Mayhem over a mail

  • Colombo University authorities say their investigation found no truth in allegations of sexual abuse; CID probing origin of e mail

By Chathuri Dissanayake and Damith Wickremasekara

An anonymous e mail alleging sexual abuse of a Colombo university student set off a chain reaction including student clashes, resulting in injuries to students and lecturers and damage to property, while authorities claim there is no truth to the allegations.

Colombo University Vice Chancellor Prof. Shanika Hirimburegama commenting on the e mail that alleged that a female student had been sexually abused by two marshals, said, according to their own investigations such an incident had not occurred.

A lecturer who was attacked

She said a political force from without the university which had a hold on the university was probably behind this incident. She said they conducted their own inquiry but found no evidence to support the claims made in the e mail.

“One marshal who has been accused has been working in the campus for over 20 years and the other has been here for over eight years. Neither has had a single complaint against them so far,” Prof. Hiriburegama said.

The CID is also conducting its own investigation focusing mainly on the origin of the e mail. “We are conducting investigations and our main focus is to locate the origin of the mail,” CID officer SSP Muthubanda said.

Clashes between the students and the marshals of the University of Colombo broke out on Wednesday when the marshals video recorded the students who were staging a protest against the marshals following the circulation of the e mail. About 11 people including two marshals, lecturers and students were injured in the ensuing clashes.

Cinnamon Gardens police said the marshals had made a complaint regarding the attack . They had also complained that the students had stolen some computer equipment from the marshals’ office and damaged university property.

University Registrar W. Husni R. Hussain said the damage to university property had been estimated to be around Rs 100,000 in addition to Rs 200,000 worth of equipment such as computers and scanners damaged.

Three marshals injured in the clash

Students spearheading the protest said their main demand was that a proper inquiry be held into the allegations made in the e mail. They said they had no intention of picking a fight with the marshals or the academic staff. They said they were not suggesting that the allegations were true but they merely wanted a proper inquiry to be held.

However the university’s senior student counsellor Dr. Premakumara de Silva said by that time an inquiry had already been held. “We received an e mail about a week back which said two marshals had sexually abused a girl. This was brought to the attention of the lecturers and it was reported to the Vice Chancellor. She said the CID would be called in and the university too would hold its own inquiry,” he said.

He said students got agitated following wide publicity given to the e mail by certain media organizations.
“While we were conducting our own investigation a media channel spoke about the matter as if the e mail had been proved to be true. The students probably did not know about this e mail until then. After this channel brought this out the students got agitated and they started protesting saying that a proper inquiry should be carried out. But by then the investigation has been handed over to the CID,” Dr. Premakumara said.

According to him the day the clash broke out the Vice Chancellor had scheduled a meeting at 11 a.m. to explain the current situation to the students. All members of the academic staff were supposed to attend the meeting.

“But by then the students had already put up posters against the marshals and started protest marches within the premises. I tried to explain to them that the e mail was a hoax and that an inquiry had been conducted. But they did not heed my words and went ahead gathering students from other faculties,” he said.

Following the clashes on Wednesday the academic staff of the Arts Faculty have decided to abstain from conducting lectures until a written apology is submitted to them by the students. “This type of incident has never happened before and we are appalled at the behaviour of the students. This is the immediate reaction of the lecturers. They are hurt that the students could go down to the level of beating lecturers who have worked closely with them on many issues concerning students. Only the members of the academic staff of the Faculty of Arts decided to go on strike as it was their members who were beaten by the students,” Prof. Hirimburegama said.

Meanwhile some students expressed despair over the situation. “There were students from all faculties involved in the clash. But only the students of the Faculty of Arts are being penalised for their actions. It is unfair that a single faculty is being punished for some thing a collective minority of the entire university did,” a student lamented.

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