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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

We Question Whether the Current Regime is Capable of Meeting Even Minimum Expectations

Statement on the brutal police attack on HND (Higher National Diploma) students on 29/10/2015 by  concerned citizens.Many of us issuing this statement today played an active role in the January 08, 2015 Presidential Election campaign and the subsequent General Election on 17 August. Ours was not a political involvement in the sense of playing party politics but a principled political intervention to change the culture of governance in this country. We had witnessed close to a decade of increasing authoritarianism, the shrinking of democratic space and a culture of violent suppression of dissent under the defeated Rajapaksa regime. We intervened because we wanted to see tangible change. We were, however, not so naïve as to expect a complete change in the political culture of the country and were therefore not so surprised at the appointment of a jumbo cabinet, or the nepotism that is creeping back into the functioning of the government, but we did have some minimum expectations from a new regime that campaigned almost exclusively on the theme of ‘good governance’ and a President and Prime Minister who repeatedly preach the mantra of democracy and good governance.

The events of 29/10/2015 where the police unleashed a brutal attack on a group of students seeking an opportunity to discuss systemic problems in the higher education sector has led us to seriously question whether the current regime is capable of meeting even our minimum expectations. What happened at Ward Place on 29/10/2015 is not an isolated incident. It appears to be a part of an emerging trend in how the incumbent government deals with dissent. There were several similar attacks on protesting students, people protesting on various issues such as lack of drinking water, etc., post January 08 – though none probably match the brutality of this attack which left at least one student seriously injured.

The Sri Lankan police force, conditioned by decades of use and abuse by the political establishment, is no stranger to violence. The violent police reaction to student dissent, therefore, is no surprise. However, we believe that the police does not and would not act the way they did on 29/10/2015 unless there was a ‘go ahead’ from the political establishment. There is then clearly an element within the present government that feels democratic dissent is a threat that must be suppressed swiftly and violently. The incidents of 29/10/2015and the images and the sounds of desperate students cringing in fear and being violently beaten, suggests that there is little to differentiate this regime from the previous one – after all, the previous regime took several years to arrive at its violent undemocratic destination while this regime seems to have achieved the same in the space of a few months.

We would like to remind the government that through its co-sponsored resolution at the UNHCR it has made an international and highly visible commitment to investigate historical human rights abuses in this country and that all eyes are on Sri Lanka at the moment. Various government representatives have been busy marketing Sri Lanka’s ‘good governance’ brand globally at various international forums. In such a context, is this how the government is attempting to prove its democratic credentials? If students protesting about the restructuring of an academic program and asking for more student welfare are treated in this way, what does that say about how the government will treat those who pose a more significant threat to it politically?

We, the undersigned, demand that the newly established National Police Commission immediately conduct an investigation in to this incident while appreciating the proactive action taken by the Human Rights Commission which has stated that it would conduct an investigation. At the same time, we stress the need to conduct these investigations impartially and make their findings public and that police officers, and those who issued orders to the police to act the way they did, are held publicly accountable. In addition, we demand that the President and Prime Minister reveal their stance on how the government plans to deal with dissent and public protests in future and explain to Sri Lankan society how they plan to prevent incidents like this from being repeated.

