.” Rajakaruna noted that the Police should remember that their duty is to protect the public and carry out their duties according to the Constitution of Sri Lanka. However, the Police have started carrying out the Government’s propaganda now, he alleged.