2022 Sri Lankan protests

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2022 Sri Lankan protests
Part of the Sri Lankan economic crisis
Anti-government protest in Sri Lanka 2022.jpg
Sri Lankans protesting in front of the Presidential Secretariat in Colombo on 13 April
Date15 March 2022[1] – present
(5 months, 3 weeks and 1 day)
Location
Caused by
Goals
  • Resignation of Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the Rajapaksa administration
  • Draft a new constitution
MethodsPolitical demonstrations, Internet activism, rioting, strike action, protests
StatusOngoing
Parties to the civil conflict

Protesters and opposition organizations:

Lead figures
Largely unorganized and decentralized leadership
Casualties and losses
10 protesters dead,[a][5][6][7][8][9]
250+ injured[10][11]
600+ arrested[12]
MP Amarakeerthi Athukorala[13]
and his security officer killed[6]
Chairman A.V. Sarath Kumara killed[14]
1 policeman killed,[15]
24 injured[16]
10+ arrested including MP Sanath Nishantha, MP Milan Jayathilaka[17]

The 2022 Sri Lankan protests (Sinhala: අරගලය, romanized: Aragalaya, lit.'Struggle'), are ongoing[citation needed] mass protests which began in March 2022 against the government of Sri Lanka. The government has been criticized for mismanaging the Sri Lankan economy, which led to a subsequent economic crisis involving severe inflation, daily blackouts, and a shortage of fuel, domestic gas, and other essential goods. The main demand of the protesters has been the resignation of Gotabaya Rajapaksa and key officials from the Rajapaksa family.[10][18] Despite the involvement of several opposition parties, most protesters have considered themselves to be apolitical, and some have expressed discontent with the parliamentary opposition.[19] During the protests, protesters have chanted slogans such as "go home Gota" and "go home Rajapaksas".[20][21] The protests have been mainly caused by the general public,[22][23] with youths playing a major part by carrying out protests at Galle Face Green.[24][25][26][27]

The government has reacted to these protests with authoritarian actions, such as declaring a state of emergency, allowing the military to arrest civilians, imposing curfews, and restricting access to social media. The government has violated the law and the Sri Lankan constitution by attempting to suppress the protests.[28][29][30] The Sri Lankan diaspora has also begun demonstrations against the suppression of basic human rights in the country.[31][32] In April, the government's ban on social media was perceived to have backfired, with hashtags including #GoHomeGota and #GoGotaGo trending on Twitter in countries such as the United States, Singapore, and Germany. The government's ban was lifted later that day. The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka has condemned the measure and summoned officials responsible for the blocking and abuse of protesters.[33][34]

On 3 April, all 26 members of the Second Gotabaya Rajapaksa cabinet resigned with the exception of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa; critics said that the resignation was not valid as they did not follow constitutional protocol.[35][36][37] Several of the ministers who "resigned" were reinstated in different ministries the next day.[38] Chief government whip Johnston Fernando insisted that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa would not resign under any circumstances.[39] The protests, however, achieved the removal of officials and ministers including members of the Rajapaksa family and their close associates along with appointment of more qualified and veteran officials and the creation of the Advisory Group on Multilateral Engagement and Debt Sustainability.[40]

In July 2022, protesters occupied President's House in Colombo, causing Rajapaksa to flee and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to announce his own willingness to resign.[41] About a week later, Parliament elected Wickremesinghe as president, on 20 July.[42]

Background[edit]

Former Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa
Former Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa
Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe[b]

Since 2010, Sri Lanka has witnessed a sharp rise in foreign debt, reaching 42.6% of the country's GDP in 2019, owing money to multiple countries and institutions.[43][44] By February 2022, the country had only $2.31 billion left in its reserves, yet faces debt repayments of around $4 billion in 2022, which also includes a $1 billion international sovereign bond (ISB) maturing in July.[45] According to official data released by the Sri Lankan government, by the end of April 2022, ISBs accounted for almost half of the country's external debt, and with the Asian Development Bank (13%), Japan (10%) and China (10%) being among the other major lenders.[46][47]

Sri Lanka's economic crisis was further accelerated by global impacts including the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic-induced global recession since 2020, and Russo-Ukrainian war-induced global food and energy shortage and price hike since early 2022, along with an unsuccessful move to prohibit the use of synthetic fertilizer and pesticides—which contributed to a major decline in the yields of Sri Lanka's rice and tea industries (which are a staple food and major international export respectively).[48][49][50] The drop in tea production as a result of the fertilizer ban alone resulted in economic losses of around $425 million. The ban also contributed to a 20% drop in rice production within the first six months. As a result, Sri Lanka went from being self-sufficient in rice production to having to import rice at a cost of US$450 million.[51]

By 2021, the foreign debt had risen to 101% of the nation's GDP,[52] causing an economic crisis. The incumbent Government of Sri Lanka under president Gotabaya Rajapaksa made continuous cascading policy errors[53] resulting in a severe economic crisis for Sri Lanka. These included significant tax cuts that affected fiscal policies and reduced government revenue, intensifying the budget deficit as well as inflation.[54] To cover government spending, the Central Bank began printing money in record amounts, ignoring advice by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to stop doing so and instead increase interest rates and taxes while decreasing spending, as well as another IMF warning that continued money printing would lead to an economic implosion.[55]

The country pursued an economic policy that kept exports low and imports high, which depleted the country's foreign currency reserves. According to the government, Sri Lanka's tourist trade, a major source of foreign currency for the country, was affected by both the COVID-19 pandemic and a series of terrorist attacks in 2019 that scared off tourists.[56]

With brothers Basil Rajapaksa as finance minister and Mahinda Rajapaksa as prime minister, the sense of nepotism and mismanagement deepened among critics.[57] While members of the Rajapaksa family have been charged with corruption locally, authorities have failed to prove these charges in court. In 2021, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists released the Pandora Papers, which included Nirupama Rajapaksa, who had used offshore shell companies and trusts to secretly stash the family's wealth around the world. In 2022, as protests began growing in Sri Lanka, Jaliya Wickramasuriya, former Sri Lankan ambassador to the United States and Mexico, and a cousin of the Rajapaksa brothers, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court for defrauding $332,027 from the Sri Lankan government during the purchase of a new embassy building in 2013.[58][59] Government supporters and allies also began to blame the economic crisis on Basil Rajapaksa, who gained a reputation as "Mr. Ten Percent" due to his alleged commission from government contracts.[60][61] Additionally, despite being the finance minister, he did not attend parliament sessions during the economic crisis.[62] Udaya Gammanpila, the leader of the government-aligned Pivithuru Hela Urumaya, claimed that the party has no intention of re-electing a Rajapaksa, describing it as the end of the nepotism that has plagued Sri Lankan politics.[63]

Timeline[edit]

March[edit]

Initial protests began in early March with small candlelight vigils that spread countrywide with increasing numbers of attendees. As protests began to grow, government MPs refused to acknowledge them, causing a rapid growth in unorganized, non-partisan protests, where hundreds of citizens would gather after work to protest.[64]

On 15 March, tens of thousands of supporters of the largest opposition party, the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) led by Sajith Premadasa, carried out protests in front of the President's office, demanding that the President resign.[65] On 30 March, Mahinda Rajapaksa's son Namal Rajapaksa arrived for the opening ceremony of a sports ground in Bandarawela. During the opening, locals blocked the road and demanded fuel. This resulted in Rajapaksa avoiding the area and the mayor opening the grounds instead.[66]

On Thursday, 31 March, hundreds of protesters held a demonstration at Pangiriwatte Road, Mirihana, where the president's private residence is situated.[67] The silant candle light protest initially started the Jubliee Post Junction, only a few hundred meaters away from the President's private residence. Later more people gathered and marched towards his residence and hundreds of protestors stormed towards the president's house by night, demanding his resignation. The protest was initially spontaneous and peaceful until the police attacked the protesters with tear gas and water cannons. Protesters then set fire to two military buses and a police jeep, threw stones at officers, and blocked Colombo's main highway by burning tires. The curfew, imposed on Thursday night, was lifted on Friday morning, but police and army reinforcements in the city increased.[68][69][70][61][71] Security forces used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowd.[10][72] Nearly 50 people, including journalists, were injured and hospitalized, and 45 people were arrested.[10] The protest was broadcast live by a private television channel but the broadcast was halted due to what journalists described as pressure from the government.[71]

