Jaffna University Simmering…
Niranjala Ariyawansha and Chrishanthi Christopher
Amnesty International (AI) has appealed to the government of Sri Lanka to make an early decision on the three students of the University of Jaffna who were arrested on the 1st of December and presently being held by the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) in Vavuniya. AI fears that they may be tortured.
On the 27th of November, lamps were lit within the Jaffna University premises. It was the day that “Great Heroes” were remembered. It was also to commemorate the dead during the war. The Great Heroes Day was so declared by the LTTE.
The lighting of the lamps came to be known by the armed forces who, in turn entered the University premises the same evening and threatened the students. They had even entered the female students’ dormitories and used abusive language within earshot of those nearby. They had brandished weapons in addition to turning abusive. They proceeded to throw away the lamps and thereafter had entered the male dormitory and threatened the students.
A science faculty student from the University on conditions of anonymity said, “University students are also part of our society. Others were remembering their relatives and friends. Even though all may not accept their political beliefs and what they fought for and died, we understand that they fought for our rights and we must remember them by lighting lamps. No one should prevent that”.
“Let us think. Let me say for the sake of argument, I do not accept their political motives? But if the person killed is my father, mother, brother or sister? Can I not remember them by lighting a lamp? That is a right we have as human beings to remember our loved ones. If we cannot do that what basic human rights do we enjoy?”
Whilst this incident was taking place the Editor of the Uthayan newspaper was taking photographs. He was assaulted by a senior police officer. “That evening a fellow student called me and said that the Police had entered the premises and there was a commotion. I went to the University thereafter. I saw the Police leaving the female dormitory and going towards the male one. I took some photographs of this. A few Police Officers came to me on seeing this. There was a senior officer in civilian attire. There were two or three in uniform for his security. That is how I knew he must be a high ranking officer. He held me against the temple wall and assaulted me. MP Saravanabhavan came there and told him that I was a media person. The assault stopped thereafter,” he said.
The university students decided to hold a peaceful protest march against this action on the 28th. The intention was to march through the front gate of the university and to re-enter the university premises through the science faculty. This peaceful protest was also set upon by the Police. At least 20 students had to seek treatment at the Jaffna Hospital. Thereafter the TID on the 1st of December arrested four students. One student from the science faculty was released. The other three are being held by the TID at Vavuniya.
MP P. Saravanabhavan said, “The students performed a very peaceful and short protest march. When the procession came out of the front gate of the university, the army assaulted them. The children ran helter-skelter. Many were injured. I shouted at the army and asked them to stop. They responded, ‘we are army, we will do anything’. I have that recorded.”
He went on to say, “This was unnecessary. With the world human rights day round the corner and the UN Human Rights Summit to be held next March, the army behaves like this? We can imagine how this government ensures human rights. They must send intelligent people to settle problems. Not Andare’s like this”.
Amnesty International and other Human Rights organisations have voiced fears over the safety of the three students held by the TID.
The Executive Director of Transparencvy Internationa J C Weliamuna says that there is no security for the people of Sri Lanka contrary to what the government says.
“Is this the way the government approaches reconciliation? This incident showed that the government is not serious to bring about reconciliation between the communities. If tamil students cannot express themselves by a simple lighting of lamps, where are the human rights that the government says is in place? Within an independent Sri Lanka anyone can remember their dead political heroes. Even the LTTE should have that right.”
Attorney Weliamuna said that the government does not care about International Protocols or order. “The government has no serious thoughts about the International community. They will use international pressure to shore up local support.”
A Jaffna University Lecturer from the Arts Faculty who did not wish to divulge his name said, “Tamils cannot divulge their names to discuss nor express views on important national issues concerning them. We live in fear. We may disappear at any moment. That is why I did not wish to give my name. Now the Sinhalese also live in fear. You can then imagine how it is for a Tamil? The leaders of this country should be ashamed of themselves at what they have created”.
He went on to add, “Tamil politicians must solve this before the national question. I mean anyone should be able to light lamps on the great heroes’ day. They should not look to gain political mileage when students do this. They must take a decision on the great heroes’ day quickly. If the JVP can commemorate their heroes why cannot the Tamils do so?’
A discussion took place on the 4th of December between the Commander of the Northern Forces Brig. Mahinda Hathurusinghe, Vice Chancellor of the Jaffna University and other Deans. K. Rasakumaran, President of the University Lecturers said “By now three Police Posts have been placed at the entrances instead of the Army. Up to now we have not been informed whether the three students in custody will be released. At this point there are no students within the University. They have left to their homes. They live in fear. We have asked for their release and to stop the interference by the military into University affairs. This has been informed to the Vice Chancellor and all the Embassies in addition to the Minister of Higher Education.”
The US Embassy has already issued a statement condemning the attack. They have also urged the government to recognise the right to peaceful protest and freedom of expression. The convener of the IUSF Sanjeewa Bandara also said that freedom of expression should be strengthened and recognised by the government. He also urged the government to release the three students under arrest.
The international day for human rights is on the 10th of December. Human Rights are under threat across the country and not confined to the Jaffna peninsula. The International Community has been constantly urging the government to respect and uphold Human Rights. The University students of Jaffna have a common complaint. They say that they have never had a peaceful and steady life.
A student who wished to remain anonymous said “It is the government that propagates terrorism. We do not understand what relations remain between the peaceful lighting of lamps and national security. Are Tamils (Demalu) not people? Is the Mahinda Chintanaya which proposes a prosperous future only for others and not Tamils?”