06/06/2011, 00.00
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“Immoral and unethical” military presence at young demonstrator’s funeral

by Melani Manel Perera
More than 5,000 soldiers are deployed funeral inside and outside the church to “enforce security”. Relatives and Catholics slam the priest for not mentioning the young man’s cause of death during the ceremony. Roshen Chanaka, 21, died in hospital on 30 May from the wounds he sustained during protests against a proposed pension plan reform.
Colombo (AsiaNews) – For Catholic political leader Jayalath Jayawardena, the presence of 5,000 soldiers at the funeral of Roshen Chanaka, a Catholic worker who died during clashes with police on 30 May, was “immoral and unethical”. Thousands of people, including Free Trade Zone workers, trade union members, Catholic and other Christian priests, politicians and NGO representatives took part in the ceremony held at Galoluwa parish church in Minuwangoda (Colombo archdiocese) on Saturday. The family, co-workers and some priests blame the military. The Church said the military behaved dishonourably. Soldiers removed Roshen’s body without his family’s consent. The priest who performed the funeral service did not mention the cause of death. Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa was criticised for putting a price on the victim’s life, a million rupees (US$ 9,100) in compensation to his family.

Roshen Chanaka, 21, worked in the Free Trade Zone. He was wounded by police during clashes over the government’s proposed new pension plan (see Melani Manel Perera, “Police charge 18,000 workers, Catholics condemn the crackdown,” in AsiaNews, 31 May 2011), and later died in the Ragama Teaching Hospital (Western Province).

“The priest who led the service did not mention the fact that Roshen was killed, that he took part in the protest. The young man wanted to express Christian solidarity to the social struggle. However, the priest failed to show him any respect. Priests appear to be playing the same game as the government,” local residents said.

According to unconfirmed reports, a court in Minuwangoda issued an injunction saying that only priests could speak during the funeral after prior authorisation. Politicians, journalists or trade union members were not allowed to speak in order to prevent form exploiting Roshen’s death.

Meanwhile, more is known about the clashes between demonstrators and police.

Fr Reid Shelton Fernando, chaplain of Christian Workers Movement, said that a protester having a heart attack was also attacked. Equally, a pregnant woman was mistreated and several women protesters were molested. Workers who found refuge in bathrooms were dragged out and tortured.

Closed-circuit television cameras could have recorded the incidents, “at least if they were not erased,” the priest said.

Police Chief Mahinda Balasuriya resigned on 1 June, taking responsibility for the use of waepons during the clashes.

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