A day later, over 300 lawyers voluntarily appeared at the Mirihana police station to represent the arrested protesters pro bono.[73] Official sources said that Rajapaksa was not present in the house during the protest. A statement from the president's office said, "Thursday night's protests are being led by extremist forces who are inviting the Arab Spring to destabilize the country."[72] The SJB accused the government of sending loyalists to infiltrate and sabotage the protests by burning vehicles and initiating acts of violence and noted that the videos of the protests do not show protesters being armed as the government claimed.[74]

April[edit]

On 1 April, Shashseendra Rajapaksa, nephew of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, was forced to avoid a ceremony in Wallawaya due to protesters waving black flags. Chamara Sampath Dassanayake attended the ceremony in his place but had to change vehicles and flee due to protesters pelting him with eggs.[75][76] The same day, the Samagi Vanitha Balawegaya headed by the SJB politician and parliamentarian Hirunika Premachandra staged a march from Point Pedro in Jaffna against the economic hardships faced by the public. During the protests, Hirunika had reportedly been involved in a heated exchange with political activist Arun Siddharth. The situation in the area later became tense, with police officers intervening.[77]

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of Sri Lanka requested that political leaders save the country from becoming a failed state, while Gnanartha Pradeepaya, a Catholic weekly, blamed the situation on corruption which forced the country to borrow to buy essential items. Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith blamed the situation on political leaders and "us citizens who have allowed ourselves to be used by vested political and cultural interests in choosing the persons to whom we have entrusted the country and its destiny over all these years".[78] The US citizens referred to in the statement was the President, who had to renounce his dual citizenship to become the President and his brother Basil Rajapaksa, who was the Finance Minister then. The Cardinal also condemned the government's classifications of protesters as "extremists" and "terrorists" as not being empathetic to the pain and fear of the people.[79]

Declaration of state of emergency[edit]

On 1 April, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa declared a nationwide public emergency.[16] However, protests persisted as private bus drivers in Anuradhapura,[80] carpenters in Moratuwa and fishermen in Galle joined demonstrations.[20] A 36-hour island-wide curfew was imposed from 6:00 pm on the same day until 6:00 am on 4 April. The move was intended to prevent or at least minimise new protests.[81][82] The sudden announcement of a curfew resulted in panic-buying, creating long lines of people outside supermarkets and pharmacies who began chanting anti-government slogans. People who came to work from distant areas were unable to return to their homes, forcing some to sleep on the streets.[83][84] Celebrities also joined in the condemnation of the government, with Roshan Mahanama accusing "incompetent power-hungry rulers" of creating an economic depression.[85] More Sri Lankan cricketers including Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Sanath Jayasuriya, Arjuna Ranatunga, Bhanuka Rajapaksa, Wanindu Hasaranga, Dimuth Karunaratne, Angelo Mathews, Muttiah Muralitharan, Rangana Herath, Dhammika Prasad and Marvan Atapattu also took to social media and forums to raise their voices and concerns advocating for the rights of the public during the crisis.[86][87][88] Sanath Jayasuriya, Roshan Mahanama and Marvan Atapattu took to the streets and protested against the government while holding placards.[89] Hirunika Premachandra led a group of women in a march toward the residence of popular fortune teller Gnana Akka (Gnanakka) in Anuradhapura. Hirunika and the other women protested in front of Gnanakka's shrine, but police blocked them from entering it.[90][91]

Thisara Anuruddha Bandara, the social media activist who was widely known for initiating the #GoHomeGota hashtag campaign, was arrested by the police on 2 April and was held in police custody in Modara before being brought before a court. He was deemed to have been arrested under section 120 of the Penal Code.[92][93] A riot also broke out in front of the residence of Saman Lal Fernando, mayor of Moratuwa, a Colombo suburb that lies under the administrative province of Sri Lanka. Angry protesters threw stones at Fernando's residence, demanding electricity.[94]

Social media blocks[edit]

On 3 April, the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC) announced that service providers had blocked social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube due to a request from the Ministry of Defence.[95] Oshada Senanayake, the Chairman of the Information and Communication Technology Agency of Sri Lanka, tendered his resignation amidst the social media blackout, stating that he was standing by his ethos and principles.[96] The Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL) requested that the TRC and service providers immediately restore all social media platforms since they are unable to inform consumers about impending power cuts as electricity has been declared an essential service.[97] The social media blackout ended 15 hours after it had started.[98]

Multiple protests in violation of the curfew were reported.[99] Sajith Premadasa, Sarath Fonseka and Patali Champika Ranawaka led an SJB-affiliated protest in Colombo where they were blocked by the police.[100] A protest led by the students of the University of Peradeniya in Kandy dispersed after police used water cannons and tear gas.[101]

Cabinet resignation[edit]

On 3 April, several Rajapaksa cabinet ministers submitted their resignations. Those who resigned included Namal Rajapaksa, who had criticized the social media blackout. Two ministers from the Rajapaksa family, Chamal Rajapaksa and Basil Rajapaksa, also resigned.[102] The president was to announce the new cabinet the following day.

However, the opposition noted that Article 47(2)(a) of the Constitution requires that resignations be submitted to the president, while the resignations, in this case, were submitted to the prime minister instead. The opposition also denied that they would join an interim government, as it was not practical to join a government under President Rajapaksa without the parliamentary majority needed to pass substantial economic reforms.[37] Despite this, on 4 April President Rajapaksa reshuffled the ministerial portfolios by swearing in Ali Sabry as Finance Minister, G. L. Peiris as Foreign Minister, Dinesh Gunawardena as Education Minister, and Johnston Fernando as Minister of Highways.[38] Protests continued on 4 April, including one on the Tangalle-Kataragama Main Road close to the Carlton House in Tangalle, the residence of the Rajapaksa family.[103] President Rajapaksa invited the opposition to join his proposed unity government to find a solution to the crisis.[104] The governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, Ajith Nivard Cabraal also resigned as a result of growing public anger.[105][106]

The swearing-in of the same ministers from the former cabinet caused protests to intensify, leading protesters to surround the houses of government MPs such as Keheliya Rambukwella, Gamini Lokuge, Ramesh Pathirana, Kanchana Wijesekera, Roshan Ranasinghe, Nimal Lanza, and Janaka Bandara Tennakoon. Protesters surrounded Douglas Devananda's office in Jaffna while he was in the building. Despite police firing tear gas to disperse the protesters, some succeeded in storming and vandalising the residence of Roshan Ranasinghe.[107][108][109] Protesters also began to demand the arrest of the Rajapaksas and the recuperating of stolen wealth.[110]

In a phone interview with Newsfirst, former deputy governor of Central Bank Nandalal Weerasinghe revealed that Gotabaya Rajapaksa offered him the post of Central Bank of Sri Lanka governor, and admitted to accepting the position.[111][112] He resumed his duties as governor on 7 April.[113]

Catholic clergy led by Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith protested against the government from Archbishop's House in Colombo,[114] whilst Buddhist clergy from Bhiksu University of Sri Lanka protested in Anuradhapura.[115] The hospital staff of the Kalubowila Teaching Hospital also protested against the government.[116]

Reconvening of Parliament[edit]

