Defend the right to protest

Tamil Solidarity condemns the brutal suppression of protesters by the police. The ban on holding a vigil on Clapham Common for Sarah Everard by the high court and the Metropolitan Police was defied by thousands. However the Metropolitan Police attacked and arrested the protesters. Since then many have taken to the street condemning both violence against women, and the police handling of the vigil. Like many repressive governments, including in Sri Lanka and Myanmar junta, the Met used the Covid -19 related regulations to clamp down on protests.

While this was taking place, another protest held by Tamils also came under brutal repression. A protest was called outside the house of Tamil activist Ambihai Selvakumar who had been on hunger strike for more than two weeks now. This protest was held peacefully. The ove 100 people who took part in this protest were following the Covid regulations, maintaining social distance, etc. Despite this, the Met Police decided to provoke the protesters with threats of arrest and other intimidation. The police started to arrest activists with no reason. Police then further clamped down on the protesters who sought to defend each other, brutally forcing one of them to the ground and holding him – reminiscent of George Floyd’s arrest in the US. Protesters immediately condemned this police violence.

It is also revealing how the so-called “mainstream” media have blacked out this incident that took place in London at the same time as the clampdown on the vigil for Sarah Everard. The billionaire-owned British media, that serves only the interests of the super-rich, has never given room for the voices of the majority of the black and Asian population living in Britain. Almost all the struggles and fightback conducted by the Black and Asian workers and youth are never reported properly. In fact, they have a long history of ignoring struggle and resistance against the establishment in general. When the teachers union has held marches of thousands they are largely unreported. The same goes for when health workers protest, even when these protests take place right in front of the BBC offices itself! There will often not be any coverage whatsoever.

Protesters outside Parliament on Sunday, following the arrests at the vigil chanted, “who do you serve, who do you protect?” at the police. These events are revealing the character of these institutions – police, courts, media – and who they ultimately serve despite a big pretence of “serving the people”. The Met Police and other institutions, including the media, do not ultimately serve our interests but exist to maintain the status quo – a world based on exploitation, war and inequality.

We must mobilise our own strength and establish our own independent mass organisations and media. We cannot surrender our right to protest and other democratic rights. The brutal war and the genocidal slaughter of Rajapaksa’s regime in Sri Lanka was not enough to silence our fightback. The authoritarian measures of the Tory government will not be enough to intimidate us into silence. In fact, we will raise our voices more and link up with the others in the struggles that are emerging. That unity in struggle is where our strength lies.

We understand that Ambihai Selvakumar’s hunger strike takes place out of desperation and sheer frustration that nothing has happened in terms of delivering justice, even 12 years after the genocidal slaughter of Tamils that took place in Sri Lanka, we urge the activists to understand the real reasons behind that. However TS calls on her to focus his evident courage and determination to building a mass movement necessary to achieve his aims. Justice is not on offer from the police or the other state institutions, but by exposing them and building our own strength by linking up with others in mass struggle around a programme that shows how all our needs can be met.

This is also why Tamil Solidarity (TS) argues that the demands and direction of the struggle needs to be clear and should flow from the understanding of what kind of society we live in. While we welcome the motives of Ambihai Selvakumar and stand with them in solidarity, TS also argues that this form of individual action does not point the way forward. There should be no illusion that the British government will accept these demands (see below for the demands put forward) without being put under mass pressure. Hoping that a “recommendation” to the UN or similar passive action will result in any substantial victory is mistaken. The life of activists is precious – and that’s why we raise these ideas for building the movement to win. We should not create an illusion that the British government had accepted these demands and going to implement it.

The Tory government and the billionaire media will keep their silence regardless of how many activists die. The Labour government in 2009 under Gordon Brown kept its silence while tens of thousands of Tamil people were massacred in Sri Lanka. From Saudi Arabia to Myanmar today, the governments in the west have never had human rights as their main motive, but the profit interests of big business instead. Therefore all protest actions must have the aim of mobilising for clear demands, with the aim of building strong independent organisation.

Demands of hunger strike Ambihai Selvakumar
Recommend to the UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly that Sri Lanka be referred to the International Criminal Court and take steps to effectively investigate charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.

– Establish an International Independent Investigative Mechanism (IIIM), akin to those established for Syria and Myanmar, which mandates the evidence is of international crimes and human rights violations be collected and prepared for criminal prosecutions. A meaningful IIIM must have a strict time frame.

– Mandate that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) appoint a Special Rapporteur to continue to monitor Sri Lanka for on-going violations and have an OHCHR field presence in Sri Lanka.

– Recommend an UN-monitored Referendum to determine the aspirations of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka, on the basis that the North-East of Sri Lanka is the traditional Tamil homeland and the Tamils have the right to self-determination.

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