With a severe blow landing on his back while he had fallen face down, Tharindu Sampath thought he was breathing his last. Lying on the floor of a police cell, Tharindu heard his assailant, ironically a policeman yelling at him to remove his belt. Unable to move after receiving repeated blows, he lay there thinking [...]


Police third degree for AHS undergrads demanding four-year programme


With a severe blow landing on his back while he had fallen face down, Tharindu Sampath thought he was breathing his last. Lying on the floor of a police cell, Tharindu heard his assailant, ironically a policeman yelling at him to remove his belt. Unable to move after receiving repeated blows, he lay there thinking he was living out the last few hours of his life.

Nadeesh: Bleeding under the eye after being repeatedly beaten on the head

Tharindu and 13 others who were arrested and beaten in custody on May 16, were returning home after staging a peaceful protest in front of the University Grants Commission (UGC). Recalling the incident, Tharindu says a few men in civvies tried taking one of their friends to custody, when they were boarding a bus from the Town Hall bus stand. When an arrest warrant was demanded, a ‘crumpled piece of paper was produced’, but the name on the warrant did not match the name of the student the men in civilian clothing wanted to arrest.

Due to the students’ collective resistance these men backed off, says Tharindu, but the bus was directed towards Slave Island Police Station. At the police station, passengers were made to get out of the bus in a line, where police officers in uniform, along with men in plain clothes, tried to identify the students.

“They had a picture of Dinuka, one of our members, taken during the protest near Temple Trees. They wanted to take him in. They were trying to identify the person in the picture,” says Tharidu. Standing on the sidelines, Tharidu was recording what was taking place with his phone, when the argument got heated. Suddenly Tharindu received a blow from a police officer which sent his phone flying.Judging by his uniform Tharindu assumed the officer was of a high rank. When he bent to pick up his phone, he received repeated blows on his head.

“Tharindu was the first to be dragged into the police station, and was beaten there too. The others were brought in with various injuries. The most visibly injured was Nadeesh Ranathunga, who was bleeding under the eye after being repeatedly beaten on the head.

The students being taken to remand prison in Welikada. Pix by Indika Handuwala

Nadeesh was not able to sit up and was suffering from severe pain.

“I asked for medical treatment. I told them I was in severe pain. If nothing else, I asked for some ice to stop the bleeding,” recalled Nadeesh. He was discharged last Thursday after four days of in-house treatment. The 14 arrested students were produced before the Colombo Magistrate the same night and remanded till Monday (19).

“The Magistrate Thilina Gamage, directed that the six students who had sustained injuries receive immediate medical attention, which was recorded in his order with specific names and their related complaints,” said Counsel Udul Premaratne, who appeared on behalf of the students.

However, it was around noon the following day when the students were examined by the Judicial Medical Officer (JMO). Four, including Tharidu were immediately admitted to the National Hospital. However, Nadeesh and another student, Hashan Dananjaya who complained of severe pain in the lower abdomen area, were taken to remand prison and would receive treatment only 18 hours after his arrest. Following their release on Monday, Nadeesh and Hashan were admitted to the National Hospital to receive proper treatment.

The Allied Health Sciences (AHS) Students Union on Wednesday filed a complaint with the Human Rights Council for brutal, inhuman and humiliating treatment while under arrest, and for being arrested without being informed of the reason for the arrest. The Bar Association of Sri Lanka also intends to file a Fundamental Rights case against the treatment meted out to the students while in police custody. All Health sector trade unions will take to the roads on May 28 demanding a four-year AHS Degree. The Federation of University Teachers Associations (FUTA) too has expressed their support towards the students’ demand. A four-year Degree for AHS and an immediate end to student oppression, are one of the five demands for their token strike on July 3. Undergraduates of Peradeniya, Sri Jayawardanapura and Ruhuna universities have been staging continuous demonstrations for over 150 days.
“We will continue to protest till our Degree is made four academic years instead of three,” said, AHS Students’ Union President, Rajitha Prasad. Questioning the inaction of the Higher Education Ministry and the UGC, he said except for the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA), all the other stakeholders supported them in this issue.

“The GMOA does not tell us why they oppose it, but they are holding the process back,” he said.

Magistrate reprimands police for using excessive force

Criticising the conduct of the police when the students were produced before Colombo Magistrate Thilina Gamage on Monday (19), he queried from the police, if beating students till his or her eyes come out can be defined as minimum force.
He reprimanded the police and said that students are aggressive by nature and are not mature individuals, and that, the police should exercise patience when dealing with students.

Kalum Kumarasinghe, Counsel appearing for the students, stated that the students have been severely assaulted by the police when they tried to prevent the wrongful arrest of a fellow student.

Counsel also stated that the police were attempting to arrest a student whose name did not correspond to the name mentioned in the warrant produced.


UGC leaning towards a 4-year AHS Degree programme

University Grants Commission (UGC) Chairperson, Prof Kshanika Hiriburegama said they are considering extending the course by one more year.

“Already, the Peradeniya University Senate has approved the new syllabus for a four-year Degree. They have forwarded it to the UGC, and we will take it up for consideration to approve,” she said.

Highlighting the UGC’s continuous discussions on the matter with all stakeholders, Prof. Hirimburegama said the UGC prefers to speak to the Allied Health Science (AHS) students directly, and not to representatives of the Inter University Students Federation (IUSF).

“We have not had the opportunity to talk to the AHS students directly. We ask them to come forward to talk to us direct,” she said.
“Although the move by Peradeniya University is a step in the right direction, it is not enough,” said AHS Student’s Association President, Janitha Prasad. 

“We want it for all universities. If the Kotalawala Defence University can have a four-year Degree, which is granted for fee-paying students, why can’t it be given to all State university students as well,” he questioned.

Emphasising that the IUSF is an umbrella organisation of all Students’ Unions, he said that the AHS Students’ Union is also part of it.
“We always send representatives from the IUSF, as we are a member organisation, and they have been working on the matter on our behalf and will continue to do so,” Janitha Prasad said.

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