Summary: After months of speculation, the Presidential election was officially announced for the 8th of January 2015, nearly two years ahead of schedule. The General Secretary of the ruling party, a very senior party stalwart and a Minister in the Rajapakse Presidency, was chosen by a coalition of opposition parties as the “joint opposition candidate”.
Repression of opposition politicians and their supporters began almost immediately. The temple of the leader of the Jathika Hela Urumaya, Ven, Athuraliye Rathana Thero, was surrounded by an angry mob days after the party announced it was quitting ministerial positions in the ruling coalition. A local council member of Sri Lanka’s main Opposition United National Party (UNP) was shot in the head during an attack on a vehicle convoy.
According to news reports, “intelligence and political operatives” operating under the direct command of President’s brothers, Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the Minister of Economic Development, Basil Rajapaksa, have been trying to woo grassroots Tamil members of the civic bodies in the North and East to the side of the ruling party. One such Civic member in North was given the option of crossing over to the ruling party if he wanted his son released from custody. In the North as well as in other parts of the country, Freedom of Expression was also under threat. Sri Lanka’s private television service providers blocked the common opposition candidate’s first TV interview on the 22nd of November.
Military intelligence personnel tried to threaten the Jaffna Press Club not to provide space for the political party Jaanatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), which had severely criticized the incumbent government and the President. A Tamil parliamentarian accused the Army of threatening and questioning Tamil journalists in the Northern province and compelling a training workshop for journalists that scheduled to be held in the Jaffna district to be cancelled. The ‘Aththa’ newspaper, a publication of the Communist Party of Sri Lanka was withdrawn from circulation and its newspaper office sealed on 7th of November by the Party high command. Ms. Mauri Inoka Jayasinghe, a mother who has been fighting for accountability and justice for her abducted and disappeared husband, Madushka Haris de Silva was herself abducted on 1st of November in Anuradhapuru town. She had been subjected to threats several times in the preceding months.
The group ‘Blue Brigade’, a political movement headed by president’s son MP Namal Rajapaksa, attacked students of Inter University Students Federation who were collecting signatures against privatization of education. As in the past, Military personnel ensured a severe crackdown on Tamils in the North and the East, during and in the lead up to “Heroes day”, the day of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and birthday of the of the LTTE leader Prabakaran, celebrated on the 27th and 26th of November respectively. On the 3rd of November, hand-written posters carrying death threats against the Jaffna University Teachers’ Association (JUTA) President and four student activists were found pasted in the vicinity of the university. Two ‘surveillance centers’ were reported to have been created near the University of Jaffna, with the primary task being to block activists and students from marking Heroes Day on 27th of November.
The University of Jaffna was officially closed from 26th of November to the 1st of December after the Sri Lankan Army stepped up its presence and pressure on the university community. Hundreds of heavily armed military personnel were reported to have taken full control of both entrances of the university and ordered all the students to vacate the university, including hostels. The Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) of the Police was reported to have ordered the security guards of Jaffna University to submit records of the lecturers and students, who were present inside the campus premises on Heroes Day on the 27th of November. The University administration was also instructed to comply with the TID to identify the students behind the move. On the same day, the Military was deployed in front of the destroyed Heroes memorial statue inside the University had also increased foot patrol and random road checks in the area.
Sri Lankan intelligence officers were reported as preparing to investigate “the Uthayan”, leading Tamil newspaper in the Northern Province, alleging that the newspaper had celebrated LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran’s birthday. ’Terrorist’ Investigation Division (TID) of the Police interrogated a young Tamil activist, for alleged possession of Tamil Eelam Heroes Day posters, and he was reported as arrested by soldiers on the night of the 25th of November. The Tamil National People’s Front’s (TNPF) office was surrounded by Sri Lankan military personnel on the afternoon of the 26th of November, with Intelligence officers stationed at the office door. On the 25th of November, Sri Lankan military intelligence chased away devotees who had gathered for a pooja at the Pi’l’laiyaar temple (Hindu) at Munnam-poadi-veddai in Moothoor West in Trincomalee district, alleging that the Tamil devotees had gathered to pay tribute to Tamil (LTTE) Heroes.
The soldiers smashed the pot in which the Saiva devotees were preparing ritual milk rice (Pongkal). Unidentified gunmen shot dead a man in Vellankulam in the Mannar district on the night of the 12th of November. The victim, 34 year old Naguleshwaran Krishnasuwamy, was reported to have been engaged in encouraging Tamils to submit evidence to the ongoing UN inquiry on Sri Lanka. Another reason cited by media for the killing was his refusal to meet Military intelligence officers demands to provide information about non-rehabilitated LTTE cadres or supporters in the region. Although Police had announced investigations into some of the incidents, there have been no updates on actual results and like in past, impunity appears to be order of the day. There is unlikely to be any investigation into abuses by the military.