Posted on 08.24.2021 by Chandana Sirimalwatte in Views with 0 Comments
Following the arrests of student leaders, trade union leaders and political activists fighting against the privatisation and militarisation of education, the hunting of activists continues. Koshila Hansamali Perera of the Movement for the Free Education and Chameera Koswatte of the Frontline Socialist Party are still in remand custody after being arrested on their way home after a protest organized by the Movement for Free Education on August 3. Wasantha Mudalige, the convener of the Inter-University Students Federation, a leading activist in the Movement for the Free Education, was the next target of state suppression. He was on his way home after a TV program on an educational program when a group of plainclothes men stopped the vehicle. He was travelling at Borupana, Ratmalana, around 3.30 in the morning of the 6th. He was later arrested amid his protest, with the help of a uniformed police officer. Currently, the police are making a concerted effort to arrest lists of other political activists, trade union leaders and student activists. It is reported that security personnel in civilian clothes and police officers are engaged in intimidation of relatives or neighbours.
Hunting Continues to Arrest Participants of Protest
Political and trade union activists who took part in the August 3 protests and those with nothing to do with the protests are being pursued further arrest. The Inter-University Student Federation (IUSF), withstanding the arrest challenge on its activists, has released a report with detailed information on the crackdown. ‘The Report on Abductions, Imprisonment and Intimidation of Activists Involved in Peaceful Protests’ released to media was also handed over to the foreign embassies in Colombo by a student delegation.
The hunting operations to make further arrests activists earmarked were Inter-University Students Federation’s Acting Convener Galwewa Siridhamma Thero, IUSF Activist Amila Sandeepa, Danushka of Ceylon Bank Employees Union, Chathura Samarasinghe of Ceylon Estate Employees Union, Tampitiye Sugathananda Thero of Joint Health Services Union, Thanne Gnananada Thero of Combined Association of Unemployed Graduates, and the Open University Professor Mahim Mendis. They were among the 13 individuals that the Talangama Police have produced at the courts as they wanted to be arrested for further investigations. The arrests and stalks began after the protest the Kothalawala National Defense University Bill. A few hours after the protest ended, police and civilian groups stormed the homes of student activists and searched the streets.
It is revealed that most of the victims of the pursuit by the police and unidentified groups are university students and the rest are trade unionists and political activists. Meanwhile, it has been revealed that two university lecturers have become targets of state repression. Mahim Mendis, a professor at Open University, and a media spokesman for the Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA), Aminda Lakmal, a lecturer at Sri Jayewardenepura University, has spoken out strongly against the militarization of education.
Suppression of Protests by University Teachers
Amila Sandeepa, the President of the Jayewardenepura University Student Council, was abducted by a group forced into a van near the university on August 5 while protesting the militarization that convened university teachers. Having heard of the incident, the student union representatives went to the Mirihana police station, considering the relevant police area, but told that he was not in custody. Then they went to Talangama police station since it is the location where the protest took place, but police informed them that the student leader was not arrested. However, the next day he was produced before the Kaduwela Magistrate’s Court by none other than the Thalangama Police.
A group of lecturers and students who participated in the protest the militarization at the Lipton Circus, Colombo, were on their way back when a group of civilian clothes were forcibly entered into the bus and attempted to take away Aminda Lakmal, a lecturer at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura. When the students on the bus protested, they retreated, explaining that they were looking for some other person. The man in plainclothes had not agreed to reveal his identity and was later identified as a Mirihana police officer.
A second-year student at the University of Kelaniya who joined the protest of the university teachers was also arrested. Meanwhile, Udara Sandaruwan and Indika Vidanapathirana are among the student leaders targeted for arrest by the Thalangama Police.
Targeting Student Leaders and Political Activists
The police are also hunting the leaders of trade unions and student movements and the central committee members of the Frontline Socialist Party. Police unsuccessfully stormed into the residence of Sujith Kuruwita, a central committee member of FLSP, to arrest him since he participated in the rally on August 3. However, Ravindra Mudalige, another central committee member being hunted, was not participating in the protest. What is more serious is that the police had also stormed into the house of his parents.
