Colombo Telegraph

Civil Society Demands Immediate Investigation Into Brutal Police Attack On Students

A group of concerned academics, civil society activists and artistes have today demanded National Police Commission to immediately conduct an investigation into brutal police attack on HND (Higher National Diploma) students on Wednesday (29/10/2015).

Issuing a statement they said; “At the same time, we stress the need to conduct these investigations impartially and make their findings public and that police officers, and those who issued orders to the police to act the way they did, are held publicly accountable. In addition, we demand that the President and Prime Minister reveal their stance on how the government plans to deal with dissent and public protests in future and explain to Sri Lankan society how they plan to prevent incidents like this from being repeated.”

We publish below the statement in full;

Many of us issuing this statement today played an active role in the January 08, 2015 Presidential Election campaign and the subsequent General Election on 17 August. Ours was not a political involvement in the sense of playing party politics but a principled political intervention to change the culture of governance in this country. We had witnessed close to a decade of increasing authoritarianism, the shrinking of democratic space and a culture of violent suppression of dissent under the defeated Rajapaksa regime. We intervened because we wanted to see tangible change. We were, however, not so naïve as to expect a complete change in the political culture of the country and were therefore not so surprised at the appointment of a jumbo cabinet, or the nepotism that is creeping back into the functioning of the government, but we did have some minimum expectations from a new regime that campaigned almost exclusively on the theme of ‘good governance’ and a President and Prime Minister who repeatedly preach the mantra of democracy and good governance.

The events of 29/10/2015 where the police unleashed a brutal attack on a group of students seeking an opportunity to discuss systemic problems in the higher education sector has led us to seriously question whether the current regime is capable of meeting even our minimum expectations. What happened at Ward Place on 29/10/2015 is not an isolated incident. It appears to be a part of an emerging trend in how the incumbent government deals with dissent. There were several similar attacks on protesting students, people protesting on various issues such as lack of drinking water, etc., post January 08 – though none probably match the brutality of this attack which left at least one student seriously injured.

The Sri Lankan police force, conditioned by decades of use and abuse by the political establishment, is no stranger to violence. The violent police reaction to student dissent, therefore, is no surprise. However, we believe that the police does not and would not act the way they did on 29/10/2015 unless there was a ‘go ahead’ from the political establishment. There is then clearly an element within the present government that feels democratic dissent is a threat that must be suppressed swiftly and violently. The incidents of 29/10/2015and the images and the sounds of desperate students cringing in fear and being violently beaten, suggests that there is little to differentiate this regime from the previous one – after all, the previous regime took several years to arrive at its violent undemocratic destination while this regime seems to have achieved the same in the space of a few months.

We would like to remind the government that through its co-sponsored resolution at the UNHCR it has made an international and highly visible commitment to investigate historical human rights abuses in this country and that all eyes are on Sri Lanka at the moment. Various government representatives have been busy marketing Sri Lanka’s ‘good governance’ brand globally at various international forums. In such a context, is this how the government is attempting to prove its democratic credentials? If students protesting about the restructuring of an academic program and asking for more student welfare are treated in this way, what does that say about how the government will treat those who pose a more significant threat to it politically?

We, the undersigned, demand that the newly established National Police Commission immediately conduct an investigation in to this incident while appreciating the proactive action taken by the Human Rights Commission which has stated that it would conduct an investigation. At the same time, we stress the need to conduct these investigations impartially and make their findings public and that police officers, and those who issued orders to the police to act the way they did, are held publicly accountable. In addition, we demand that the President and Prime Minister reveal their stance on how the government plans to deal with dissent and public protests in future and explain to Sri Lankan society how they plan to prevent incidents like this from being repeated.

Prof. Jayadeva Uyangoda, University of Colombo
Prof. Arjuna Parakrama, University of Peradeniya
Prof. Sumathy Sivamohan, University of Peradeniya
Prof. Neloufer de Mel, University of Colombo
Prof. Asanga Thilakaratne, University of Colombo
Prof. Rohan Fernando, Open University of Sri Lanka
Prof. Priyan Dias, University of Moratuwa
Dr. Prabhath Jayasinghe, University of Colombo
Mr. P. Seneviratne, Open University of Sri Lanka
Mr. N.G.A Karunathilaka, University of kelaniya
Dr. Shantha Abeysinghe, Open University of Sri Lanka
Dr. Harshana Rambukwella, Open University of Sri Lanka
Dr. Harini Amrasuriya, Open University of Sri Lanka
Dileepa Witharana, Open University of Sri Lanka
Mihiri Jansz, Open University of Sri Lanka
Amali Wedagedara, Open University of Sri Lanka
Kaushalya Kumarasinghe, Open University of Sri Lanka
Hansini Gamlath
Roshan Manjula
Anushaya Collure
Dr. Shamala Kumar, University of Peradeniya
Dr Asha Abeyasekera,
Dr Pradeep Peiris, Social Scientists’ Association
Kumudini Samuel
Sarala Emmanuel
Dr Danesh Karunanayake, University of Peradeniya
Dr Shyamni Hettiarachchi
Dr Janaki Jayawardene, University of Colombo
Balasingham Skanthakumar
Athula Kumara Samarakoon, Open University of Sri Lanka
Dr Dhammika Herath, University of Peradeniya
Upul Wickramasingha, Education Renaissance Programme
Thiyagaraja Waradas, University of Colombo
Dr. Nirmal Ranjith Devasiri, University of Colombo
Dr. Malathi de Alwis
Dr. Primal Fernando, University of Peradeniya
Dr. Jinasena Hewage, Ruhuna University
Dr. Rangika Halwatura, University of Moratuwa
Dr. A.W. Wijerathna
Ms. Sewwandi Alawaththa
Maheshika Sakalasuriya
Swasthika Arulingam
Parakrama Niriella, Theatre Director
Ruwanthie de Chickera, Playwright
Dr Sunil Wijesiriwardhane, Cultural Critic
Nadie Kammallaweera, Actor
Ananda Galappatti
Dr. S. Arivalazahan
Dr J.Sivagnanam, Eastern University of Sri Lanka
Chandragupta Thenuwara, University of Visual and Performing Arts
Anurudda Pradeep Karnasuriya, Sri Jayawardenapura University
Sithumini Rathnamalala, University of Moratuwa
Ahilan Kadirgamar
Kalpa Rajapakshe, University of Peradeniya
Sakuna M. Gamage
Niyanthini Kadirgamar
Ravi Tissera
Lakmali Hemachandra
Damith Chandimal
INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre
Vijayananthan Thusandra
Harshana Nanayakkara, Lawyer
Dr Pavithra Kailasapathy, University of Colombo
Dr Kaushalya Perera, University of Kelaniya
Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, Centre for Policy Alternatives
Ranmali Mirchandani, Dramatist
Marisa De Silva, Journalist
Jake Orloff, Dramatist
Kamani Jinadasa, Actor
Shanthi Dias
Prashani Rambukwella
Sampath samarakoon, Journalist
Kumari Kumaragamage, Writer
Chinthaka Rajapakse, Convenor, MONLAR
Brito Fernando, Convenor , Families of the Disappeared
Upul Kumarapperuma, Lawyer
N.V Nugawela
Luwie Ganeshathasan, Attorney-at-Law
Sandya Ekneligoda, Human rights activist
Chandana Pathirana, Open University of Sri Lanka
Jagath Siriwardena, Activist, 71 Sansadaya
Lal luxman, Political Activist
Ruki Fernando
Gayani Yapa, Open University of Sri Lanka

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