( December 8, 2012, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Civil Society Statement Condemning the Arrest and Unlawful Detention of Four Students from the University of Jaffna, and Calling for their Immediate Release
We the undersigned members of civil society strongly condemn the arrest of four students of the University of Jaffna (UoJ) by the Terrorism Investigation Department (TID) on 29thof November 2012. While welcoming the release of Kanesamoorthy Sutharsan, a student of the Jaffna Medical Faculty on the morning of 4th December, we condemn the continued detention of the remaining three Jaffna University Student Union members, Sanmugam Solaman (24 years), Kanagasundram Jenamajenth and Paramalingam Tharshaanan (24 years, Student Union Secretary).
The four arrested students are part of a group of seven Jaffna university students who were summoned by the Kopai Police (in the Jaffna District,) on 29th November, 2012, in connection with an alleged arson (petrol bomb) attack on the office of the Sri Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO), believed to be a Para-military group with close links to the Sri Lanka Army (SLA), in Thirunelvely, Jaffna. Sri TELO had opened its office at Thirunelvely, near the Jaffna University, only a week prior to the alleged arson attack. The students were later also charged with allegedly putting up posters around the Jaffna University, relating to Maaveerar Naal (LTTE heroes/martyrs day) which fell on 27th November.
Following the summons, Sanmugam Solaman and Kanagasundram Jenamajenth surrendered to the Kopai Police at 1pm on 29thNovember, accompanied by two Jaffna University lecturers and a lawyer. At the time of arrest, the lecturers were shown a document in Sinhala which appears to be the written summons issued by the Officer in Charge of the Kopai police, dated 30th November (Ref No. OIC/KP/ODB/6067/2012), to the head of security at the Jaffna University, which states that the seven students listed in the document, must appear at the Kopai Police station to make a statement on 30thNovember, in relation to a complaint made to the Kopai police on 29th November. The two students Shanmugam Soloman and Kanagasundram Jenamajenth, were subsequently handed over to the TID office in Vavuniya (Vavuniya District) on 30th November. Two more students, Paramalingam Tharshaanan and Kanesamoorthy Sutharsan were arrested by the Kopai Police at 1am on 30thNovember, from their temporary residences in Kaladdi and Urumpirai (in Jaffna town) respectively and handed over to the TID office in Vavuniya on 31stNovember.
All four students are currently being held at the Vavuniya TID office. The families of the students have so far not been provided with any official document relating to their detention or charges. The students have also not been produced before either the Vavuniya or Jaffna Magistrate to date. We are therefore deeply concerned with regard to the legality of their continued detention. The parents of one student met all four students at the Vavuniya TID office on 3rd December. The Vavuniya Police have assured the students and the parents that they would be released subject to their being produced before the Vavuniya Magistrate. The parents and the four students waited at the Vavuniya police station from 8am to 3pm on 3rdDecember, for the Vavuniya Magistrate to return from Colombo. However the students have not been produced before the Magistrate so far.
We are concerned by information that the university authorities have been informed by the Deputy Inspector General for the Northern Province, that detention orders have been issued for the four students as on 2nd December. The parents of the students have not been provided a copy of the detention order to date.
On 30th November, the police raided/ransacked the houses of two other students from the Jaffna University. These student’s names were not included in the summons dated 30th November. According to the students the raid was carried out by Police officers and persons in civilian clothes who did not disclose their identity. One student was also subjected to intimidation and questioning by the officers. The other students’ house was ransacked twice on the 30th morning and on 1st early morning. Since the student was not at home on both occasions, the officers instructed his parents that he must surrender to the Point Pedro Police immediately.
Of the three remaining students summoned in the document dated 30th November, two students have already graduated from the University of Jaffna and are employed under the Government Graduate Scheme in Nedunkeny, Vavuniya. Six of the seven students named in the summons have been active and outspoken members of the Jaffna University Student Union post war. The students have organized and participated in several protests and campaigns against human rights violations committed by the SLA in the North. On 28th November, they were involved in organizing the Silent Protest against the intimidation and attacks by the SLA on university students on the 27th of November. So far no charges or evidence has been produced linking the students with the alleged arson attack.
In light of the facts above, we are deeply concerned that the student’s arrests are baseless and politically motivated and constitute an act of reprisal against their activism and campaign against human rights violations by the SLA. Jaffna University students are presently carrying out a protest campaign against these arrests and several acts of intimidation and attacks carried out by the SLA against Jaffna University students. Students have boycotted their classes in protest and many students have left the hostel premises in fear of further attacks or arrests. We are also deeply concerned about the impact of these actions by security forces on the Jaffna University which has been brought to a virtual standstill and the adverse repercussions on the students’ academic work and their safety and security within the
We reiterate the call by the University Teachers Association of Jaffna in its Open Letter to the Vice Chancellor of the University of Jaffna – to take all measures to ensure the immediate release of the detained students and obtain assurance that any further student arrests will be made by security forces; to ensure the immediate removal of the presence of military, police and security checkpoints visible in the university environs since 27th November, and ensure that no outside person, particularly military and police personnel, be permitted to enter the Jaffna University and hostel premises without the prior permission of University authorities – in order to create a more secure and conducive environment for teaching and learning within the University.
We therefore call on the Sri Lankan Government to;
§ Release with immediate effect the remaining three students unlawfully detained at the TID office in Vavuniya in the absence of clear evidence linking them to the alleged crime
§ Ensure the safety and physical and mental well being of the students currently held in detention
§ Permit the students access to legal assistance and regular visits by their family members
§ Put an immediate halt to any further acts of intimidation, harassment and reprisals carried out by the SLA on students from the University of Jaffna.
§ Stop all interference by security forces and law enforcement authorities in the internal administration of the University of Jaffna and its student body.
Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu – Executive Director, Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA)
Sudarshana Gunawardana – Rights Now Collective for Democracy
Human Rights Defenders Network, Sri Lanka
Brito Fernando – Families of the Disappeared
Philip Dissanayaka – Right to Life Human Rights Center
Marisa de Silva