On 5 April, the parliament reconvened for the first time since the state of emergency began and was set to discuss the current state of affairs.[117] The ruling SLPP government began losing the support of its key allies: 9 MPs of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) decided to defect from the government and to work as independent MPs, while the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), the Ceylon Workers' Congress (CWC) and the All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) left the government and moved into opposition.[118][119][120] Large numbers of protesters assembled in front of Parliament, demanding that the entire cabinet resign and chanting the slogans "Gota Go Home" and "Go Home Rajapaksas".[121] During the protest, opposite Parliament, six armed masked men in military attire, later revealed to be from the Army, arrived on motorcycles without registration plates.[122] However, the police stopped and questioned them, taking the keys to the motorcycles.[123] The Chief of Defence Staff and Commander of the Army General Shavendra Silva called the police actions "unethical and ill-mannered behaviour".[124]

On 5 April, the Government Medical Officers' Association and government doctors staged protests against the government, and the Government Medical Officers' Association declared a national health emergency due to the limited supply of essential medicines.[125][126]

Some young protesters who could not receive parental permission to join the street protests vented their frustration by vandalizing the Wikipedia articles of politicians such as Ajith Nivard Cabraal, Basil Rajapaksa, and Namal Rajapaksa.[127]

Gotabaya Rajapaksa revoked the state of emergency effective on midnight of 5 April.[128][129]

On 8 April, police used tear gas to disperse a group of university students who had protested at Polduwa junction in Battaramulla.[130] Several IT professionals also gathered in large numbers and protested at the Liberty Roundabout, close to the Liberty Plaza complex in Colombo.[131] A few Rajapaksa supporters carried out protests in Colombo in support of Gotabaya Rajapaksa by chanting the slogan "We want Gota".[132]

On 9 April, massive protests occurred in Colombo; the protestors included members of the LGBT community, trade unions, the Buddhist clergy and the Muslim community.[133] Students from private and state universities also collaborated for a combined protest march when the students protested in Nugegoda.[134]

Some Sri Lankan social media users on Twitter called for American billionaire investor Elon Musk to buy Sri Lanka, which has a debt burden of US$45 billion, instead of buying Twitter for US$43 billion and urged him to rename himself Ceylon Musk.[135][136]

Several Sri Lankan social media users in Reddit and Twitter asked the Anonymous hacker group to disseminate and reveal the corruption of the Rajapaksa family and other politicians. With the request of several Sri Lankans, the Anonymous hacker group responded to it by unveiling their first video regarding the corruption of Rajapaksas through their official YouTube channel The Ghost Squad on 9 April 2022.[137][138]

"Occupy Galle Face"[edit]

On 9 April 2022, the protestors had planned large demonstrations, protests and rallies in the Galle Face Green against the government. However, the authorities closed the Galle Face Green, citing land development.[139] Despite this, tens of thousands of people gathered in large numbers and joined the protests in Galle Face to make it one of the largest street protests[failed verification] in Sri Lanka.[140][141][142] Even considering the disruption caused by inclement weather conditions, people continued to protest from morning to night standing for hours holding placards.[143][144] Protestors faced internet outages and loss of mobile signal due to the installation of a mobile phone jammer at the Galle Face, which made it difficult for protestors to conduct Facebook Livestreams and send messages on social media.[145] The protests were held under the #OccupyGalleFace hashtag since 9 April opposite to Presidential Secretariat as protestors have taken a stance to not leave the Galle Face until the resignation of the President.[146][author missing] The protestors have also initiated "Occupy Galle Face" as a slogan for their protests at Galle Face.[147] The protestors were holding placards that included the phrases "This is our country, not your ATM", "Country is for sale, Gota fail", "Give us our stolen money back", "If you steal our dreams, we won't let you sleep", and "Audit all politicians immediately".[148]

On 10 April, protests continued for the second successive day. Despite the heavy rain and thunderstorms, the protestors continued their peaceful protest saying that they will continue it until President Gotabaya Rajapaksa resigns from the presidency. Protestors also renamed the protesting area as Gotagogama. The hashtag #GoHomeGota2022 reached 1 million posts on Facebook and it has been trending on Twitter for the 3rd consecutive week.[149][better source needed]

On 11 April, protests continued for the third day. Parallel to the main protest in the Galle Face Green, many protests occurred islandwide.[150] Shiraz Shiraz, a popular senior Sri Lankan rapper, died due to a sudden heart attack during the protests which also marked the first death reported directly linked with the Galle Face protests.[151] It was revealed that Shiraz-Rude Bwoy had performed the album titled Get up, Stand up of Bob Marley to entertain the tired protestors at the Galle Face just moments before collapsing onto the ground.[152][153] He collapsed just after ending the song performance and he was presumed dead while being transported through an ambulance to a nearby hospital.[154]

On 12 April, protests continued for the fourth day. Veteran artists including Nanda Malini, Sunil Ariyaratne, Swarna Mallawarachchi and Buddhadasa Galappatti joined the protests in Galle Face to support the young protestors' efforts to dethrone the government from power.[155]

Protestors gathered in large numbers for sixth consecutive day and celebrated the Sinhalese New Year (Puthandu) on 14 April 2022 at the Galle Face near Gotagogama site by boiling milkrice, sharing sweetmeats and oil cakes at the auspicious time.[156][157] The protestors also welcomed the New Year by setting off fire crackers chanting phrases such as "Victory to the People's struggle".[158] The protestors also launched Avurudhu traditional games such as hitting pots at Gotagogama area and also sang Raban tune songs as part of New Year customs and traditions.[159] Veteran singer Victor Ratnayake also joined the protests on the New Year to support the protestors.[160] Military veterans, including veterans disabled in the line of combat, joined protesters in New Year celebrations.[161]

Many protestors boycotted New Year's vacation and holiday celebrations by joining the protests and demonstrations against the government.[162][163][164] Several protestors including infants and small children were spotted at the protests wearing headbands which carried slogans such as "Go Home Gota", "Gota Go Home".

Conspiracy theories also spread as on 14 April 2021, Sri Lankan Airlines on its official Twitter handle claimed that Sri Lankan cargo had made history by operating three successive cargo charter flights to Entebbe International Airport lifting over 102 metric tonnes of printed material in February 2021.[165] The information on what kind of printed papers were not revealed by Sri Lankan Airlines due to confidentiality and the cargo carrier later deleted the tweet for unknown reasons.[166] A clarification by the airline claimed the material sent to Uganda included only Ugandan currency notes and due to security reasons with bordering Kenya, the Ugandan government preferred to obtain printed Ugandan shilling currency notes from a global security printer.[167][168] The Biyagama branch of the De La Rue company is responsible for printing currency notes to countries, including Uganda.[169] Sri Lankan Airlines insisted that the consignment was purely commercial in nature and brought much needed foreign currency revenue to the airline as well as for the country.[170] Mahinda Rajapaksa reportedly maintained close ties with Uganda, especially during his second tenure as president from 2010 to 2015. Mahinda Rajapaksa also befriended Sri Lankan High Commissioner to Uganda, Velupillai Kananathan, during the former's first official presidential trip to Uganda in 2014.[171][172][173] Uganda has been marked for a possible blacklisting by international financial systems for failing to comply with anti-money laundering laws and for continuously engaging in various financial crimes.[174][175] The news that Uganda was going to be blacklisted due to money laundering went viral in Sri Lanka among protestors and social media users with speculation that Rajapaksa family members and influential politicians in the government could have possibly transferred ill-gotten wealth to Uganda on cargo flights via the Sri Lankan Airlines flight.[176]

A police officer attached to the Kuttigala Police Station who joined the Galle Face protests on 14 April in police uniform was taken into custody and was questioned by the Police Special Investigations Unit.[177] The following day he was granted bail by the Fort Magistrate's Court as several lawyers were present on behalf of the police sergeant when he was produced before the courts.[178]

On 15 April 2022, former Sri Lankan cricketer Dhammika Prasad went on a hunger strike for 24 hours urging the leaders of Sri Lanka to give justice to the Easter Sunday attack victims and urged that immediate measures to be taken to ease the burden of the economic crisis on the population.[179][180] Former Sri Lankan cricketers Arjuna Ranatunga and Sidath Wettimuny joined the Galle Face protests especially to support Dhammika Prasad who pledged to go on a hunger strike for a day.[181] Sanath Jayasuriya also turned up for the protests against Gotabaya Rajapaksa.[182] The campaign hashtag #GoHomeGota2022 reached 3 million posts on 15 April, three days after passing 2 million posts.[citation needed] A group of indigenous Vedda people also joined the Galle Face protests on 15 April 2022.[183]

