Sri Lanka's clampdown on striking teachers intensifies as COVID deaths surge

After passing emergency regulations claiming to stifle the sugar, rice and paddy mafia, the Sri Lanka government has now intensified the witch-hunt against protesting teachers.

It has been over two months since teachers and principals launched trade union action urging the government to remove the existing salary anomalies in teacher-principal services.

Teacher-principal trade unions allege that even though street protests were halted over a month ago taking into account the Covid-19 pandemic, the government keeps delaying resolving their issues.

In a statement signed by teachers’ unions leaders Joseph Stalin and Mahinda Jayasinghe, the Teacher-Principal Trade Union Alliance said that the government attempting to intimidate teachers and principals through the police in order to prove that teachers have died after contracting Covid-19 during protests, is regrettable.

CID investigation

The statement claims that the Horana Police Headquarters Inspector of Police had sent a letter, dated 4 September under the heading “call for a report to obtain details for a Criminal Investigation Department (CID) investigation,” to Divisional Secretaries of Horana, Ingiriya, Madurawala and Millaniya. The letter had requested details about the venues of meetings, rallies and protests held from 25 July to 5 August, names of organizers, number of attendees, and details of teachers and principals who contracted and succumbed to Covid-19 after the date on which the protests were held.

“By apprehending and detaining at the Colombo Port Police 44 teachers and principals who were going back after protesting near the Presidential Secretariat on 4 August 2021 and by conducting antigen tests on them, what the police tried to do was to find Covid-19 infected persons from among them,” the Teacher-Principal Trade Union Alliance said, alleging that Minister Rohitha Abeygunawardena making a false statement in Parliament on 7 September that 25 teachers had died due to Covid-19.

Citing a fabricated report published by the state owned Sinhala weekly "Silumina" newspaper, the joint statement further accuses the government of spreading fake news, using statements made by the pro-government Sri Lanka Podujana Education Services Union that the recent surge death toll is triggered by "a teachers’ Covid-19 cluster.'

Hate campaign

"All this is done with the sinister intention to stir up hatred against the teachers' strike and hold them responsible for the spread of COVID-19" General Secretary of Ceylon Teachers Union, J. Stalin told JDS.

"The alarming rise of COVID related deaths is a reflection of the government's mismanagement and failure to deal with an imminent health crisis that was looming over Sri Lanka since the beginning of last year. They reduced the government expenditure on health care, left the experts out of decisive police making bodies and militarised the entire COVID response structures. And now they want to put the blame on the striking teachers in the same way they accused FTZ workers and migrant workers", he added.

Police Spokesman SSP Nihal Thalduwa was quoted by Colombo based weekly 'The Sunday Timessaying that the "information was being sought to verify whether there were any deaths that occurred due to COVID-19 after teachers took part in the recent protests in different parts of the country."

However, speaking to media on the 25 August, ruling SLPP parliamentarian and renowned virologist Dr. Tissa Vitharana had categorically dismissed the allegations saying 'there was no evidence to prove that the recent protests had contributed to the rapid spread of COVID-19.'




Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

  • JDS is the Sri Lankan partner organization of international media rights group, Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The launching of this website was made possible by the EU’s European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), of which Reporters Without Borders is a beneficiary.