Despite a huge deployment of soldiers, around 20,000 people—including many FTZ employees—came throughout the day to pay their respects to the slain worker and as a mark of protest against the government. The funeral took place at the St. Augustine Church in Galoluwa, about 50 kilometres from Colombo.
Ratnasekera, who was just 21, died on June 1, two days after police attempted to suppress a protest by FTZ workers against the government’s planned private sector employees’ pension bill. There is overwhelming opposition to the legislation among workers, who will be compelled to pay into a pension fund, but in many cases will receive nothing in return.
The entire Katunayake FTZ of 40,000 employees came to a standstill last Monday after police assaulted protesting workers in one area of the complex. Police attacked the workers with water cannon, tear gas, wooden and iron poles and at one point fired live rounds. More than 200 people were injured, a number of them seriously.
Ratnasekera suffered a bullet wound to his leg. He was left untreated and bled for two hours in police custody, along with dozens of other injured workers, before being taken to the Ragama Teaching Hospital.
The government of President Mahinda Rajapakse was clearly shocked at the FTZ protests and feared that Ratnasekera’s death would trigger further demonstrations. It suspended the pension legislation, pending talks with opposition parties and the trade unions.
Hundreds of soldiers were deployed in and around Ratnasekera’s home on June 2 after his body was returned to his family. The day before the funeral, a magistrate issued an order barring the removal of the body except to the church. He also banned any speeches, allowing only religious rites and a funeral oration by one of Ratnasekera’s brothers.
On the day of the funeral, the whole village was under what amounted to military occupation. Heavily-armed troops and special commandos were stationed every 10 metres along the 500 metres of road from Ratnasekera’s house to the Galoluwa Roman Catholic church. The church itself was surrounded by security personnel. Soldiers patrolled the area on motor bikes. High-ranking army officers oversaw the operation. Plainclothes military and police intelligence officers were present, as well as pro-government thugs.
At around 9.45 a.m. the army suddenly arrived at Ratnasekera’s home and took his body to the church without the consent of family members. His brother Madushan Ratnasekera explained: “I was having my breakfast. When I was told that the body of my brother was going to be taken away, I could not think what to do.” His sister told the WSWS: “I cannot understand why they took his body so early.”
Villagers were outraged by the incident. One young person said: “It is not an accident that people [in the North] had become terrorists as they were surely subjected to these kinds of things.” He was referring to the military’s treatment of Tamils during the country’s protracted civil war.
Another person explained: “After the death, Prasanna Ranatunga [Chief Minister of Western Province] was hanging around here with his stooges. We thought that some sort of trouble was going to take place. We did not have the opportunity to pay our last respects to Chanaka. The government, military and the church did this collectively.”