On 17 April 2022, the protests continued at Galle Face for ninth consecutive day as protestors also sang the national anthem of Sri Lanka in both Sinhala and Tamil, to show solidarity and unity among the various people of the multicultural society of Sri Lanka.[184][185] On 17 April, which coincided with the Easter Sunday festival, protestors also commemorated the tragic 2019 Easter Sunday blasts where 258 people were killed and the protestors demanded justice for the 2019 Easter Sunday attack victims.[186][187] The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka also visited the Gotagogama premises to inspect the protests following reports that police officers were attempting to disperse the peaceful protests through violence.[188]

The night of 17 April 2022, the protestors lit up the Presidential Secretariat building (where Gotabaya Rajapaksa works) with colorful themes and illusion of 3D art graphics using projectors and video projector mapping technology with slogans "Go Home Gota".[189] However, police officers attempted to prevent the protestors from projecting the Presidential Secretariat.[190] Some media outlets including TV Derana and its sister channel Ada Derana termed the peaceful protests as "beach party", a description which was ill-received by protestors and critics including human rights lawyer Ambika Satkunanathan.[191] There were also allegations that the protests were funded by terrorist organisations and hackers according to Ada Derana's 12th episode of the State of the Nation programme which was aired on 17 April 2022.[192] Ada Derana TV host Mahieash Jonny tendered his resignation the day after the controversial programme and Derana insisted that the opinions of Jonny do not represent the entire viewpoint of the television channel.[193]

On 19 April 2022, the Federation of University Teachers' Association engaged in a protest march from University of Colombo to Galle Face in support of popular protests.[194][195] One lane of the Galle Road leading to the Presidential Secretariat from Kollupitiya junction was blocked by university lecturers who gathered in large numbers holding placards.[196]

On 19 April 2022, actor Jehan Appuhami commenced a symbolic walk from St. Sebastian's Church, Katuwapitiya in Negombo to St. Anthony's Shrine in Kochchikade with a group of people by carrying a large wooden cross on his back to seek truth and justice behind the 2019 Easter attacks as the final destination is set to be at the Galle Face Green.[197]

British based Sri Lankan actor Hiran Abeysekera, who won the best actor award at the 2022 Laurence Olivier Awards, arrived in Sri Lanka and joined the Galle Face protests.[198]

On 24 April, thousands of Inter University Students Federation surrounded the PM's residence and demanded the current regime to resign.[199]

Dozens of war veterans have also joined the protests against the government and have been camping near the President's office.[200]

On 29 April, the protestors blindfolded the statue of former Prime Minister of Ceylon, S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, who was known for championing the controversial and infamous Sinhala Only Act in 1956.[201][202]

Gotagogama: occupation of Galle Face Green by protestors[edit]

People taking selfies in Gotagogama.

The protestors placed a placard made out of a card box naming the protestor's area at the Galle Face Green "Gota Go Gama" or "Gotagogama" (Sinhala: ගෝඨාගෝගම) which means "Gota Go Village" in Sinhala.[203][204][205] Gota-Go-Gama has been set up (similar to Occupy Wall Street moment) like a small model village, providing basic necessities, including free food, free water bottles, toilets and also limited free emergency medical services.[206][207][208][209] The camp was initially set up by volunteers on 9 April during the night with just a handful of tents but the number of tents increased to around 24 on 10 April. Portable toilet facilities have been made including three each allocated for men and women.[210]

The youth protestors created a township right in front of the President's House. The protestors also follow the habit of cleaning the garbage on every night.[211][212]

Daily Mirror on its official Twitter handle confirmed that an unnamed leading telecommunications company had installed a telephone tower to send and enhance signals at the Gotagogama site.[213] It was later confirmed that the Dialog Axiata had installed the 20 ft (6m) pole antenna structure at Galle Face Green as a solution to network congestion.[214][215] Later, Dialog decided to deinstall the tower with mutual respect to the concerns raised by the public, as the installation of said tower caused protestors discomfort and panic due to privacy issues, while people also alleged that the personal data of them would be compromised which would lead to tracking of individuals.[216]

A new branch of the Gotagogama was declared open in the Southern Province of the country in Galle on 15 April 2022 in support of the Colombo Galle Face protests.[217][218] However, tensions arose in Galle when police officers attempted to discard the Gotagogama temporary tents in Galle.[219] The police officers removed the tents but they were later restored with the intervention of the lawyers.[220] The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka ordered a complete investigation regarding the removal of the tents in Galle which were installed by the protestors.[221]

On the morning of 16 April, a convoy of riot police trucks was placed on the outskirts of Galle Face. The trucks raised eyebrows, especially the issue raised by users on social media triggering speculations regarding a possible crackdown on the protests by the government.[222] The trucks were later cleared and removed from the site with the timely intervention of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL).[223] The BASL also requested the government to not oppress the protestors and to respect the legitimate exercise of the freedom of dissent of the people.[224]

On 3 May, Ramadan Eid-Ul-Fitr Festival was celebrated at the Gotagogama site at Galle Face with the participation of several religious leaders including Buddhist monks and Christian priests.[225][226] The protestors were also seen sharing Sawans with biriyani on the opposite side of the Old Parliament on Galle Road. Several members of Sri Lankan Muslim Civil Society donated 700 lunch parcels on the eve of Ramadan at the Gotagogama site.[227]

Mynagogama[edit]

Mynagogama protest site was also launched mocking the Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa in front of his official residence Temple Trees outside the Galle Road entrance.[228][229] The site was launched by taking inspiration from Gotagogama and also due to the fact that Mahinda Rajapaksa got the nickname "Myna" from protestors as part of recent developments.[230]

On 29 April, one of the protestors who were protesting at Mynagogama was assaulted by a police officer who was apparently without badges on his uniform. The injured protestor was admitted to the accident ward of the Colombo National Hospital.[231] On the same day police officers reportedly attempted to induce violence by removing the placards that were placed on the police buses which were parked at the Mynagogama protest site.[232]

19 April: Rambukkana incident[edit]

People standing in long queues to obtain fuel since the early morning started to protest at the Rambukkana Crossing by obstructing the railway tracks, blocking all entry and exit roads to Rambukkana for over 15 hours. The police arrived and fired tear gas and live bullets to disperse the protesters.[233][234] According to the police spokesperson, the police began to fire in order to control the situation after the protestors threw rocks and attempted to set fire to a fuel bowser and a three-wheeler.[235] The police justification for the use of live ammunition was contradicted by protesters and videos that showed that the fuel truck was not threatened by protesters, with the protesters instead claiming that the vehicles were set on fire by the police. Videos released by the protesters also showed that they were trying to put down fires in a fuel station.[236][237][238] Witnesses to the incident claimed that the protesters were initially peaceful until the police arrived and it was the police that burned down the vehicles. A video clip of the incident also showed that police officers had vandalised parked vehicles in the area.[239]

Several people were injured and rushed to the Kegalle Hospital for treatment.[240] It was later confirmed that one person died with 12 others injured in the incident.[241] A police curfew was imposed in the Rambukkana Police area with immediate effect.[242][243]

According to the Bar Association of Sri Lanka, the police intimidated witnesses into providing false evidence.[244] Kegalle Magistrate Wasana Nawaratne ordered the Inspector General of Police C. D. Wickramaratne to arrest the officer who gave the orders to fire at protestors and other officers involved in the shooting.[245]

28 April: Islandwide token strike[edit]

On 28 April 2022, over 1000 trade unions conducted a massive island wide one-day token strike in support of the ongoing public protests against the government at the Viharamahadevi Park in Colombo.[246] Unions representing banking, ports, education, health, plantations, railway and petroleum would take part in the one-day strike.[247]

