The Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA) yesterday (10) alleged that the recent actions of the Government in response to their protests against the proposed General Sir John Kotelawala National Defence University (KNDU) Bill were the worst that they had experienced since 2008.
“In July 2008, the then-Education Minister threatened us. In 2012, during our 99 days of protest, we faced a major threat as well. The Education Minister at the time threateningly told the then-FUTA President that he would like to meet him. But the threats in 2021 are more fearful that either of those incidents,” said former FUTA President Prof. Rohan Fernando.
He added that at the protest on 3 August, FUTA members were verbally threatened after the protest.
“The worst part is that the Police officers carrying out arrests and searches were dressed in civil clothes. After the arrests that took place last week, we went to the Police Station near Maradana to check what happened to the protestors. In Mirihana, we were shown empty Police jail cells. When we asked them for advice on what to do, they said they didn’t know. In Pagoda, we received a similar response. When we requested them to ask the other Stations for a word on the arrested protestors, they said that they couldn’t do that. The oppression was extreme, and it increased during the course of last week.”
However, Prof. Fernando said that they would not allow the KNDU Bill to be enacted, despite expectations of even worse forms of oppression in the future.
Notably, Inter University Students’ Federation (IUSF) Convenor Wasantha Mudalige was arrested during the early hours of 6 August, while Sri Jayewardenepura University Students Council President Amila Sandeepa was arrested previously on 5 August.
The KNDU Bill has received widespread criticism from various quarters for its alleged threats to free education and the militarisation of education. A range of demonstrations have taken place throughout Colombo over the course of last month in protest over the Bill, which was tabled in Parliament on 7 July, where over 31 arrests were made. Although the Bill was due to be taken up for a vote on 6 August, Irrigation Minister and State Minister of National Security, Disaster Management, and Home Affairs Chamal Rajapaksa said that more time would be needed to consider the Bill.