Sri Lankan workers and youth speak out against new emergency law, WSWS reports

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A repressive emergency law proclaimed by Sri Lankan President Gotabhaya Rajapakse on August 30 was rushed through parliament two weeks ago, with the support of the majority of the ruling party and only token criticism from the opposition parties, World Socialist Web Site reported. 

The government claims the law is “to ensure public security and well-being, and the maintenance of supplies and services essential to the life of the community.” It used recent food shortages and the doubling of the price of rice and sugar as pretexts for the legislation.

As the Socialist Equality Party (SEP) warned in its statement “Oppose Sri Lankan president’s repressive state of emergency,” the laws are in fact directed against rising opposition from the working class and the poor, as the government imposes the burden of the country’s economic crisis on the backs of ordinary people.

The SEP has received a strong response from workers, students and young people in discussions about the repressive character of the legislation and the need to politically organise against it.

T. Savarimuttu, a retired plantation worker, rejected the government’s claim that the state of emergency was to ensure that people had enough to eat.

He described the increasingly dire conditions for workers and their families in the plantation sector who were having difficulties purchasing food, especially with the doubling of prices for essential items. The meagre wages given to the highly exploited workers were not sufficient to keep up with the inflation.

Savarimuttu explained how he was a victim of the emergency law, which was imposed to attack the Tamil masses and working class as a whole during the communal war waged by successive governments in Sri Lanka against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelem (LTTE).

“I was arrested by Hatton police in March 1996, under the false charges that I supported the LTTE and was detained in the Lindula police station for five months. After that I was transferred to Welikada prison in Colombo and released after 18 months. The danger of this emergency law is that suspects could be kept in jail for a long time without any charges like I was. I feel such a situation is coming back.”

Karunatilleka, a retired worker from Tobacco Company, said the government claims that the state of emergency was imposed to “supply essential supplies and service for public life” were a “joke.” He added, “What actually happens is the government purchases from the big businesses at higher prices, even though they are said to have hidden food.” This had contributed to skyrocketing costs for food items, including staples such as lentils and rice.

“Looking at how the government has already launched repression against journalists and social media activists who express oppositional views, we can have an understanding of the preparations for even more repressive rule. I can recall how the Sirima Bandaranaike government used emergency laws to crush a youth rebellion in 1971. Learning from past experiences, the workers should prepare to face this attack strongly. The SEP campaign plays a crucial part in it.”

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