May[edit]

HoruGoGama protests[edit]

'HoruGoGama' (Go Home Thieves Village) was established by protesters initially led by university students around the Sri Lankan Parliament building on 5 May. The protesters demanded the resignation of the entire parliament and demanded the Rajapaksa family return stolen money. Despite heavy rain, protesters surrounded the parliament and withstood tear gas. The police used water cannons to destroy tents and a food distribution stall and attempted to stop people from joining the protests by barricading the area. The protesters shouted insults at opposition MPs leaving the parliament and accused them of making deals with the government.[248][249][250]

On 6 May 2022, President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa declared a second state of emergency.[251]

The continued use of a state of emergency and violence against peaceful protesters received international condemnation. UNICEF expressed concern with reports of violence in protests involving children and cited the Convention on the Rights of the Child which support the right of children and adolescents to express their views.[252] Canadian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, David McKinnon, expressed surprise at the decision claiming "Sri Lankans had a right to peaceful protest under a democracy", and that it was "hard to understand why it is necessary, then, to declare a state of emergency". US ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung claimed that the second state of emergency would not help and instead urged the government to listen to the public and seek long-term solutions. The European Union said that the protests were peaceful and warned a state of emergency "could have a counterproductive effect".[253]

The Rajapaksas also increasingly began to turn to appeals for supernatural and divine intervention to maintain power, with media reports of the president's personal shaman, Gnana Akka, sending charmed bottles of water to the protest site. Shiranthi Rajapaksa visited a Hindu temple seeking divine help for her family. Mahinda Rajapaksa visited Anuradhapura to seek blessings from the Sri Maha Bodhi but was booed and heckled by citizens while residents protested, demanding that "thieves" be banned from the city, which is considered holy by Buddhists.[254]

Black Monday attacks on protestors[edit]

On 9 May 2022, SLPP members supporting Mahinda Rajapaksa arrived in buses at Temple Trees and staged a protest urging Rajapaksa to stay on and Mahinda Rajapaksa addressed the crowd. It was revealed that Moratuwa mayor Saman Lal Fernando had accompanied the attacks by taking eight busloads of municipal workers with him to meet Mahinda Rajapaksa to ask Mahinda not to resign.[255] Soon after this, Rajapaksa loyalists attacked the MainaGoGama protest site in front of Temple Trees, assaulting anti-government protesters there and moved to the larger GotaGoGama protest site at Galle Face Green with little intervention from the police. The Rajapaksa loyalists assaulted anti-government protesters at the GotaGoGama protest site and destroyed many of the structures there. Over 130 were wounded and hospitalized following the attacks.[256] SDIG Deshabandu Tennakoon, who is in charge of the Western Province, was seen during the attack standing with SLPP MPs that attacked the protests. It was later revealed that the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Chandana D. Wickramaratne ordered the police not to use force against Rajapaksa loyalists on instructions from Public Security Ministry Secretary (Retd.) Maj. Gen. Jagath Alwis. Police later intervened by using a water cannon and tear gas to disperse the two groups after Gotabaya ordered them to intervene. A police curfew was imposed in Colombo and was thereafter extended across the island.[257][258][259][260] Simultaneously the GotaGoGama in Kandy was also attacked by Rajapaksa loyalists.[261][262] Videos showed government MPs such as Sanath Nishantha leading the attacks against protestors.[263] The military was also deployed to the Gotagogama site at Galle Face following the attack perpetrated by pro-Rajapaksa loyalists on peaceful protestors.[264] As a result of the chaotic incident, the holidays for all ranks of police officers were cancelled with immediate effect and all police recalled to report on duty.[265]

The Rajapaksa loyalists also attacked nearby businesses which were selling flags to the protestors. They threatened vendors if they value their children or their business before they burnt down the shops. Many of the vendors were suffering from the effects of the economic crisis and had bought goods to sell by taking debt.[266] It was also alleged that inmates of the Watareka Prison were brought by the Avant Garde PMC to carry out the attack as several of the Rajapaksa loyalists that were captured by protestors confessed to being prisoners.[267] The government denied that the prisoners were provided to the attackers and claimed that buses carrying prisoners were simply caught up in the unrest. News First disputed the government's excuse and showed footage of attackers wearing clothing similar to those worn by the captured prisoners. The General Secretary of the Committee for Protecting Rights of Prisoners, Sudesh Nandimal de Silva expressed concern over the allegations.[268]

The attacks carried out by Rajapaksa loyalists triggered severe backlash in the country, with many calling it "state sponsored violence" and "state sponsored terrorism".[269] JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake reportedly arrived at the scene with his supporters.[270] SJB leader Sajith Premadasa was attacked by a group of protestors when he was walking in Galle Face following the eruption of violence and he was soon escorted out with the help of security guards.[271] SJB MP Kumara Welgama who was travelling in a car was also assaulted by unidentified men.[272]

Sri Lankan cricketers and celebrities condemned the assaults as thuggery. PM Mahinda Rajapaksa issued a statement condemning the violence, but the tweet was quoted by Kumar Sangakkara who tweeted "The only violence was perpetrated by your "supporters" – goons and thugs who came to your office first before going on to assault the peaceful protestors." Mahela Jayawardana also tweeted the fact that the thugs began attacking protesters after meeting Mahinda Rajapaksa and that the police did not take any action to stop them. Sanath Jayasuriya called it the end of the Rajapaksas.[273]

Some of the attackers were caught by protesters who threw them into the Beira Lake and challenged them to ask for their "boss" to save them.[274] Three pickup trucks and buses which were used to transport Rajapaksa loyalists were also pushed into the Beira lake by the protestors.[citation needed]

The attacks caused widespread retaliation and rioting against Rajapaksa loyalists. The buses that were carrying those that attacked the protestors were ambushed in various parts of the country and destroyed. Houses and offices of SLPP politicians were torched, including that of Ramesh Pathirana, Sanath Nishantha, Nimal Lanza, Johnston Fernando, Thushara Sanjeewa.[275][276] The house of Sanath Nishantha, who led the attacks, was entirely burnt to the ground.[277] The protestors also set ablaze the houses of the Moratuwa mayor and Kurunegala mayor as both mayors were deemed as hardcore Rajapaksa supporters.[278] Protestors in Maharagama forced a leader of a pro-Rajapaksa government group out of a bus and threw him into a garbage cart. The bus was later rammed with the use of a bulldozer.[citation needed]

MP Amarakeerthi Athukorala was reported to have shot several protesters who were gathered in Nittambuwa but had to take refuge in a building after he was surrounded by thousands of protestors, where it was unclear if he allegedly committed suicide with his own firearm or was beaten to death by the protest mob.[279] The Avenra Garden Hotel in Negombo, which was rumoured to be belonging to Rajapaksa's associates, was also burned down by the protestors and several vehicles at the hotel premises were destroyed by burning, including a Lamborghini Gallardo, a Ferrari 488 Spyder, a Cadillac stretch limousine, a Brabus G-class and a Hummer H2.[280]

Resignation of Mahinda Rajapaksa[edit]

On 9 May 2022, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa tendered his resignation to the President.[281] Rajapaksa was heavily criticised by citizens and the public for resigning after instigating violence against peaceful protests.[282]

Despite the resignation, retaliatory violence continued, with houses and offices of former government ministers also being destroyed.[283] Protestors also began targeting properties and monuments of the Rajapaksa family. The D. A. Rajapaksa Museum was burnt down, and a monument to D. A. Rajapaksa, the father of the ruling Rajapaksa brothers, was destroyed, while the wax statues of the Rajapaksa parents from the museum were flattened.[284] The Rajapaksa family house in Medamulana as well as Mahinda Rajapaksa's house in Kurunegala were destroyed.[285][286][287] Violent clashes occurred as protesters also attempted to storm Temple Trees and the army and navy were deployed. Protesters turned police barricades as battering rams against the heavy iron gates while some managed to commandeer a police bus and used it as a battering ram. The government used tear gas and rubber bullets against the protestors.[288]

