Pressure Mounts On Jaffna Student Arrest
By Chrishanthi Christopher
Despite repeated calls by opposition political parties, civil society movements and human rights groups to release the Jaffna University students who were arbitrarily arrested last month on alleged terrorism charges, they continue to remain in custody of the Terrorist Investigation Department (TID).
It is two weeks since the students were arrested and detained on charges of terrorism for the simple act of lighting lamps to commemorate the ‘Mahaveer’ day on November 27. The police had submitted the names of eleven students to the University administration demanding that they be produced at the Jaffna Police station. There was no explanation or intimation of charges levelled against them. Last Monday, major Tamil parties and others staged a protest opposite the secretariat office in Kilinochchi demanding that the students be released and their rights respected.
The students were peacefully commemorating the war heroes’ day when the security forces and the police interrupted the event resulting in a clash. Following this the students staged a protest the next day. They were having a peaceful protest march on November 28 from the main entrance at the Parameshwaran Road to the Science Faculty entrance. But the police attacked them again. In the melee that followed many students were beaten and dragged causing injuries.
Following this on December 6 eleven students were arrested under the PTA by the TID and seven of them were subsequently released. Still four students continue to languish in the Welikanda military camp along with 600 other ex-LTTE cadres. The students are said to be under interrogation.
The arrested are B. Bawanathan – Leader, University Students’ Union, P. Tharshananan – Secretary, University Students’ Union, K. Jenamejayanth – Leader, Arts Faculty Union and S Solomon – Member, Science Faulty Union.
Today the Jaffna University is closed. The military and the police are occupying the place and the students are boycotting academic activities demanding the release of the students.
Students from other universities island wide have joined in solidarity protesting against the arrest and demanding their release. Last week students from the Peradeniya University gathered outside the university premises for protests.
Tamil University students in Norway carried out a peaceful demonstration with lights and banners condemning the attack and arrests of students.
Also the Canadian University Tamil Students’ Association held a countrywide awareness campaign on the plight of the Jaffna University students.
But the Defense Secretary is unrelenting. He had told in no uncertain terms to the Jaffna University Vice Chancellor Wasanthi Araseratnam and other academics who visited him last week that they would not be released. His explanation is that the students are ex LTTE cadres and they need to be rehabilitated.
TNA MP Suresh Premachandran questions on the kind of rehabilitation university students need. They are final year students and have been peacefully studying all these years.” said Premachandran.
Premachandran contends that a court has to decide whether they need be rehabilitated. He says that the students were only lighting a lamp to commemorate the death of their relatives and friends. If the JVP can do it, so can they – they have a right to remember their family and friends.
Premachandran says that although the government talks of reconciliation among the Tamils and the Sinhala people it continues to arrests the Tamil people without any intimation to their families. He says that in the last three years and six months following the end of the war there has been no reports of violence but over 50 people have been arrested in the north. “Their families have not been informed of their whereabouts. There is no reconciliation anywhere”.
Wickramabahu contends that the government is losing its popularity among the people and it is trying to orchestrate that the LTTE is re-emerging. It wants to show the Sinhala masses that it is continuing to fight them.
He says that the LSSP has written to over 100 countries informing about the sort of things taking place in Sri Lanka. “We have informed through our International Centre at Amsterdam. India and Pakistan have been intimated separately” he adds.
Meanwhile, last week the police hot on the heels of the arrest of the Jaffna University students, went on a rampage arresting youth in Jaffna branding them as ex LTTE cadres. Police media spokesman Preshantha Jayakody says that they have gathered intelligence on these youth for a long time and now they were arresting them. The arrests are continuing. Premachandran says that over 50 youth have been arrested and being detained without any charges or their families being informed.
Meanwhile, human rights groups have expressed their concern over the new developments in the northern peninsula. The Human Rights Watch in a communiqué says that the present trend of arresting Tamils and detaining them sends out a dangerous message. “… any Tamil can be detained arbitrarily and detained indefinitely,” says Brad Adams, Asia Director, Human Rights Watch.
“The Sri Lankan authorities should realize that such actions generate legitimate grievances not reconciliation,” the message adds.