Police have been patrolling the Rajanganaya area in search of a student activist intruding on the homes of university students. Later revealed that a team of about 20 officers from the Peliyagoda and Rajanganaya police stations had been patrolling the area several days and nights on August 3, 4, 5, 6 and 8 in search of Udara Sandaruwan. Officers who came to his house on August 6 claiming to be from the Peliyagoda police station had threatened the student’s family members that there would be consequences unless he would not surrender. They have also warned that they would return and not to try to make any ‘mistake’. It is noteworthy that the police went to students’ homes and trade union activists at night to arrest them.
Plainclothes officers in Action and Threatening of Residents
Meanwhile, the report prepared by the Inter-University Student Federation (IUSF) has revealed the details of the police operations to hunt down those who took part in the August 3 protest near the Parliament complex, which was convened with the participation of the Mass Movement for Free Education and other civil organizations.
Accordingly, on August 4, an unidentified group in plain clothes went to Dhammika Munasinghe of the Joint Development Officers’ Association in Matara, interrogated his wife at length, and searched the house without any court order. On the same day, a plainclothes police team searched for Chathura Samarasinghe of the Estate Services Union to the union office in Colombo and to a friend’s house to search for him. Attempts have also been made to arrest Chathura by going to his office in Matugama Cloud Estate and his house in Kalawana that night. The next day, a police team came to one of Chathura’s cousin’s residences, claiming that he was hiding in the place.
In another instance, a group of five plainclothes police officers had gone to Morawaka on August 5 to arrest Indika Vidanapathirana, the secretary of the Ruhuna University Student Council, at his residence. The group could not catch Indika and threatened those in the house to hand Indika to the police immediately.
Six officers pursued Amila Sandaruwan of the Joint Teacher Services Union from the Sevanagala Police and six officers from the Peliyagoda Police Crime Branch who went to his house in Sevanagala on August 5. Amila’s father was threatened to be arrested and pressured to provide details about the relatives with phone numbers. The principal, deputy principal and assistant principal of Mahanama Vidyalaya, Colombo, where Amila Sandaruwan serves as a teacher, have been contacted by the police claiming to be police and have been pressured to provide information regarding his whereabouts.
Heshan Harshana, a student of Rajarata University, was arrested by the Thalangama Police on the evening of August 13.
Pursuit of those who Assisted the Protests
It is reported that the police also arrested a person named Prabath Jayasinghe on August 9. The police have arrested three van drivers after the protest campaign held on the 3rd. Jayantha Upul Kumara, a resident of Medirigiriya, Ranjith Amal, a resident of Tissamaharama and Nilaweera Weeratunga, a resident of Gampola, were arrested. Several police teams have continuously tried to locate and arrest the sound technicians served at this protest.
According to a report prepared by them, officers from Talangama, Mirihana, Peliyagoda and Welikada police stations are actively hunting down the Inter-University Students Federation. In addition, police in this crackdown on political activists and trade unionists who took part in protests near parliament have deployed officers belong to police stations in areas where the activists live. Judges have warned the police against disregarding the constitutional right of citizens to free expression and the right to protest on several occasions when protesters have been arrested and produced in court. The Colombo Magistrate’s Court had strongly warned the police not to bring the protesters before the court under the Quarantine Act or any other irrelevant charges unless allegations of any wrongdoing are applicable. Many lawyers at the courts are standing by for the rights of the protesters brought before the courts. This action by the lawyers, seen as a challenge to the arbitrary repressive measures taken by the police.
However, it is indisputable that the police are being led to administer these repressive measures by the ruling clan, which is trying to suppress protests that hinder its privatization of education by way of militarization. Like former regimes, Gotabhaya Rajapaksha’s government is acting without any regard to the people’s right to free education by taking steps forward to make education a commodity and thereby paving the way to attract the contribution of investors to surpass the economic crisis.