Further Opposition MPs such as M. A. Sumanthiran (Tamil National Alliance) demanded the arrest of Ex-PM Mahinda Rajapaksa for his role in the mob attack against peaceful protestors.[289] Former President Maithripala Sirisena also agreed that sending armed mobs to attack peaceful protestors should result in Mahinda and the leaders of the mob such as Johnston Fernando and Samanlal Fernando being arrested. However, Wimal Weerawansa (Jathika Nidahas Peramuna) claimed that Johnston attacked the protestors under Basil Rajapaksa's orders and it is Johnston that should be arrested.[290] Government MP Charitha Herath claimed that the attack was an attempt by Mahinda Rajapaksa to prove his power to Gotabaya by removing the protestors with his supporters, as Gotabaya was increasingly trying to sideline his brothers after realizing that the brothers were taking advantage of his political inexperience.[291]

By the morning of 10 May, security forces had managed end the siege of Temple Trees and evacuated Mahinda Rajapaksa under high security.[292][293] It was reported that Mahinda and his family had fled to the Trincomalee and are hiding in the naval base. Protestors gathered around the base demanding him to be arrested for his crimes.[294]

On the night of the same day a group supported by a politician from the area attacked houses of residents, accusing them of looting the Avendra Hotel.[295] The mob damaged several properties including several shops, injuring four.[296]

The inability of the police to control the violence mass retaliatory violence on politicians was blamed on the 20th Amendment to the Constitution, which removed the independence of the police commission, allowing SLPP politicians to interfere in the police appointments, resulting in politicians taking control of transfers and appointments of officers. Thus by the time the riots hit, almost all officers in charge of police stations across the country were those hand-picked by the local SLPP politicians. These hand-picked officers in charge ended up ignoring their immediate superiors and instead were taking orders from their patrons, resulting in widespread incompetence leading to a breakdown of law and order. Notable politicians that appointed their own officers in charge included Ramesh Pathirana and Rohitha Abeygunawardene, both of whom lost their homes. By contrast, the properties of politicians that lived in areas where officers were still appointed based on merit were saved, such as in Elpitiya, where the police managed to save house of ex-state minister Geetha Kumarasinghe. Many government MPs were angry that the army was used to protect the president's personal shaman Gnana Akka over them.[297][298]

An attempt was made by a pro-Government mob to instigate violence against Muslims to create a communal clash between Sinhalese and Muslims and rumours of racial tensions were spread. Residents launched live streams debunking the claims of tensions and residents expressed anger, noting that an outside group was brought to incite violence. Religious leaders in Negombo also joined to oppose the violent mobs. Locals claimed that Rajapaksa loyalists were trying to create conflicts and requested religious leaders to remain vigilant. Catholic priests and nuns stayed until midnight to maintain peace and diffuse the situation.[299][300]

Deployment of military[edit]

On 11 May, the government deployed the military with shoot-on-sight orders to bring the violence under control. The military was given powers to detain people without a warrant for up to 24 hours before they need to be handed over to the police, and any private property can be searched by forces.[301] Many expressed fears that the government was planning a military takeover and is preparing to declare martial law, but this was denied by defence officials.[302] The decision received international criticism, with the U.S. State Department issuing a statement: "We stress that peaceful protesters should never be subject to violence or intimidation, whether that's on the part of a military force or civilian units."[303][304] It was suggested that the initial attacks by Rajapaksa loyalists on peaceful anti-government protesters "served a greater scheme of things", as this allowed President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to call a state of emergency permitting "a more conspicuous use of the military to control public protesters under the pretext of law and order".[282]

On 12 May, Fort Magistrate's Court issued a travel ban on 17 individuals due to the investigations on the GotaGoGama and MynaGoGama peaceful protest sites. These include Mahinda Rajapaksa, Namal Rajapaksa, Pavithra Wanniarachchi, Johnston Fernando, Sanjeewa Edirimanne, Rohitha Abeygunawardena, C. B. Ratnayake, Sanath Nishantha, Kanchana Jayaratne, Sampath Athukorala, Mahinda Kahandagama, Renuka Perera, Nishantha Abeysinghe, Amitha Abeywickrama, Pushpalal Kumarasinghe, Dilip Fernando, Senior DIG Deshabandu Thennakoon and seven other witnesses and victims of the attacks essential for investigations.[305]

Founding of No-Deal-Gama[edit]

On 13 May, the former MynaGoGama near Temple Trees was replaced with No-Deal-Gama. While the initial proposal was to establish a RanilGoGama against the appointment Ranil Wickremesinghe as PM, protestors decided to name it No-Deal-Gama to emphasize opposition to making deals with the Rajapaksas rather than opposition to the new PM.[306]

A personal complaint was also lodged before the Colombo Magistrate's Court requesting the immediate arrest of seven persons responsible for the 9 May attack under conspiracy to commit criminal intimidation and aiding and abetting to attack a peaceful protest in front of the Temple Trees and Galle Face. The seven persons are Mahinda Rajapaksa, Johnston Fernando, Sanjeewa Edirimanne, Sanath Nishantha and Saman Lal Fernando, Senior DIG in charge of the Western Province Deshabandu Tennakoon and IGP Chandana Wickremeratne.[307]

On 18 May the protestors at GotaGoGama held a remembrance event to remember all those who were killed or disappeared during the Sri Lankan Civil War which ended in 2009.[308]

On 23 May the Government tabled the new 21st amendment to the constitution which revert most of the 20th amendment which the protestors demanded to be abolished due to giving almost unlimited powers to the president. The amendment also proposes to re-empower independent commissions and to add the National Audit Commission and the Procurement Commission as Independent Commissions. It will ban dual citizens from holding parliamentary seats thus ending Basil Rajapaksa's political career.[309][310]

On 25 May a protest demanding the arrest of Johnston Fernando took place outside the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) headquarters over 9 May 'Black Monday' attacks. Many of the protestors were victims of attacks by Rajapaksa loyalists and came to the protests still wearing bandages and casts.[311]

June[edit]

On 9 June former finance minister Basil Rajapaksa resigned from his National list MP post but promised that he will contest again and return. He blamed the economic crisis on voters for voting for the Rajapaksas and denied that the Rajapaksa family will exit politics and claimed that if the Rajapaksa family cannot govern Sri Lanka they will use other methods to influence governance.[312]

During the Australian cricket tour of Sri Lanka residents of Galle who had been waiting in lines to get LPG gas cylinders surrounded the Galle Cricket Stadium with used cylinders claiming that they will not leave until they were provided with new cylinders.[313] The police and army were used to remove anti-government protesters from the fort ramparts overlooking the ground at Galle, even though the public is allowed to hold banners and placards. According to ESPNcricinfo, Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) told the game's broadcasters not to show any visuals of protests. BASL criticized the removal of protestors as the decision to remove them had no basis in Sri Lankan law.[314]

July[edit]

On 6 July former MP Hirunika Premachandra was arrested for protesting near the President's House.[18] The arrest sparked another protest which came under tear gas attack by the police.[19]

On 8 July the IGP Chandana Wickremesinghe declared a "police curfew" which legal experts noted to be illegal and unconstitutional as there is no provision for such a curfew. MP M. A. Sumanthiran, Senior lawyer Viran Cores and the BASL issued statements condemning the "police curfew" as an illegal action to prohibit the right to peaceful protest which would be a violation of the fundamental rights of citizens.[315][316] The IGP removed the curfew the next day.[317]

9 July: Storming of President's House[edit]

On 9 July, the president fled his official residence in Colombo before large numbers of protesters gathered at Chatham Street, Colombo, near the President's House, demanding his immediate resignation. They were able to break into the Presidential Residence despite the police barricades and tear gas attacks.[318][319][320][321] Protesters also broke into the Presidential Secretariat and Temple Trees, the Prime Minister's official residence[322] and gathered around the private residence of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. Wickremesinghe later announced that he was willing to step down from his position.[323][324][325] Though the protests were mostly peaceful, 55 people were hospitalized at Colombo National Hospital.[326]

