Singapore, Jul 18 (PTI) Muted protests were organized by a handful of Singaporeans as ousted Sri Lankan president Gotabaya Rajapaksa arrived here last Thursday, leaving behind a economically-shattered country.
Shortly after he arrived in Singapore on Thursday, the police reminded any would-be demonstrators about the consequences of breaking the law. “Police ask that the public, Singaporeans, residents, work pass holders and social visitors alike, abide by our local laws. “Action will be taken against anyone participating in a public assembly that is illegal,” The Straits Times reported on Sunday, citing the police.
In a Change.org petition created on Thursday, the day Rajapaksa landed in Singapore, blockchain businessman Raymond Ng wrote that he had filed a police report in Singapore against Rajapaksa for money laundering, compelled by his “loyalty to the Republic of Singapore”.
As of Saturday, more than 2,000 people have signed the petition, although it is not known how many of these were unique or from Singapore. On Twitter, several Sri Lankans have also been tagging the Singapore government’s Twitter account to express their anger at the Republic’s decision.
These tags, which show up when users search for who has interacted with the government’s Twitter account, were swiftly removed, according to the Singapore daily report. But there were also some who thought Singapore was well within its rights to allow Rajapaksa entry. They noted that when he arrived at Changi Airport on Thursday, he was still the president of Sri Lanka.
Rajapaksa formally resigned on Friday, capping off a chaotic 72 hours in the crisis-hit nation that saw protesters storm many iconic buildings, including the President and the Prime Minister’s residences in Colombo.
A Singaporean lawyer of South Asian descent, who requested anonymity, said he was “shocked and hurt” at the Singapore government’s decision to allow Rajapaksa to visit the country. “Isn’t the Parliament in Sri Lanka meeting about where all the money has gone? The very person who is responsible for an economic disaster and has run away – why should Singapore be the country that’s a stopover for him?” The lawyer added, “Any Sri Lankan, whether they are Tamil or not, will feel a sting that he is here around us in Singapore.”
An 81-year-old retired criminal law professor, a Singaporean of Tamil origin, said, “Lee Kuan Yew always maintained that Sri Lanka is a good example of how we should not treat minorities. The divisive policy is dangerous. So, for him(Rajapaksa) to now be let into the country is a disgrace.”
Dr Lahiru Wijedasa, a conservation biologist who is a Singaporean of Sri Lankan origin, said Rajapaksa was “a free man” with no criminal convictions and had “legitimately left” Sri Lanka. “So, I don’t think we (in Singapore) are giving him shelter. Merely extending the on-arrival visa facilities open to all Sri Lankans,” Wijedasa said.
On Instagram, Yashora Samaradivakara, a Sri Lankan in Singapore, called for more sensitivity from all who are talking about the Sri Lanka crisis, where food, gas and electricity are in short supply. “To you, it’s a funny piece of news on your feed; to them, it’s their lives/reality. The people of Sri Lanka do not deserve this,” she wrote.
Meanwhile, a muted protest was held at the Speakers’ Corner in Hong Lim Park on Saturday against Singapore’s decision to let Rajapaksa into the country but it drew an audience of one, according to The Straits Times.
Organiser Prabu Ramachandran, 34, a candidate for Peoples Voice (PV) at the 2020 General Election, said, “Hardly anyone is speaking about this. I thought that someone ought to speak about this, about the message that we are sending to the rest of the world and the international community by having Gotabaya Rajapaksa here.”
“He is unwanted. He is a politically exposed person. Unlike what has been said, he is not just another Sri Lankan with a passport. Why are we taking him in?” Prabu, who works in finance, announced the protest, titled Deport Former Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, on Facebook on Friday morning. Slated to initially last from 4 pm to 6 pm, he ended it early at 4.48 pm because of the low turnout.
The Speakers’ Corner is the only place in Singapore where protests can legally be held without a permit. The only other speaker at the protest was blogger Leong Sze Hian, 68, also a former PV candidate. He questioned why Rajapaksa chose to resign only in Singapore. He and Prabu also asked for details of Rajapaksa’s bank accounts here to be made public.
According to the Singapore government, Rajapaksa has been allowed entry into the city-state on a “private visit.”