Condemn Sri Lankan Police Brutal Attack on Student Protest!

The International Youth and Students for Social Equality (IYSSE) calls on the working class to condemn the ongoing police crackdown on student protests in Sri Lanka.

The latest police assault was directed on Tuesday against a student protest march organized by the Inter-University Federation of Students (IUSF) in Kelaniya, on the outskirts of Colombo. The students demanded the release of political prisoners and solutions to the deteriorating economic situation facing the Sri Lankan masses.

Sri Lankan university students parade on October 18, 2022. [Photo: WSWS]

IUSF called the protest to mark 60 days since the detention of its organizer Wasantha Mudalige and Galwewa Siridamma of the Federation Bhikku (monks) under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). Mudalige, Siridamma and another activist, Hashan Jeewantha, along with several other students, were arrested during a protest on August 18. President Ranil Wickremesinghe ordered their detention for 90 days under the PTA.

Last Tuesday, about 1,000 students from various universities started the march from Kelaniya University at 3 p.m., planning to reach Colombo Fort, 11 kilometers away. About 2 km from the university, police mobilized a force of around 1,000 officers, including riot units and special forces, backed by two water cannons, to block the protest.

The marching students chanted slogans such as “Repeal repressive laws immediately, including the PTA”, “Get rid of the Wickremesinghe-Rajapakse Junta”, and “Let us live – reduce the tax burden”.

An hour into the march, the students were confronted by police who said the protest was illegal and did not receive police approval. Police then began to break up the march, arresting eight students, including Kelaniya University Students’ Union President Kalum Mudannayake.

Police violently attack students at Kelaniya University on October 18, 2022. [Photo: WSWS]

The police even tried to disperse singing students who had gathered on a nearby road. After the protest, IUSF activist Janith Janajaya told the media that a police officer had threatened them saying “We are going to kill you”.

The arrested students were released on 50,000 rupees bail on Wednesday amid widespread outrage over the government crackdown. The students of

The universities of Kelaniya, Jayawardenepura and Rajarata demonstrated on Wednesday, condemning the police attacks and calling for the release of all arrested student activists. Previous demonstrations organized by the IUSF demanding the release of those detained under the PTA, on August 30 and October 4, have been subject to similar police attacks.

IUSF official Mudalige, who is being held in a detention camp, is in grave danger. The police took him out of the camp at night several times under the guise of collecting evidence. Sri Lankan police are known to have killed political prisoners from remand prisons, falsely claiming they were trying to escape.

On one occasion, Mudalige was taken to the burnt home of former finance minister Basil Rajapakse. The property was set on fire during riots which broke out after right-wing thugs attacked protesters occupying Galle Face Green in May.

Hashan Jeewantha, who was being held with Mudalige, was released after 50 days after police admitted they had no evidence to charge him, another indication of the arbitrary nature of these arrests and detentions.

The ongoing police attacks on student protests and other repressive actions are a clear warning to the working class. This is another indication that the Wickremesinghe government will use its repressive powers to crush anyone who opposes the austerity measures unleashed in accordance with the dictates of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Last Tuesday, as students demonstrated, workers at the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation went on strike to oppose the privatization of state industry. The government responded by threatening to penalize strikers under its draconian Essential Public Services Act.

Marching Sri Lankan students demand the release of all political prisoners, October 18, 2022. [Photo: WSWS]

The SEP and the IYSSE condemn this police crackdown and demand the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners and the repeal of all repressive laws, including the PTA, the Essential Public Services Act, the public safety and emergency law. The IYSSE and the SEP, however, politically oppose the IUSF and the pseudo-left Frontline Socialist Party (FSP), whose pro-capitalist policies and claims that ruling elites can be pressured, strengthen power. of the government.

The escalation of the Wickremesinghe government’s attacks on workers and students underscores the urgent need for the development of an independent working class movement to defeat the Wickremesinghe government’s attacks on jobs, living standards and democratic rights.

The IUSF and other pseudo-left formations, as well as all trade unions, are hostile to this prospect. The IUSF, which is led by the FSP, calls on students and workers to appeal to the “international community” to pressure the government to end police repression and protect human rights.

Last month, the FSP sent Nuwan Bopage, one of its top leaders as IUSF representative, to the UN Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva to ask for their help. The meeting was discussing a cynical resolution sponsored by major imperialist powers, including the United States and the United Kingdom, for an international investigation into war crimes and human rights abuses in Sri Lanka. The real purpose of the resolution was not to uphold human rights and punish war criminals, but to pressure Colombo to fully integrate into Washington’s strategic military confrontation against China. .

Last Monday, the IUSF issued a press release calling on the so-called international community to “monitor the repressive anti-democratic agenda of the current government.” At the same time, IUSF and FSP are seeking an alliance with capitalist parties, such as Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) and Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), and trade unions for a common platform to oppose the government repression.

These parties, however, are all committed to the IMF’s austerity program and will implement it ruthlessly if they come to power. The FSP and IUSF falsely hail the SJB and JVP as champions of democratic and social rights.

Student leaders who spoke at the rally after Tuesday’s protest called on the government and police to end the crackdown. Janith Janajaya, a member of the Kelaniya University Students’ Union, said: “We are sending a message to the government of this country that if they don’t stop this repression, we will make sure to send the government home.

This reference refers to the massive uprisings that began in April and forced Rajapakse and his government to resign. It conceals the fact that Wickremesinghe was able to come to power because the trade unions, supported by the FSP and the IUSF, blocked the independent mobilization of the working class on a socialist program.

The IYSSE urges students to reject the perspective of IUSF and FSP and their alignment with the capitalist parties of Sri Lanka and appeals to imperialist powers. The students must turn to the working class and fight for the formation of action committees and the calling of a democratic and socialist congress of the workers and the rural masses. This will lay the foundations for a workers’ and peasants’ government determined to restructure society on socialist foundations.

The fight for the release of all political prisoners, including student leaders detained under the PTA, the repeal of all repressive laws and the defense of free public education is inseparable from the fight for socialism. We urge students to build the IYSSE in their respective universities and other institutions of higher education and strive for this prospect.

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