The Sri Lanka Police, together with the Police's Special Task Force, launched a violent attack near the Prime Minister's residence, beating up protestors, including journalists. Four journalists including Waruna Sampath and Sarasi Peiris of News First were beaten up despite media identification and pleading not to be attacked which was broadcast on live TV. The journalists were hospitalized after the attacks.[327] SSP Romesh Liyanage was identified as the one ordering the attack on journalists.[328][329] Ranil Wickremesinghe "expressed regret" over the attacks.[330]

The speaker of the Parliament issued a statement that night that President Rajapaksa would resign from office on 13 July 2022.[326][331] Prime Minister Wickremesinghe also announced that he would be willing to resign, saying that he would do so once a new government was formed.[332][333] Later that evening, protesters broke into the private residence of the Prime Minister in Colombo and set it on fire.[334][335]

Some of the protesters who breached President's House, Temple Trees, and the Presidential Secretariat spent the night there, refusing to leave the premises until the Prime Minister and the President resign.[336][337][338] On 10 July, three people were arrested for the arson of the Prime Minister's residence.[339]

By 10 July the Presidential Residence had become a tourist attraction with large numbers of Sri Lankans visiting the building to observe the luxuries enjoyed by the president despite the economic crisis. The Gordon Garden within the residence was also used by families to have picnics. Security forces were still present but maintained their distance allowing volunteers from protestors to handle the large influx of Sri Lankans and in some cases security joined protestors taking selfies within the complex. The Presidential Secretariat was turned into a temporary library with over 8,000 books in Sinhala, Tamil and English for visitors to read.[340][341] On 9 and 10 July, the whereabouts of the President remained unknown.[342] On 11 July, BBC News reported that the President was on a Navy vessel in Sri Lankan waters, citing Sri Lankan military sources.[343] The Speaker of the Parliament claimed that Gotabaya had left the country and would return by Wednesday but later announced that the President was still in Sri Lanka.[344][345]

13 July: Appointment of Acting President[edit]

On the morning of 13 July, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled to the Maldives with his wife and two bodyguards, and Sri Lanka Air Force confirmed that a SLAF plane was given to the President to depart for the Maldives. He then flew to Singapore on a Saudia Boeing 787 Dreamliner since he had been "allowed entry on a private visit".[346][347][348] He fled as making the resignation within the country would end his presidential immunity. As a result, his resignation was made while outside of Sri Lanka, removing the risk of him being detained.[349]

The Speaker of Parliament announced in the afternoon that President Rajapaksa appointed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as acting president in his absence. Protesters stormed the office of the Prime Minister demanding his resignation.[350][351]

Protestors stormed the studios of the state-run television channel Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation and demanded that news on the anti-government protests to be broadcast. The channel went off the air and resumed the live transmission later. Another state-owned television channel, the Independent Television Network (ITN) was also taken off the air and later resumed it's broadcasts.[352] In the evening, protesters reportedly attempted to breach the police barricades placed along the road leading to the Parliament.[353][354] where protesters confiscated a T-56 weapon and 2 magazines with 60 rounds of ammunition from an Army Soldier during protests. An Army soldier and a Police Constable were hospitalized with injuries sustained after being attacked by protesters.[355] Later that night Acting President Wickremesinghe declared an islandwide curfew until 5:00 am next day (14 July).[356]

14–15 July: President Rajapaksa's resignation[edit]

On 14 July protestors from Galle Face announced in a press conference that the protestors who had stormed and occupied the Presidential Palace and the Prime Minister's Office would withdraw from such properties and hand them over to the state, except for the Old Parliament Building and Galle Face where the protestors would continue to showcase their voices and send a clear message to both executive and legislature.[357][358] Protesters peacefully withdrew from the President's Official House, Temple Trees Prime Minister's official residence, and the Prime Minister's Office.[359]

President Rajapaksa emailed a letter of resignation to the Speaker of the Parliament later that day.[360] The news of his resignation was celebrated by the public mainly at Galle Face and also in the other parts of Colombo.[361]

On 15 July, the Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abewardhana announced the official resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa[362] and Ranil Wickremesinghe was officially sworn in as the Acting President.[363] Protesters renamed "Gota Go Gama" to "Ranil Go Gama" (Ranil Go Village), demanding Acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe to step down.[364]

20–22 July: Under the new President, Galle Face raid[edit]

On 20 July, Colombo Fort Magistrate issued a court order barring people from assembling within a 50-metre radius of the statue of the late S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike at the Galle Face Green after Colombo Fort Police requested it, citing reports of impending damages to the statue by those who were engaged in protests at Galle Face.[365]

On 21 July, the protesters at 'No Deal Gama', located outside Temple Trees in Kollupitiya, left the protest site.[366] Protestors at the Galle Face protest site announced that they would release the President Secretariat back to the authorities by 2 pm on 22 July.

At around 2:00 am on 22 July, the thousands of armed forces in a joint operation of the Army, police and Special Task Force stormed the protest site at Galle Face Green to clear the Presidential Secretariat and remove the demonstrators. While forcefully removing the protesters, several civilians and journalists including one from BBC were reportedly assaulted by the forces.[367][368] More than 50 people were injured and 9 people were arrested.[369] Several foreign envoys in Sri Lanka including the U.S. Ambassador, Canadian High Commissioner and British High Commissioner raised concerns about this pre-dawn raid.[370] The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, who came to collect accounts from the scene in the aftermath, said it was "a total violation of the fundamental rights of the people by the executive".[369] A day later, the police explained that the protestors were unwilling to vacate the premises and acted aggressively in previous occasions when the police requested them to vacate Presidential Secretariat.[371]

August[edit]

On 3 August, Police informed the protestors at Galle Face to remove all illegally set up tents and camps at premises before 5 PM on 5 August.[372] On 4 August, after considering three writ applications filed on behalf of protestors, the Court of Appeal assured that protesters will not be removed from the Galle Face premises until 10 August.[373]

On 10 August which marked 124th day of Galle Face occupation, protesters vacated the premises.[374]

International protests[edit]

In the United States, several protests were held, including one outside the residence of Gotabaya Rajapaksa's son in Los Angeles during which protesters demanded he summon his father back to the U.S.,[375] and one in Columbia, Missouri.[376] A protest was also held in front of the Sri Lankan High Commission in London, England.[377]

Protests were also held in Melbourne, Australia, at Federation Square and in Mount Wellington, Auckland, New Zealand. In Australia, protests were also organized in other cities such as Perth, Brisbane, and Sydney.[378]

A protest was held in Male, Maldives, on 13 July by Sri Lankans working in the country, urging the government not to provide a safe haven for Gotabaya Rajapaksa.[379]

Reactions[edit]

Government[edit]

After the protest in front of the President's house, the government of Sri Lanka called[when?] the protesters "terrorists" and blamed an "extremist group" for instigating the riot.[380][381] In the wake of nationwide protests, the Rajapaksa government declared a 36-hour state of emergency that lasted from the evening of 2 April until the morning of 4 April. The president's proclamation said that the state of emergency was in the interest of "public security, the protection of public order and the maintenance of supplies and services essential to the life of the community".[382] Dozens of Sri Lankan police were deployed to the main square[where?] in Colombo to prevent protesters from gathering. The Sri Lankan Ministry of Defence also blocked access to social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and WhatsApp as public criticism grew against the ruling Rajapaksa family.[383][384] However, Sports and Youth Minister Namal Rajapaksa said that imposing internet block was "completely useless", as the use of VPNs has been widespread.[385] Access to social media was restored 15 hours later.

