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Sunday August 14th, 2022

Religious freedom at Sri Lanka schools under spotlight

ECONOMYNEXT- Sri Lanka’s public education system requires reforms to ensure that the freedom to choose and practice one’s religion or belief is protected, a UN Special Rapporteur said.

“The education sector requires reform,” Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief Ahmed Shaheed told reporters in Colombo during a recent visit.

He said that the Sri Lankan government should not be in the business of forcing students to choose one of the four main religions (Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism and Christianity) and study them for 11 years.

Students are forced to sit for one of the four religion papers at the Ordinary Level examinations, the main school qualification given at the end of Grade 11 in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka has been wracked by religious and ethnic strife for several decades. The origins of Sri Lanka’s current education system lay in a denominational school system started by the British with partial state funding.

In some schools, especially in rural areas, only one religion followed by the majority community in the region is taught.

Students are also made to take part in religious activities of a religion offered in schools, robbing the freedom to choose and study Judaism, Shintoism, Rastafarianism, Paganism, Scientology or no religion at all.

However, parents or students of such different religions must pay the same taxes as those following the four main religions to fund public schools.

“Indoctrinating into a religious tradition should be voluntary, and there should be no coercion at all on the part of the state,” Shaheed said.

“There’s bad practice here. Having an opt-out system is not as good as having an opt-in system.”

“An opt-out system would be in a class of say thirty students, one person says, ‘I’m an atheist, I’m a rationalist, I’m this, I’m that’ and steps out of the classroom and gets stigmatized by the rest.”

“The opt-in system will be asking ‘which of these classes would you like to take part in?’ and they can choose Islam or whatever class they want.”

“There should be attempts to protect the freedom to choose and the freedom of parents to ensure that their children are raised in a faith of their choosing, and not of the government or schools choosing and also to ensure that they opting out does not stigmatise them in the classroom.”

“The state may of course, in many ways, teach religions, so that students have an understanding of different religions, so they don’t become victim to fear and prejudice that some people might exploit if there was no awareness of different religions.”

Private schools may choose their own form of religious education, he said.

Shaheed said providing an all-round education of various religions would be ideal for a multi-ethnic, multi-religious country such as Sri Lanka.

“Curriculum should include knowledge of other religions taught in a neutral, objective way, so they can get an understanding about different religions, what they are about, so that they understand different ways.”

Shaheed said that there is simmering ethno-religious tensions, fueled by extremist thinking of fear against other religions.

He said that these tensions have been present even before the Easter Sunday attacks. (Colombo/Sep01/2019)

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Sri Lanka coconut auction prices continue to climb

ECONOMYNEXT- Sri Lanka’s average coconut prices grew 3.7 percent to 64,618.23 rupees for 1,000 nuts at the last auction held on Friday August 12, official data showed.

The highest price was 62,900 rupees for 1,000 nuts, while the lowest was 57,000 rupees at the auction conducted by Sri Lanka’s Coconut Development Authority.

Buyers offered 1,019,395 nuts at the auction and sold 576,906.

Exports of coconut-based products have risen by 12 percent in January to June to 434.48 million dollars from a year earlier, data show. (Colombo/Aug13/2022)

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Chinese tracking vessel cleared to dock at Sri Lanka’s Hambantota Port

Hambantota Port

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has given the green light to Chinese tracking vessel Yuang Wang 5 to dock at the Chinese-built Hambantota Port from August 16 to 22.

Sri Lankan authorities had first given clearance to the Chinese vessel on July 12, to make a port call at the Hambantota Port from August 11 to 17​ for replenishment purposes.

However, following a diplomatic standoff after concern about the tracking vessel’s anticipated arrival were reportedly raised by the US and India, Sri Lanka’s foreign ministry requested China to defer the port call until “further consultations”.

A report by Sri Lanka’s privately owned Times Online news website said Saturday August 13 morning that the foreign ministry has authorised the docking of the ship.

Related:

Sri Lanka permits entry to controversial Chinese tracking vessel Yuang Wang 5

The ministry’s official statement released Saturday evening confirmed that the ship has been given clearance to dock at the Hambantota Port for the new dates August 16 to 22.

“The Ministry wishes to reiterate Sri Lanka’s policy of cooperation and friendship with all countries. Security and cooperation in the neighbourhood is of utmost priority. It is Sri Lanka’s intention to safeguard the legitimate interests of all countries, in keeping with its international obligations. The Ministry is deeply appreciative of the support, solidarity and understanding of all countries, especially in the current juncture when the country is in the process of addressing severe economic challenges and engaging in multiple domestic processes to ensure the welfare of the Sri Lankan people,” the ministry said, without naming the stakeholder countries. (Colombo/Aug13/2022)

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Sri Lanka looking to provide relief to bona fide protestors: justice minister

Pix by T.N.Nawas

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka has entrusted the process of identifying individuals who engaged in violence during the widespread anti-government protest to a “different group”, as there is a “practical issue” with separating those individuals, the island nation’s Justice Minister said.

“There is a problem. This is not a legal issue; it is a practical issue because the Aragalaya consists of several groups. In fact even the police has difficulty identifying who were genuinely involved in the peaceful struggle and the others who came from outside and caused some violence,” said Minister Wijedasa Rajapaksha, speaking to EconomyNext on Wednesday August 10.

“We needed assistance in identifying those who [protested] bona fide. We want to give them relief; [not] take any legal action against them.”

Sri Lanka saw a massive uprising against the government’s inability to protect people from a debilitating economic crisis caused by wrong economic policies. The public took to the streets to demand the resignation of then President Gotabaya Rajapaksha and a stop to Sri Lanka’s systemic corruption.

Most protestors focused on sustained protests in several areas of the island, particularly the GotaGoGama agitation site in front of the President’s Secretariat.

However there were incidents of violence that saw houses of ruling party MPs looted and burned down and public property damaged. President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s private residence was also burned down in July, while he was Prime Minister and protestors were occupying the Official Residence of President Rajapaksha, who had by then fled the country.

Wickremesinghe declared a State of Emergency shortly after, granting the forces power to arrest anyone suspected of engaging in violent behaviour.

However, many of the arrested protestors allege that they were not part of the “violent minority”.

“This was such a peaceful protest. When the Bastille was stormed there was not a brick left in the place,” said one protestor.

The protestors subsequently handed over the occupied government buildings to the authorities, and have now wrapped up the occupation segment of the protests following to a court order.

Activists both local and international are asking the government to repeal the State of Emergency, but Wickremesinghe has not indicated that he plans to do so anytime soon.

The Supreme Court meanwhile has granted leave to proceed to a Fundamental Rights Petition filed by former Human Rights Commissioner of Sri Lanka Ambika Satkunanathan.

Satkunanathan tweeted Friday August 12: “The Supreme Court granted leave to proceed in Articles 12(1) and 14(1) in the fundamental rights petition I filed challenging the declaration of the state of emergency and the emergency regulations.”

Though Satkunanathan had filed the petition for other allegedly violated Articles, the Supreme Court will only be proceeding with Articles 12(1) and 14(1) which deal with equality under the law and freedoms of speech, expression and assembly.

Several prominent protestors have been jailed under the Emergency laws, and on Wednesday August 10 the Immigration Department cancelled the visa of a Scotswoman who had documented the protests.

Minister Rajapaksha said that he had met with protestors, and discussed the situation regarding arrests.

“We are in the process [of identifying protestors]. We entrusted that to a different group on the advice of the president and we will do that in the following days,” he said.

“The police will have to take action only against those who engage in vandalism,” he said. (Colombo/Aug13/2022)

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