Sri Lankan police have arrested five student activists including the Convener of the Inter-University Students’ Federation Wasantha Mudalige and President of the Jayewardenepura University Students’ Union Amila Sandeepa following protests against the controversial Kotelawala National Defence University (or KDU) Bill.
The activists were arrested by Thalangama Police for holding a protest near parliament on Tuesday where they allegedly injured the Maharagama Police OIC, damaged the road by burning a coffin, and violated “inter-provincial travel restrictions”. The police have also three vans that transported the protesters.
Mudalige was reported to have been arrested by Sri Lankan police following his appearance on a TV talk show where he criticised the KNDU Bill.
These arrests Sri Lanka’s police follow a damning report by Human Rights Watch which highlights the abuses of the police including the increased killings and torture of people under cover of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The bill has been widely criticised across the island as it reportedly seeks to change the governance structure of the University and pave way for greater military involvement in education policy and administration.
The Ceylon Teachers Union (CTU), the Inter-University Students Federation (IUSF), and others opposing the bill are concerned about a parallel structure of higher education ran by the military that suppresses free speech.
The arrest of these student activists follows a similar crackdown on teachers protests. On Wednesday 38 teachers were arrested for “illegal assembly” and “violation of quarantine” regulations as they protested outside the Presidential Secretariat.