The head of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) has warned the authorities against charging those arrested for staging a violent protest outside President Gotabaya Rajapakse’s residence over the country’s economic crisis with terrorism. HRCSL Chairperson and retired Supreme Court judge Rohini Marasinghe has stressed that those taken into custody on Thursday should not face the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), which has been used in the past against the Tamil Tiger separatists and other violent groups. The Sri Lankan media on Saturday quoted Justice Marasinghe as telling the HRCSL staff that those arrested can only be charged under the Public Property Act (PPA) of 1982. A total of 52 men and one woman were detained at Mirihana — where the President lives — after a mob which gathered outside his house set fire to several vehicles including two buses, a police jeep, two traffic motorcycles and two three-wheelers. Twenty-four police officers were reportedly injured in the clashes. The police blamed “extremists” for the violence and said many of the demonstrators were armed with iron bars, sharp objects and clubs. Their aim was to cause anarchy, a senior officer said. During Thursday’s confrontation, the protesters repeatedly urged the police and the armed forces to throw their weight behind them and not to protect “a dictatorial government”. Sri Lanka has been hit by the worst economic meltdown since independence in 1948, leading to a severe fuel shortage and soaring food prices. A desperate government, with barely any foreign exchange reserves, has turned to the International Monetary Fund, India and China for help.