Govt rides roughshod over students to protect SAITM – Ryan Jayalath
BY PANCHAMEE HEWAVISSENTI
The dramatic attempt of arrest or rather the alleged attempt of abduction of the Convener of the Medical Faculty Students' Action Committee (MFSAC) Ryan Jayalath at the Organization of Professional Associations (OPA) premises became the talk of the town recently with predictions of 'white van culture' raising its ugly head again.
It is alleged that an attempt was made to abduct Ryan on 20 July on his way back after attending a meeting with trade unions and other activists formed to oppose the South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine (SAITM). Citing the attempt of abduction of MFSAC's convener as the chief motive, the Government Medical Officers' Association (GMOA) called for a stoppage of work which was called off later following a statement issued by Minister of Law and Order and Southern Development Sagala Ratnayake pledging to carry out investigations into the incident.
Ryan is an accused in a case filed at the Maligakanda Magistrate's Court over the alleged storming of the Ministry of Health and causing damages to public property during the students' protest on 21 June. However, the attempt of arrest of the MFSAC's convener was thwarted by his supporters including university students and several other activists present at the OPA premises.
Meanwhile, Colombo Crimes Division (CCD) informed the Court that the Police were on a lawful undertaking to arrest the MFSAC convener.
In an interview with Ceylon Today, MFSAC's convener Ryan Jayalath slammed the government for applying highly repressive measures on the leaders of students' movements as well as students themselves who oppose the PMCs (Private Medical Colleges) and privatization of education of which the sole aim is profiteering. He added that the government was impudent enough to break peaceful protests of students. "The government's attempt of suppressing peaceful protests of students in a flagrant manner is condemned by the public", Ryan said.
? Did they produce an arrest warrant when they tried to apprehend you?
? Was it an attempt of arrest or abduction?
A: I suppose it was an attempt of abduction.
? On what basis you allege that incident to be an attempted abduction?
A: Because a gang of men in civil attire attempted to abduct me and the Police arrived at the spot only after an eruption of uproar. Hence, I have a justifiable suspicion that those men came to abduct me. That incident cannot be interpreted or portrayed as a lawful apprehension.
Incidents of this nature are seriously menacing the democracy of this country. Sri Lanka has a disreputable history with regard to 'white vans' which were used for abductions and forceful disappearances.
'White vans' induced terror into the hearts of citizens of this country and a social opposition rose against them.
On the contrary, the government came to power pledging that they would put an end to infamous 'white van culture'. Regrettably, the government continues to foster it.
We can foresee many abductions of students in the future in relation to SAITM crisis.
? What reason had they given to apprehend you?
A: It was conspicuous from their conversation that they wanted to nab me for storming the MOH and causing damage to public property during the protest.
? Would you elaborate on what took place that day when a group of people attempted to apprehend or rather carry you off?
A: I attended a meeting held at the GMOA office representing MFSAC with the SAITM Virodhi Jana Pawra.
I was on my way back home when a gang of people who were on civil attire attempted to push me into a white van.
Nevertheless, members of political parties, student activists and doctors of GMOA successfully thwarted the abduction attempt.
We were not aware that those who attempted to arrest me were Police officers as they were clad in civil attire. Later on, when a brawl broke out between the two parties, a person in Police uniform arrived at the place and introduced that those who were in civil attire were Police Officers deployed to apprehend me.
I do not think that it was an isolated incident and this is linked to several other incidents. I can cite a similar attempt of abduction of a student at the University of Ruhuna in Matara.
According to a CCTV footage when students clashed with the alleged abductors one person threatened to shoot a student.
? Have you received any threats after that incident?
A: After my attempted abduction, I was informed that many student leaders have been threatened by the Police. The Police visited my house to apprehend me. I came to know that the Police had visited houses of several other students and threatened them too.
My father told me that persons in civil attire claiming to be Police Officers came to my house asking for me at midnight. They had hectored my father who was staying at home alone that day. He also told me that those who claimed to be Police Officers forcefully obtained our contact numbers.
