For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
Sri Lankan universities: on the verge of a colossal showdown between students and administrators
176 university students have been suspended and more than 25 have been remanded in the past 60 days. Meanwhile student unions and cultural activities are halted due to unreasonable restrictions and in some universities the administrators have created a network to spy on students and lecturers.
While the government is planning to usher in private universities it has prevented the commencement of external degree programmes depriving the state run universities of much needed resources. These shocking revelations show the extent of suppression and animosity directed at university students.
Centre for Human Rights (CHR) – Sri Lanka in its second reports revealed the contraction of political freedom in Sri Lankan universities. Not only students but also a large number of lecturers who hold independent opinions are been continuously harassed.
Animosity between university students and administrators grow
In the last six weeks there has been an increase in student activism in the universities. Protests and demonstrations were held in all the universities and these culminated when students were attacked near the Ministry of Higher Education last week. The university students have no other option but to take to the streets to counter the growing suppression leveled at them.
The students of University of Sri Jayawardanepura are facing restrictions hitherto not seen in a university. Some actions taken by university administrators are demeaning and unsuitable for a higher education institute. The most recent incident occurred last week when seven students including five bhikkus and two female students were suspended for distributing leaflets outside the university.
The continuous intervention by two UPFA politicians have spiraled the University of Wayamba into chaos.
University of Uwa Wellassa is nothing more than an open prison. It is the only university in Sri Lanka which does not have student or lecturers unions. The administrators have prohibited the assembly of more than five students and in the last two months no student union activity has taken place. Article 14 of the Constitution of Sri Lanka guarantees the freedom of peaceful assembly and association, therefore the administrators of the university is violating the supreme law of the land.
Also a group calling themselves Sanskruthika Kalamanakaruwo (Cultural Managers/Watch Dogs) are spying on students and lecturers. University of Uwa Wellassa is one of the few government institutions that does not conduct internal disciplinary hearings.
Administrators have forbidden male students to enter the university premises after 6 pm and there is an attempt to remove male students from the University of Kelaniya. The Sri Lankan constitution assures equality and this attempt to deprive hostel facilities inside the universities to male students is a violation of their fundamental rights.
Seven medical students and two allied health sciences students of the University of Peradeniya have been suspended. Five students at the University of Rajarata have been suspended after they protested the administration’s decision to prevent the screening of a stage drama. 19 students of the Faculty of Agriculture have been also suspended.
Given below is a breakdown of recent student suspensions.
University Number of students suspended
Sri Jayawardanepura 70
Remanding University Students
Another novel aspect of the government is the indiscriminate arrest of university students using suppressive laws introduced in the late 1980s.
Four students of the University of Peradeniya have been remanded for booing Minister of Higher education SB Dissanayake. 21 students were remanded till October, 29th after the incident near the Ministry of Higher education and out of that 10 students are from the University of Peradeniya.
Two students attached to the Faculty of Agriculture at Rajarata University are in remand custody while another 8-9 students from Rajarata were arrested near the Ministry of Higher education on October 14.
Cases were filed against 66 students of University of Sri Jayawardanepura in the last few months. Currently three cases are filed against 10 students of the university.
A student does not enter a university just to by heart notes and sit for exams. S/he enters university to enhance their understanding of life itself. Therefore art was a part of university culture from day one and even in the darkest days there were always drama, discussions and exhibitions at universities. But there have been no such events at the Universities of Kelaniya, Colombo, Sri Jayawardanepura, Wayamba, Rajarata and Ruhuna due to restrictions imposed by administrators
When universities were established two institutions, the Senate and the University Council, were created to prevent unwarranted external meddling. But unfortunately there is visible political interfering in the universities. CHR fears that this unwarranted interventions and draconian laws will push students to take desperate measures.
Report compiled by Anupama Ganegoda
Rajith Keerthi Tennakoon
Executive Director/Centre for Human Rights in Sri Lanka,CHR – Sri Lanka