Politics & Current Affairs

Sri Lanka: Student leaders detained as racists granted bail

Free education campaigners slammed the judicial system in Sri Lanka for detaining student activists  leading an ongoing protest against privatisation of higher education while a Buddhist monk who led a communal attack was released on bail.

Sri Lanka's leading teachers union condemned this inconsistency as a move by the government to use the judiciary in suppressing genuine dissent.

"Student leaders are jailed as soon as they are produced in court without granting bail," Ceylon Teachers Union (CTU) leader Joseph Stalin told JDS by phone. "Is the court trying to tell us that students are not allowed to protest for their legitimate rights?"

Three topmost leaders of the movement that oppose the establishment of a private medical college has been remanded for defying court orders against protests and damaging state property.

Inter University Student Federation (IUSF) Convener Lahiru Weerasekara and Inter University Bhikku Federation (IUBF) Convener Tampitiye Sugathananda Thero were arrested,Thursday (12) for breaching a court order, following a protest on 10 October against the South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine (SAITM) private medical college. Both activists were remanded until the 26th.

Meanwhile on Wednesday (11), Convener of the Medical Faculty Students' Action Committee Ryan Jayalath, initially detained in August, was further remanded until October 20th.

He was detained on charges of causing damages to public property after forcibly entering the Health Ministry premises during a student protest in June.

Police wielding iron rods

Tuesday's protest  itself was brutally suppressed by police in riot gear who were seen wielding iron rods. At least thirteen were reported to have been injured.

However, Buddhist monk Akmeemana Dayaratne Thero who led a violent mob in September in a racist attack against on a UN safe house sheltering Rohingya Muslim refugees was released on bail after being remanded in custody for a week. Meanwhile, Arambepola Rathanasara Thero, who summoned Sinhala mobs in a live broadcast over social media to set fire to the building housing refugees still remains at large.

"Monks who incite racial hatred avoid arrest or walk free with political and judicial help within days. But the state prosecutors are not even present at the hearings of student leaders which leads to their incarceration for a long period," said CTU leader Joseph Stalin.

In a telephone conversation with JDS on Wednesday (11), IUSF convener warned of a concerted effort to put the student leadership behind bars.

"When Sugathananda Thero and I were visiting injured students in hospital, police officers threatened us by saying that they will sort us out in courts tomorrow."

The two activists were remanded in custody by the Colombo Fort Magistrate.

© JDS