  1. Prof. Jayadeva Uyangoda, University of Colombo
  2. Prof. Arjuna Parakrama, University of Peradeniya
  3. Prof. Sumathy Sivamohan, University of Peradeniya
  4. Prof. Neloufer de Mel, University of Colombo
  5. Prof. Asanga Thilakaratne, University of Colombo
  6. Prof. Rohan Fernando, Open University of Sri Lanka
  7. Prof. Priyan Dias, University of Moratuwa
  8. Dr. Prabhath Jayasinghe, University of Colombo
  9. Mr. P. Seneviratne, Open University of Sri Lanka
  10. Mr. N.G.A Karunathilaka, University of kelaniya
  11. Dr. Shantha Abeysinghe, Open University of Sri Lanka
  12. Dr. Harshana Rambukwella, Open University of Sri Lanka
  13. Dr. Harini Amrasuriya, Open University of Sri Lanka
  14. Dileepa Witharana, Open University of Sri Lanka
  15. Mihiri Jansz, Open University of Sri Lanka
  16. Amali Wedagedara, Open University of Sri Lanka
  17. Kaushalya Kumarasinghe, Open University of Sri Lanka
  18. Hansini Gamlath
  19. Roshan Manjula
  20. Anushaya Collure
  21. Dr. Shamala Kumar, University of Peradeniya
  22. Dr Asha Abeyasekera,
  23. Dr Pradeep Peiris, Social Scientists’ Association
  24. Kumudini Samuel
  25. Sarala Emmanuel
  26. Dr Danesh Karunanayake, University of Peradeniya
  27. Dr Shyamni Hettiarachchi
  28. Dr Janaki Jayawardene, University of Colombo
  29. Balasingham Skanthakumar
  30. Athula Kumara Samarakoon, Open University of Sri Lanka
  31. Dr Dhammika Herath, University of Peradeniya
  32. Upul Wickramasingha, Education Renaissance Programme
  33. Thiyagaraja Waradas, University of Colombo
  34. Dr. Nirmal Ranjith Devasiri, University of Colombo
  35. Dr. Malathi de Alwis
  36. Dr. Primal Fernando, University of Peradeniya
  37. Dr. Jinasena Hewage, Ruhuna University
  38. Dr. Rangika Halwatura, University of Moratuwa
  39. Dr. A.W. Wijerathna
  40. Ms. Sewwandi Alawaththa
  41. Maheshika Sakalasuriya
  42. Swasthika Arulingam
  43. Parakrama Niriella, Theatre Director
  44. Ruwanthie de Chickera, Playwright
  45. Dr Sunil Wijesiriwardhane, Cultural Critic
  46. Nadie Kammallaweera, Actor
  47. Ananda Galappatti
  48. Dr. S. Arivalazahan
  49. Dr J.Sivagnanam, Eastern University of Sri Lanka
  50. Chandragupta Thenuwara, University of Visual and Performing Arts
  51. Anurudda Pradeep Karnasuriya, Sri Jayawardenapura University
  52. Sithumini Rathnamalala, University of Moratuwa
  53. Ahilan Kadirgamar
  54. Kalpa Rajapakshe, University of Peradeniya
  55. Sakuna M. Gamage
  56. Niyanthini Kadirgamar
  57. Ravi Tissera
  58. Lakmali Hemachandra
  59. Damith Chandimal
  60. INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre
  61. Vijayananthan Thusandra
  62. Harshana Nanayakkara, Lawyer
  63. Dr Pavithra Kailasapathy, University of Colombo
  64. Dr Kaushalya Perera, University of Kelaniya
  65. Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, Centre for Policy Alternatives
  66. Ranmali Mirchandani, Dramatist
  67. Marisa De Silva, Journalist
  68. Jake Orloff, Dramatist
  69. Kamani Jinadasa, Actor
  70. Shanthi Dias
  71. Prashani Rambukwella
  72. Sampath samarakoon, Journalist
  73. Kumari Kumaragamage, Writer
  74. Chinthaka Rajapakse, Convenor, MONLAR
  75. Brito Fernando, Convenor , Families of the Disappeared
  76. Upul Kumarapperuma, Lawyer
  77. N.V Nugawela
  78. Luwie Ganeshathasan, Attorney-at-Law
  79. Sandya Ekneligoda, Human rights activist
  80. Chandana Pathirana, Open University of Sri Lanka
  81. Jagath Siriwardena, Activist, 71 Sansadaya
  82. Lal luxman, Political Activist
  83. Ruki Fernando
  84. Gayani Yapa, Open University of Sri Lanka
  85. Sanjana Hattotuwa, Senior Researcher, TED Fellow Alum


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