COLOMBO: A top Sri Lankan trade union leader in the forefront of protests which led to the ousting of Gotabaya Rajapaksa from the presidency was arrested on Wednesday, witnesses and officials said.

Joseph Stalin, the secretary of the Sri Lanka Teachers’ Union, becomes the senior most activist to be arrested in a crackdown against protesters forced Rajapaksa to flee last month.

“He is being arrested for holding a demonstration in May in violation of a court order,” police told reporters at Stalin’s union office in Colombo as he was being detained.

Scores of others have already been remanded in custody by police on charges of damage to public property during months of protests which peaked with the storming of Rajapaksa’s palace on July 9.

Tens of thousands of people incensed by the island nation’s economic crisis stormed Rajapaksa’s palace and his seafront office — forcing him to flee the country and later resign.

Rajapaksa’s successor, Ranil Wickremesinghe, has drawn a distinction between “protesters” and “rioters” and vowed tough action against “any trouble maker.” Police also arrested another protester who had raided the liquor cabinet of the deposed leader, downed a beer and took off with a presidential mug.

The 43-year-old man’s arrest comes after he shared a photo of himself on Facebook at Colombo’s Presidential Palace, a police official said.

The man was arrested earlier this week for alleged unlawful entry into a state building and retaining stolen property. “He will be brought to Colombo to stand trial,” the official said.

Published in Dawn, August 4th, 2022

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