In March, in response to the #GoHomeGota hashtag, the #WeAreWithGota hashtag was launched on social media and cabinet ministers in the government, artists, celebrities, and media personalities all tweeted under the hashtag #WeAreWithGota in support of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his administration.[386][387]

Government politicians came under fire for using a Facebook frame with the national flag on their profile photos similar to the ones used by the public who have been protesting against the government under the hashtag #GoHomeGota.[388]

On 13 April, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa made a request to meet a delegation from the protestors in Galle Face, but was refused.[389]

New government[edit]

On 18 April 2022, Gotabaya appointed a new 17-member cabinet despite the protests calling the entire government to resign, including the president alongside all 225 MPs in parliament.[390] Dinesh Gunawardena was appointed as Public Administration, Internal Affairs minister while Douglas Devananda was appointed as Fisheries minister, Kanaka Herath was appointed as Highways minister, Dilum Amunugama was appointed as Transport & Industries minister, Prasanna Ranatunga was appointed as Public security and tourism minister, Channa Jayasumana was appointed as Health minister, Nalaka Godahewa was appointed as Media minister, Pramitha Tennakoon was appointed as Ports and Shipping minister, Amith Thenuka Vidanagamage was appointed as Sports & Youth Affairs ministry, Kanchana Wijesekera was appointed as Power & Energy minister, Asanka Shehan Semasinghe was appointed as Trade & Samurdhi Development minister, Janaka Wakkumbura was appointed as Agriculture & Irrigation minister, Vidura Wickremanayake was appointed as Labour minister, Mohan Priyadarshana De Silva was appointed as Water supply minister, Ramesh Pathirana was appointed as Education & Plantation Industries, Wimalaweera Dissanayake was appointed as Wildlife & Forest Resources Conservation minister and Ahamed Nazeer Zainulabdeen was appointed as Environment minister.[391][392] In the new cabinet portfolio, female representation was completely excluded, with all 17 ministers being males.This cabinet was also forced to resign on the afternoon of July 9.[393]

Opposition[edit]

The government's handling of the protests has been met with criticism and condemnation from several opposition politicians. Opposition MP for Tamil National Alliance M. A. Sumanthiran condemned the government's handling of the protests and called on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to immediately rescind the gazette notification. Sumanthiran also urged fellow MPs to reject the state of emergency bill.[382] Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) MP Harsha de Silva said that the government had lost its legitimacy for its mishandling of the country's debt crisis.[394][389] Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa called the state of emergency unconstitutional and condemned the government for violating the law.[383] Premadasa has also called on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to intervene in the Sri Lankan political and economic crisis.[395] Ranil Wickremesinghe, at the time former Prime Minister of Sri Lanka and MP of the United National Party (UNP), also criticized the Rajapaksas' handling of the crisis and expressed optimism that it could bring an end to the nationalist politics of the Rajapaksas.[389]

On 6 April, members of the SJB held placards and protested inside Parliament demanding that Gotabaya Rajapaksa resign immediately.[396] The SJB party said that it would try to bring a no-confidence motion in Parliament if the President and Prime Minister do not step down.[397][398][133]

Samagi Jana Balawageya organised a protest march carrying the slogan "The Struggle for Freedom" began on 26 April 2022 from Kandy and it was expected that the final destination would be Colombo by 1 May 2022.[399][400]

International[edit]

The United Nations Human Rights Council said that it was closely monitoring the situation, stating: "The drift towards militarisation and the weakening of institutional checks and balances in Sri Lanka have affected the state's ability to effectively tackle the economic crisis".[401]

The European Union said that it has been monitoring the situation and recent developments in Sri Lanka, stating: "We stress the extreme emergency of the situation, which require the authorities to start in-depth discussions with the International Monetary Fund on the reforms needed to bring the Sri Lankan economy back to a sustainable path".[402] The delegation of the EU together with the diplomatic missions of the EU Member States issued a joint statement on 8 April.[403]

The UN Resident Coordinator in Sri Lanka Hanaa Singer and the US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung condemned the shooting in Rambukkana and urged to maintain peace, law and order.[404][405]

The ambassador of Germany to Sri Lanka Holger Seubert praised the protests for being conducted in a peaceful manner. He likened the protests to those that occurred during the 1989–1990 German reunification.[406]

Pope Francis made an appeal for the Sri Lankan authorities to "listen to the aspirations of the people", and said, "I offer a special thought to the people of Sri Lanka, in particular to the young, who in recent times have made their cry heard in the face of the country's social and economic challenges and problems".[303]

On 5 August 2022, a number of international human rights organizations issued a joint statement to condemn the authorities’ violent crackdown and increasing reprisals against peaceful protesters in Sri Lanka.[407]

Departures to foreign states[edit]

Several reports of members and associates of the Rajapaksa family fleeing the country emerged during the protests. On 3 April, it was reported that a group of nine people, including the wife and in-laws of Namal Rajapaksa, had fled the country.[408] Namal's father-in-law had been appointed director of the state-owned Airport and Aviation (Services) Sri Lanka Limited.[409] On 4 April, Nissanka Senadhipathi, a close ally of the Rajapaksas and the chairman of the Avant Garde PMC, allegedly fled to the Maldives with his family members aboard Sri Lankan Airlines flight UL-102.[410] On 5 April, the former deputy minister Nirupama Rajapaksa and niece of current prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was embroiled in the Pandora Papers scandal, also fled the country to Dubai.[411]

On 7 April, the Colombo Magistrate Court issued an order preventing former CBSL governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal from leaving Sri Lanka until 18 April.[412] The court order was issued on the basis of a case filed by political activist Keerthi Tennakoon against Cabraal regarding misappropriation and misuse of public funds which led to a massive economic crisis in Sri Lanka.[413]

It was reported that on 16 April 2022, Basil Rajapaksa tested positive for COVID-19 and was hospitalized for treatment.[414][415] However, speculations and rumours were rife that Basil Rajapaksa would have eventually left Colombo for Dubai on 16 April 2022 through the private jet named N750GF.[416] However, the reports which speculated Basil would have fled the country were refuted and the media confirmed that the private jet which left the Ratmalana Airport on 16 April was owned by British fashion designer and millionaire George Davies.[417]

Housing Development Authority Chairman and former MP Duminda Silva left for Singapore on 7 May.[418] Silva was convicted of murdering a rival politician and his supporters in 2011 and had been sentenced to death in 2016 but was pardoned by Gotabaya Rajapaksa in 2021.[419] On 9 May 2022 Yoshitha Rajapaksa, the second son of Mahinda Rajapaksa and his acting chief of staff, left the country with his family.[420] On 13 May 2022 local media reported that State Minister of Rural Road Development Pillayan had fled to Malaysia after the resignation of Mahinda Rajapaksa. Pillayan had been charged and arrested for the murder of a rival MP but was acquitted after the Attorney General withdrew charges against him following the election victory of Gotabaya Rajapaksa.[421][422]

On 8 July, Namal Rajapaksa's wife, Limini Weerasinghe and her son, again left the country for France via Singapore. However, Namal Rajapaksa denied claims that she fled via a tweet and showed his frustration against the incident being reported as breaking news by a local newspaper.[423]

On 12 July, Basil Rajapaksa, who attempted to flee the country via Bandaranaike International Airport had to turn back, as he was met with strong protests at the airport. The immigration and emigration officers attached to the Silk Road Departures, which provides a dedicated service to VIPs, also withdrew from their duties.[424] On the same day, The Hindu reported that the US rejected President Rajapaksa's recent request for a visa.[425]

On 13 July, Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country in an SLAF aircraft and arrived at Maldives.[348] On 15 July, Supreme Court issued a temporary travel ban on Mahinda Rajapaksa and Basil Rajapaksa, barring them from flying out of the country until 28 July.[426]

See also[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ 3 shot dead by police, 1 shot dead by MP Amarakeerthi Athukorala, 2 died of other causes
  2. ^ Before being elected as the 9th President by the Parliament, he served as the acting President since 13 July 2022 and Prime Minister since 12 May 2022.

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