The Federation of University Teachers Associations (FUTA) condemns the arbitrary and brutal police action taken against the peaceful protest convened by the Inter University Students Federation (IUSF) against the KNDU Bill which is being debated in parliament today. We express our alarm and disgust at how the government is exploiting health regulations to stifle dissent and protest in the country. The right to assembly and free speech are fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the constitution of Sri Lanka and are a fundamental feature of any democratic society. It is clear to us that at this moment that this government, unable to contend with the rising wave of public unrest across the country due to economic and health mismanagement, is resorting to violence and intimidation to stifle the legitimate right of people to protest.

There is a dark irony in hiding behind health regulations and preventing peaceful protests while allowing offices, spas and many other activities that pose a much greater health risk to function unimpeded. The KNDU Bill poses a grave risk to the higher education system of this country. A number of bodies including the trade unions of education and various other sectors have vehemently opposed this bill. It threatens to fundamentally alter the higher education landscape of this country by normalizing a militaristic education model driven solely by profit motives with little or no concern for quality or basic principles of education. It is the sovereign right of people to oppose such legislation in a democratic country and it is the solemn duty of a democratically elected government to listen to such dissent.

We see this unprovoked and brutal attack on IUSF students and many other trade union leaders from the education sector, present at today’s protest, as a clear indication that the government has taken a decision at the highest levels to stifle all dissent in the country. The police on its own will not act in this way unless a political green light has been given to use excessive force. This is the hallmark of a failing regime that has lost public trust and is desperately attempting to stay in control by any means possible. We call upon all parties who respect democratic traditions within and outside the government to condemn this heinous act and to force the government to honor the democratic fundamentals through which this country needs to be governed.