Published: 12th July 2021
Over 2.36 lakh Sri Lankan teachers boycott online classes to protest against arrest of education activists
The Bar Association of Sri Lanka stated that quarantine by regulation is meant for those contracting or suspected to have contracted COVID-19 and not to punish/deny fundamental rights
Sri Lankan teachers on Monday stayed away from conducting online classes in protest against the arrest of education activists using COVID-19 health directions. Nearly 2,36,000 government teachers together with some others from private schools run by the Catholic Church cancelled all their online classes scheduled for Monday.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the island nation in March 2020, Sri Lankan schools have been closed leading to online classes. On July 8, police arrested 31 teacher union leaders and university students claiming they had violated COVID-19 health direction. The court granted the protesters bail and refused the police request to send them on a 14-day quarantine.
But police again arrested 16 bailed out protesters as they walked out of court premises and packed them off to Air Force camp on the former war-torn Northern peninsula. The arrests and detaining the anti-government protesters using pandemic rules were condemned by the UN representative, opposition, lawyers and civil rights activists who demanded that those arrested to be released forthwith.
UN Resident Coordinator in Sri Lanka, Hanaa Singer-Hamdy stated that the right of assembly includes the right to hold peaceful demonstrations and that restrictions imposed as measures against the pandemic should not go beyond the legitimate protection of public health. "The right of assembly helps exercise other rights such as freedom of expression and influence public policies," Singer-Hamdy said on Twitter. "Vital that restrictions imposed as measures against the pandemic don't go beyond the legitimate protection of public health," she added.
The UN Resident Coordinator's response was following a number of demonstrations started by teacher trade unions in Colombo last week against the Kotelawala National Defence University (KNDU) Bill which was tabled in Parliament on July 7. The teachers claimed the bill violates free-education rights in the country where education from the school entrance to university is free of charge.
The police made arrests using a guideline issued by the Health Ministry banning protests and public gatherings indefinitely citing the spreading of COVID-19. Six fundamental rights suits filed by the Ceylon Teachers' Union (CTU) before the Supreme Court challenging illegal abduction of its activists, will be heard on Monday, while Sri Lanka's main opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) too has filed three rights petitions challenging the arrests using quarantine regulations.
Challenging the police arrest using health guidelines, the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), the body representing all lawyers in the country, has written to the Director-General of Health Services, Asela Gunawardena and to the Inspector General of Police demanding that quarantine should not be used as a punishment or form of detention. The BASL letter stated that "quarantine by regulation is meant for those contracting or suspected to have contracted COVID-19 and not to punish/deny fundamental rights."