They had later made several phone calls and dragooned my father to make me surrender to the Police failing of which I would be pummelled to death.
? Nevertheless, the Police Media Spokesperson SP Ruwan Gunasekere said you can be arrested at any time even without a warrant as you are accused of storming MOH and inducing damage to public property. He also admitted that the vehicle deployed to apprehend you belonged to CCD. Do you have anything to say?
A: His statements deserve derision. He said the vehicle belonged to CCD and only the driver was in Police uniform. Leave aside the driver, but those men who were involved in the abduction were in civil attire.
SP Gunasekera further added that officers attached to Criminal Investigations Department (CID) are generally in civil attire and are authorized to carry out apprehensions. In my opinion, those who are clad in civil attire cannot arrest civilians on the road.
The government has revived the 'white van culture' and given it a new form. Now Police Officers come in civil attire to abduct civilians.
I can predict that the government is heading towards an era akin to that prevailed during the 1988-89 period.
? You are an accused. The Police are authorized to nab you at any time. Can you counter this act as a law-abiding citizen?
A: The government is prompt and abrupt in nabbing those who oppose SAITM degree-selling institute. Student leaders and students are nabbed and imprisoned swiftly if found guilty of engaging in protests.
The government enforces law and imposes punishment for those who oppose SAITM. However, it is never in a hurry to nab those who hold positions at SAITM.
We have lodged several complaints against many corrupt and criminal acts of SAITM.
The institute's medical faculty keeps dead bodies in an illicit manner. We complained about it to the CID.
Moreover, Dr. Neville Fernando publicly admitted that SAITM has dead bodies. We stress that they should reveal the identification of such dead bodies.
The Chief Administrative Officer of SAITM Sameera Senaratne had an unauthorized gun and misguided the public and the Police of an attempt to kill him. He was found innocent and later he fled the country.
Prof. Ananda Samarasekera the Dean of the SAITM medical faculty was found guilty by the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) for keeping the bones of Waseem Thajudeen. So, he too is a culprit. The government is slow in taking action against them. Although they are found guilty, they are neither apprehended nor imprisoned. The government acts differently in dealing with those who stand up for SAITM. The government applies repressive measures only on those who oppose the SAITM.
? Although the members of MFSAC held their demonstration in a peaceful manner, it came under attack by them last week. How do you react to it?
A: We commenced a campaign called the Nonidana Aragalaya (sleepless campaign) and carried it out in a peaceful manner making sure that the public is not inconvenienced. The students did not obstruct the traffic flow during the protests.
The Police however obtained a Court Order to disperse the students saying that they caused inconvenience to the public. After that the Police used water cannons on the students and took away their equipment worth of approximately Rs 500,000. Fourteen university students were also arrested.
We continued our sleepless campaign until 25 July. We also came to know that the Police have asked the management of one of the leading departmental stores in the area to lodge a complaint against the students for causing damage to their sign boards.
However, the management had refused to lodge false complaints and said the students had not caused any damage whatsoever. So the Police want to make us culprits by hook or by crook.
We do not know why the government wants to trample civilian rights. The government has violated democratic rights of citizens in an atrocious manner.
? What exactly do the students demand? Abolition of SAITM or its nationalization?
A: The SAITM should either be abolished or nationalized. We accept one of the two solutions. We hope to resume our studies once the SAITM degree-selling fraud institute is abolished or nationalized to provide free education.
? Who do you hold responsible over the SAITM crisis?
A: President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Ministers Rajitha Senaratna and Lakshman Kirielle should be held responsible for the crisis.
It is up to the government to decide whether they want the students to waste their time on the road or to resume studies. The delay may cause a huge impact in the health sector in the future as the country will fail to produce a sufficient number of doctors on time. The government has failed to provide a solution to the SAITM crisis. Instead it is repressing students.
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(Pic by Kelum Chamara)
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