The Federation of University Teachers’ Association claims that Tamil scholars were being harassed by the CID after Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya claimed publicly that academics from Sri Lanka had attended a conference organised by the Transnational Government of Tamil Ealam.
The General had stated that he relied on information provided to the military by a foreign mission based in Sri Lanka, FUTA said in a statement issued yesterday.
FUTA said the Ministry of Higher Education and the University Grants Commission had launched investigations into the participation of several Sri Lankan academics at the conference. The academics in question had been questioned at the airport regarding the conference agenda, FUTA said.
The Association said that it was aware that the World Research Conference on Tamilological Studies 2013 was an international conference at which Tamil scholars from around the world are participating. The President of the Conference is Emeritus Professor A. Sammugadas, University of Jaffna, FUTA siad. “Over one hundred papers have been selected for the conference on a range of subjects such as science and technology, religious and cultural memories, architecture and design, genealogy and kinship, race and ethnic relations, archaeology and historiography as well as many more areas,” the FUTA statement said.
FUTA said the Chief of Defence Staff had no authority to make judgements regarding the content and nature of academic conferences. “The Tamilological conference was by no means furtively organised. None of the Sri Lankan academics attending the conference did so without following the usual procedures required when attending overseas conferences,” FUTA explained.
“Thus, for the Chief of Defence Staff to make a statement as if this was a sensational discovery by the intelligence services is puzzling to say the least,” the Association charged.
Public statements such as the statement referred to being made by the military are extremely problematic and reflect the alarming degree to which Sri Lankan society is being militarised both directly and indirectly, the FUTA statement said.
“The reaction of Sri Lankan authorities to this Conference is an extremely serious issue – it seeks to curtail the scientific interests of the academic community to issues that the state declares as ‘safe’. This is regressive thinking and symptomatic of a highly insecure, authoritarian regime,” FUTA charged.
Referring to Gen. Jayasuriya’s statement as being rash and irresponsible, FUTA said that the UGC reaction was disappointing but highly predictable. “In the current context rather than standing up for academic freedom, the UGC, which is responsible for the quality and development of higher education in this country meekly submits to the rash and irresponsible statements made by one of the most senior military officers in Sri Lanka,” FUTA said.
The Association said that such incidents add credence to the fears expressed by many in society that Sri Lanka is heading towards one of its darkest periods.
“This is yet another instance, where militarisation of all sectors of society and the infiltration of the military into areas which should not be their concern are condoned by those in positions of authority,” FUTA said.
FUTA has called for an explanation from the Chief of Defence Staff.