A top defence official has warned a trade union leader of the university teachers on Friday (22) to stop blaming the Ministry of Defence for alleged threats he has been receiving. The Secretary of the Defence Ministry Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has called Dr. Nirmal Ranjith Devasiri, the president of the Federation of University Teachers Associations (FUTA), to warn him not to make baseless accusations against the defence authorities.
The defence secretary’s warning came hours after Dr.Devasiri held a press conference in Colombo to explain the threats he has received against his trade union involvement. Addressing the press conference Devasiri said that on Tuesday (19) individuals claiming to be from the Ministry of Defence had visited his neighbours making unwarranted inquiries about him and his daughter. He has lodged a complaint on the incident at the Maharagama Police Station after being alerted by his neighbours.
A ‘threatening call’
But soon after the press conference, Devasiri received another threatening phone call from someone who identified himself as a university student who accused him for trying to ruin his future through FUTA’s trade union actions. “He said he had already visited my neighnourhood to collect my information” said Devasiri. “The threat was not only against me, but against my whole family. He wanted me to halt the upcoming trade union action or face the dire consequences” he added. After the call was traced to a phone booth in Colombo suburbs, another complaint has been lodged at the Cinnamon Garden Police station.
The warning from the country’s Defence Secretary came hours after the second incident on Friday. “The conversation initially appeared to be cordial, though later it turned into a heated argument” Devasiri said speaking to JDS. The Defence Secretary Rajapaksa had stressed that the FUTA should stop ‘unwarranted accusations against the defence authorities as he or his officials did not have anything to do with the alleged intimidations.’
“He insisted that I should stop blaming them though I had explained to him that I was simply repeating what the suspicious visitors told my neighbours” Devasiri said. “The Secretary said he doesn’t even know me and therefore it’s pointless to accuse defence authorities for intimidating me and my family. But I was surprised by the fact that a powerful official at the MoD taking time to find my home number and calling me just to say that he doesn’t know me” he added.
Meanwhile, the FUTA issued a statement on Saturday demanding the government to ensure the safety of Dr.Devasiri and his family. “FUTA and all university academics assert that we will not be deterred from our course of action to protect higher education in Sri Lanka through these tactics, and will continue by all legitimate means to win our demands” the statement said.
The FUTA, an umbrella trade union of nearly 43 unions representing 14 universities of the country, has announced its’ plan to launch a continuous strike action starting from July 04. The planned trade union action calls upon the government to implement a previously promised salary increase and to allocate 6% of GDP for education.
By Sanath Balasooriya