The Amnesty International was quick in condemning the arrests. The London based human rights group expressed concerns over the well being of the students under the TID custody. Jim Mc Donald, Sri Lanka country specialist of Amnesty International USA says that the situation is of grave concern and has called on the Sri Lankan government to release the students from custody or charge them with a recognizable criminal offence. “They should be treated in accordance with international standards while in detention,” Jim Mcdonald reiterates.
The Movement for Equal Rights in Sri Lanka has also urged the government to immediately release the Jaffna University students. The movement has also called for the withdrawal of the army from the north and east and granting equal rights to all Sri Lankans.
Meanwhile, the families of the students arrested have been given the opportunity to visit their sons. Families say that the students had been interrogated intensely looking for information on other students in the university.
The families of the students in custody are wailing and weeping not knowing whether their sons will ever come back home. They say that their sons are innocent and have not been involved in any sort of LTTE activities. All four of them are final year students and they could have not got involved in any terrorist activities.
“The four are being detained because they were vividly portrayed in the media holding placards and protesting. It was a peaceful march until the police intervened and attacked the protestors” said a parent.
TNA MP E. Saravanabhavan who was at the scene when the police and army attacked the students on December 27 says that the arrests of those students is an illegal practice and questions who decides on the need to rehabilitate the students. “It is the court of law – this is illegal practice. Nobody to ask including journalists. None of the media in Colombo highlights our plight,” he laments.
Jaffna Lecturers’ Union, President, Rasakumaran says that the students are in fear. He says that many students do not want to resume their studies and have left the country.
“They say that they do not want to come back and resume their academic activities when their leaders are in rehabilitation camps,” he said.
He says that the government is trying to create a rift between the Tamil and Sinhala students in the university. He claims that there are over 250 Sinhala students studying in the faculty of science and arts. And if the students demand that the academic activities be resumed there will be a clash of interest. We need reconciliation in the minds of all people and the little we have achieved should not be broken – we need to co-exist for a long time,” he said.
“I’m waiting for my son to come home”
Vimalawathi (56) P. Tharshanan’s mother said, “I am waiting for my son to return home. We cannot eat or drink peacefully. We do not know what problems he is undergoing. He is an innocent child and was never involved in any other unwanted activities. He had his early education at the Bambalapitiya Hindu College up to his Ordinary Levels. Then I brought him to Jaffna and he studied at the Jaffna Central College up to his Advanced Levels.
“I visited him once along with the other parents. He seemed all right. But how do we know what they are doing to him. He will not tell us. Although we are allowed to go and see him again I cannot afford the expenses involved. I need about Rs.4,000 to rs.5,000 and the journey takes about six hours one way through the wild. It is very far away and I cannot afford it.
“I have registered with the Human Rights commission. The University authorities handed him over to the police and I am looking up to them that they will do the needful for their release. He is my eldest son and I am praying that my child will come back home soon.”
“We are monitoring the situation”
K. Kanakaraj from the Human Rights Commission office in Jaffna said, “We have received two complaints from the families of the Jaffna University students who were arrested two weeks ago. Also there were 43 complaints from families of youth who have been arrested last week. The arrests are legal. We are monitoring the situation and the well being of the detainees at the detention centres. It is only an interrogation and following this they have to be released or charged in a court of law.
Heavy interrogation, says Mother
S. Sathkunawathi (55) – Soloman Shanmugam’s mother said, “My son has had all his studies in Jaffna. He has never gone out of Jaffna. He is innocent. The media portrayed him carrying placards and chanting slogans. This has got him into trouble. The protest was peaceful and harmless.
“I visited him. He looks all right. But there has been heavy interrogation over any overseas or Wanni connection. He has no friends in the Wanni – his only friends are here in Jaffna.
“Also he has been asked whether he possesses a passport or a driving licence. He has never been overseas and he has only a pushbike.
“I am an ex employee of the AGA’s Office Nallur and my husband worked as an electrician at the Cement Corporation. My eldest daughter is working as a research assistant at the Palmyrah Research Institute. My other two children are schooling.
“We are all sad – The TID at the beginning said that my son was blameless and that he would be released soon. I have registered with the Human Rights Commission. The University authorities are also doing their part.
“He did nothing wrong – I cannot understand why they are keeping him so long. We are all praying that he will come back soon.”