The Law and Society Trust (LST) says it is alarmed and concerned over the incident at Ward Place, Colombo, in which 39 Higher National Diploma in Accountancy (HNDA) students were arrested including 2 monks and 2 female students by the police .
Students who were engaged in a peaceful protest march in front of Ministry of Higher Education and University Grants Commission (UGC), organised by the Inter Student Collective for the Protection of HNDA, urging the authorities to enhance the status of HNDA to a degree were brutally assaulted by the Police. It is reported that the police used batons, tear gas and water cannon to disperse the students who attempted to force their way into the premises of the UGC. Convener of the Inter-University Students Federation, who organised the protest, had stated that six students including female students were injured and hospitalised. Sasini Sandeepani, a 21 year old first year HNDA student claimed that she was repeatedly beaten on her head by a policeman. Photos of Sasini getting beaten up has gone viral on the internet, despite Senior DIG Champika Siriwardene’s claim that the pictures were a ploy by the media to mislead the public
This is not an isolated incident of law enforcement authorities using excessive force in the face of public protests, it is quite the norm here as similar such incidences have occurred right throughout our history where such police excesses have resulted in death and injury to persons.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) in its recent report (October 23, 2015) stated that the Police habitually use excessive force against individuals taking part in demonstrations. The report goes on to say that the police often bypass or ignore procedural safeguards that exist in Sri Lankan law and are required under international human rights law, including in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Sri Lanka is a party.
Last month (October 2015), a protest staged by the residents of Bandagiriya Hambantota, demanding clean drinking water was disturbed by the police which left 3 protesters and police officers injured . In December 2014, Police used tear gas to disperse a group of protesters opposite the University Grants Commission . In March 2015, Police assaulted and used tear gas and water canon against the students who were peacefully marching towards the Prime Minister’s office demanding the government to increase the Mahapola student loans, withdraw the new fee regulations for school education, and abolish private universities . Five students were injured and five others were arrested and later released.
In October 2010 police attacked student protestors who marched to the Ministry of Higher Education and occupied the building demanding the release of six other students .RPA Roshan Shanaka, a bystander at a demonstration for workers’ pensions organized by FTZ workers died as a result of excessive use of force by the police in May 2011 . It was reported that more than 200 people were injured by the police at this particular incident.
The right to freedom of peaceful assembly together with rights of freedom of association and freedom of expression is constitutionally protected as well as enshrined in human rights covenants to which Sri Lanka is a party. To this effect the government has an obligation to ensure that its own agents do not violate these rights and that no restrictions are imposed on them in the exercise of these rights other than when it is absolutely necessary and outlined by law. The policing of assemblies including those that are violent, not peaceful or considered illegal must respect the right to life, liberty and security of the persons and the right to be free from torture or other forms of ill-treatment.
“Whilst we welcome the action taken by the Prime Minister, the Human Rights Commission and the National Police Commission we urge that the matter is pursued till the very end to ensure clear and impartial investigations are carried out and the relevant parties are held accountable unlike in past incidences where such cases have resulted in impunity against personnel and institutions,” LST said. (Colombo Gazette)