The Federation of University Teachers (FUTA) has strongly condemned the suppression of student activists in recent times.
“The most recent incident, the violent suppression by the police of the peaceful protest at Lipton Circle, followed by the arrest of 13 students shows the brutality of state action against university students,” the FUTA said in a statement.
Issuing a statement yesterday, the Secretary of the FUTA, Prof. Arjuna Parakrama said: “As witnessed by several academics who were present at Lipton Circle during this incident, the ‘occupation’ by the medical students of the Lipton Circle was peaceful and it was not disturbing anyone: the traffic was not disrupted, none of the activities in the area was disturbed. Yet, the police arrived with a court order, accompanied by the riot police and water cannons and ordered the students to leave within 15 minutes. When they did not do so, they were chased away by baton-wielding police and pelted with water. Within minutes the banners put up by the students were torn off; the shelters they had built on the roundabout were demolished. We also note that there were several people not in police uniform who arrived with the police to participate in the demolition work. It was an extremely efficient and brutal display of state intolerance of dissent.
“This incident demonstrates the fact that this government is unable to tolerate dissent – even peaceful protest. It has demonstrated utter contempt for democratic values, freedom of speech and the rights to protest – all values that it claims to uphold and boasts that it restored after it came to power. This government has now lost any legitimacy it may have had of being the government of ‘good governance’. Worryingly, the Government seems to be using the law to block dissent and to detain student leaders. The attempted arrest of Ryan Jayalath, Convenor of the Medical Students Action Committees, is another instance where the response and behaviour of law enforcement officials was entirely out of proportion. We cannot forget the fact that this country has seen repeated instances of disappearances, torture, arbitrary detention and the politicisation of state machinery to crush dissent in its post-independence history. The militarised apparatus that has been steadily built up for this purpose is evidently still intact.
“We demand that the Government uphold the right of dissent and protest of all, and that it immediately ceases the suppression of student activists. We call upon the Government to heed the strength of public resistance to its policy on SAITM and to engage in a meaningful and honest effort to resolve the crisis brought about as a result of SAITM.
“We extend our sincere concern to the students who faced violence as a result of government brutality, and also those who have been arrested while engaging in protests. We will continue to uphold the right to protest and express dissent, and resort to whatever means available to us to show our condemnation of the Government’s actions.”