ECONOMYNEXT – Eighteen school teacher unions in Sri Lanka will refrain from conducting online classes from Monday (12) in protest of what they call the forced quarantine of 16 union members.
The Ceylon Independent Teachers’ Services Union (ITSU) and 17 other unions representing school principals and teachers that were engaged in online distance education in light of the pandemic are now on strike in solidarity with the quarantined activists, the union said in a joint statement.
Among the unions’ demands is the release of Ceylon Teachers’ Union (CTU) secretary general Joseph Stalin and 15 others who the unions charge were forcibly sent off to a quarantine centre in Mullaitivu after they were released on bail Friday afternoon (09).
The teachers’ unions also demand solutions to teacher principal salary anomalies and problems in online teaching.
Meanwhile, Director of Catholic Schools Fr Gamunu Dias said on Sunday that the Catholic schools will also not hold online classes from Monday and will join the teachers protest as they stand for the rights of education in the country.
Sri Lanka police arrested over 40 protestors in Colombo and elsewhere last Thursday (08) for allegedly violating quarantine regulations, even as government supporters were seen celebrating the swearing in of Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa by lighting firecrackers and gathering in small groups.
A majority of the arrests were made at a protest held near parliament in Sri Jayawrdenapura, Kotte, against the proposed Kotelawala Defence University (KDU) bill.
Thirty-one people including Stalin were arrested near the parliament roundabout. The protest was jointly organised by the Inter-University Students Federation (IUSF), the Sri Lanka Teachers’ Union and the Frontline Socialist Party.
The protestors were granted bail but were subsequently packed off in buses to be quarantined, citing a comminuque from Health Services Director General Dr Asela Gunawardena that protests and public meetings must be temporarily banned in light of the COVID-19 situation.
On Friday, Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa questioned the legal basis for directing individuals who were released on bail without even a COVID test.
“Police arrested the protestors and produced them in court where they were given bail,” Premadasa told parliament.
“But without a PCR or antigen test, not even with a public health inspector (PHI) checking them, the police, contravening all these rules and regulations, decided to quarantine them. That should have been done by a health official, not the police.
“How do they decide to quarantine people who got bailed, without doing an antigen or PCR test?” he said.
Minister of Public Security Sarath Weerasekara responded that the decision to quarantine the protestors were taken by PHIs. However, media reports quoting PHI Union Chairman Upul Rohana said no such consultation had taken place.
The Bar Association of Sri Lanka said Sunday (11) that authorities should not use quarantine rules to suppress peaceful protest, violating constitutional rights of the people, especially when they were bailed out by courts.
The top United Nations official in Colombo also said Sri Lanka should not use quarantine rules to suppress peaceful protest.