Mohan Samaranayake, the government's information chief, stated that the curfew was being imposed by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Protesters demanded his resignation at his residence on Thursday night. This led to the use of tear gas and the arrest of scores of people.
Ruki Fernando, a human right activist, said that the curfew was an attempt to shut people up. He went to protest in Colombo's capital. The crowd dispersed soon after the curfew became effective.
"I don’t know why a curfew was declared." Fernando stated that we don't need a curfew. We need food, gas and fuel, as well as freedom to express our opinions.
Rajapaksa took emergency power on Friday night amid protests across the country on Sunday. This was in response to widespread anger at shortfalls of fuel, essential food and long power outages.
Sri Lanka has huge debt obligations, dwindling foreign reserve and has struggled to pay imports. People queue up for gas and wait for hours to get it. Power is often cut because there isn't enough fuel for power plants, and the dry weather has reduced hydropower.
The economic woes of the island nation are due to failures of successive governments in diversifying exports. Instead of relying on traditional cash sources such as tea, clothing, and tourism, they rely on a culture that consumes imported goods.
The economy was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. The government estimates that it has lost $14 billion over the past two years. Protesters also blame poor management -- Sri Lanka is in huge foreign debt due to its massive borrowing on projects that aren't profitable. For this year, its foreign debt repayment obligations total approximately $7 billion.
People from all walks have been affected by the crisis. Business people and middle class professionals who wouldn't normally participate in street protests are holding nightly rallies with placards and candles in many areas of the country.
On Thursday, protestors gathered along the roads to Rajapaksa’s private residence in the outskirts Colombo. They also stoned two police vehicles that were blocking their way. Protesters set fire one of the buses, and turned back a fire truck who tried to extinguish it.
Rajapaksa's office attributed the violence to "organized extremists" among the thousands of protesters. Police used tear gas and water cannons to arrest 54 people. Police also injured dozens more people and beat some journalists.
Ajith Rohana, senior police spokesperson, stated that 24 officers and several civilians were hurt. Rohana stated that the total damage was approximately $132,000 and that the suspects would be charged with damaging public properties.
Nuwan Bopage represented some of the suspects and said that 27 were released on bail after they appeared in court Friday night. The rest were still waiting for their processing.
Rajapaksa's emergency declaration gives him broad powers to maintain public order, suppress riot, civil disturbances, and for the maintenance essential supplies. The president can authorise detentions, property seizures and searches of premises. He can also suspend or change any law, except the Constitution.
The largest lawyer's group in Sri Lanka, the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (Bar Association of Sri Lanka), said that the emergency declaration wasn't the solution to the country’s problems.
"These protests reflect a desperate situation of people who are trying to secure for themselves their most basic necessities in life," Rajapaksa's lawyers stated in a statement. They urged Rajapaksa not to end the emergency but to allow people to exercise their rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.
After Thursday's protests, a curfew was already in place in Colombo's suburbs. It was lifted Friday morning.
The Rajapaksa clan is not only composed of the president, but also his elder brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. His military victory in ending the country's 25-year civil conflict against Tamil rebels in 2009 was credited to him. Five other relatives serve as legislators, including Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa, Chamal Rajapaksa, and Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa.
Fears of Rajapaskas' political power and control over key state functions have been raised by the Rajapaskas.