Meeting discusses repression in Sri Lanka

Gajen Ponnambalam.

"The new [Sri Lankan] government has made no substantial changes", Tamil National People’s Front leader Gajen Ponnambalam said when addressing a mainly Tamil audience in Melbourne on October 14.

Ponnambalam was referring to the government of President Maithripala Sirisena, who was elected in January 2015, replacing Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Ponnambalam explained that the militarisation of Tamil areas continues under the new government. Overall there is one soldier for every 14 residents in Tamil areas, but in some areas, such as Vanni, there is one soldier for every four residents.

These ratios have not changed under the Sirisena government. The military budget continues to rise every year. Torture and rape continue to be used by the army and police as tactics to intimidate the people.

There are about 100 recognised political prisoners, but Ponnambalam said that many other people undergoing so-called "rehabilitation" are effectively political prisoners.

Despite the repression, resistance continues. There have been protests against the confiscation of Tamil land for military bases and irrigation schemes.

Students have marched in solidarity with political prisoners on hunger strike.

The government is proposing a new constitution. While many Tamils want a federal constitution, with the provinces having clearly defined powers, the new constitution goes in the opposite direction.

It refers to Sri Lanka as "ekiya rajya", a Sinhala term that means "indivisible state". This implies that the central government will have all the power.