FUTA press statement on Jaffna university problem
While expressing concern about the recent beating, harassment and arrests of students in Jaffna, FUTA reminds the authorities of its demands made in the recent protest to keep the universities free of political interference. Not only does this hinder academic enterprise but leads to unrest in our universities. We in particular demanded that the training of new entrants in army camps, which included an ideological component, and the imposition of Rakna Lanka Security Service having close association with the Defence Ministry, be rescinded. This mentality has led to a country that spends far more on spying and attempting to control students than on educating them. We see that the regime considers the youth as a force to be feared rather than nurtured for the future of this country.
The young must be given leeway to express their feelings, opinions and visions within the limits of the law. The first condition for this is that the State must be law abiding with a serious commitment to uphold the law. We cannot agree more with our colleagues in Jaffna that “Default on the part of the Government through continued presence of the military without tangible moves towards a political settlement, has helped the mobilization of youthful feelings to turn [27th November] into a day of defiance, where its original association becomes less important.”
No laws were broken in lighting flames on that occasion and the army intrusion into halls of residence and separating Tamils from Sinhalese students to subject the former to threat and abuse, is very much to be regretted. The following day’s police attack on a student demonstration carrying placards demanding respect for democratic rights was further exacerbating the first blunder. The arrest of students subsequently under the PTA seems an attempt to find excuses for the Government’s misconduct.
The FUTA fully supports the wish of our colleagues to have in Jaffna University an institution that fosters pluralism, in which it is prepared to help, although the Government’s action was contrary to this aim.
FUTA condemns the use of the PTA to deal with a problem requiring political effort and a political settlement. To set an example in the observance of the rule of law the Government should first set up an inquiry into why the Police brutally assaulted students who were not responsible for any breach of the law. As the Jaffna University community has said in its letter, these arrests were purely vindictive. The fact that a magistrate’s inquiry has not been held into the assault raises questions about the role of the bypassed and intimidated Judiciary in law enforcement.
Against the harshness of the action, we have seen no evidence of anti-state terrorism in Jaffna. Of the nine students detained six have been released. The three students who remain in custody from 10th December, the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, are P. Tharshananth, K. Jenemejayan and S. Solomon. Take the case of Tharshananth. He was assaulted with metal rods by persons believed to have security connections on 18th May 2012 and was admitted to hospital and treated for head injuries. The occasion was when students planned to observe the anniversary of civilian deaths in Mullivaykkal. Tharshananth was secretary to the University Students’ Union.
If the Government had evidence that Tharshananth was involved in terrorist activities, the right thing to do was to arrest him and charge him in court rather than injure him. Further, to suggest that this closely watched, frightened person was involved in terrorist activity between the time he was beaten up and the 27th of November is hard to believe. His arrest only underscores the vindictive character of the State. We are bound to regard the students arrested as innocent of any crime.
Once more we agree with our colleagues in Jaffna that ‘dragging innocent students through police stations and police cells, as happened in the 1970s and 1980s, is frightening at the start and then hardens them and breeds contempt for the law and for the officers entrusted to uphold it.’ The country has seen the effects of breeding contempt for the law in several devastating insurgencies in the North as well as the South. Justice must not only be done, but must be seen to be done. A government that deviates from this maxim condemns us all to a bleak future.
We demand that the Government must either charge the students detained in court or release them forthwith.
Dr. Mahim Mendis
Media Spokesman- FUTA
12th December 2012