Stalin remanded until 12 August, UN concerned

  • Sajith queries why Stalin taken in when MR free
  • Teachers threaten continued multi-sectoral strike action

BY Buddhika Samaraweera

Ceylon Teachers’ Union (CTU) General Secretary Joseph Stalin, who was arrested by the Colombo Fort Police on Wednesday (3) in Colombo for violating a court order during a recent protest, was ordered to be placed under remand custody until 12 August after being produced before the Colombo Fort Magistrate’s Court yesterday (4).

Stalin, who has been at the forefront of the protests which earlier demanded the resignation of former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and are now demanding the resignation of Wickremesinghe, was arrested by the Police on Wednesday for allegedly violating a court order during a protest march at the Bank of Ceylon Mawatha on 28 May. In addition, several persons involved in the recent public protests have also been arrested by the Police, which has seen much opposition from the public.

UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Mary Lawlor has expressed concerns about the arrest of Stalin. On her official Twitter handle, Lawlor said the work of human rights defenders like Joseph Stalin has been more important than ever in recent weeks. She also stressed that the efforts of human rights defenders must be supported, not punished.

“I am hearing disturbing reports from Sri Lanka that prominent human rights defender Stalin was arrested. The work of human rights defenders like Stalin has been more important than ever in recent weeks and must be supported, not punished,” she had stated.

Opposition and Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) Leader Sajith Premadasa visited the Colombo Fort Police Station yesterday morning to check on Stalin’s wellbeing. Speaking to the media at the time, he said: “Every citizen has a fundamental right to stand up for their opinion, and to speak up for it. They are also entitled to the freedoms of assembly, expression, holding a political ideology as they wish, and movement. However, there is no freedom of violence in this country. We need to work by understanding these two things. As far as I know, Stalin was not a violent person and he only exercised his rights as a citizen. Therefore, I request President Ranil Wickremesinghe and the Government to please stop this political hunt, and State brutality and terrorism, at a time when everyone needs to work together to build the country.”

Recalling a statement made by Wickremesinghe in Parliament when the latter was an Opposition MP, to the effect that Stalin was internationally known, and that arresting him therefore would even affect the Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) trade concession given by the EU, Premadasa said that Wickremesinghe’s statement remains valid today, and is not rendered invalid just because he has become the President.

“We, as the SJB, stand unconditionally for Stalin’s rights. We would like to ask the President and the Government to not fear the power of the people. The people’s power cannot be stopped by this suppression, as this will only increase the people’s power. I do not know on what basis they are acting in this manner. Also, we are against any form of violence, be it from the Government, or from a small group of people, as we do not approve of such at all. Therefore, resolve the issues through discussion,” he said.

Claiming that MP Mahinda Rajapaksa was the source of this cycle of political witch hunts and violence, Premadasa queried as to what action has been taken against him. He also questioned how Rajapaksa is doing comfortably when a “well-respected trade union leader who has been fighting for the assurance of the wellbeing of millions of students and teachers” has been arrested.

Meanwhile, the CTU has warned that if the Government continues to suppress trade union (TU) and civil organisation leaders instead of finding solutions to the issues faced by the people, teachers and principals islandwide would soon launch continuous trade union action similar to the strike which was launched last year demanding solutions to the teacher-principal salary anomalies, with several other trade unions that have agreed to support it.

Speaking to The Morning yesterday (4), CTU President Priyantha Fernando said: “Trade union and civil organisation leaders who are involved in the ongoing people’s struggle (aragalaya) are being arrested continuously. The most recent incident in this suppressive programme of the Government was the arrest of Stalin. He was arrested merely for participating in a demonstration. Through this, it is very clear that this is the beginning of a programme to suppress trade union and civil organisation leaders.”

He said that the CTU, together with trade unions in other sectors, has planned to take action in several stages against the suppression of protestors by the Government. He also mentioned that as the first phase of the programme, a series of protests were held across the country yesterday, adding that if the Government continues to implement a suppressive programme, it is planned to launch a continuous strike in the coming days. 

“We hope that the President and the Government remember the strike that we launched for months demanding solutions to the teacher-principal salary anomalies in 2021, which ended successfully. If the Government does not stop its programme, a continuous strike of that kind will definitely be launched with the involvement of trade unions in many sectors,” warned Fernando.

Moreover, representatives of several other trade unions told The Morning that they will support the programme implemented by the teachers’ and principals’ trade unions, mainly the CTU, against suppression by the Government, similar to how they supported the strike launched by the teachers’ and principals’ trade unions to demand solutions to the salary anomalies last year.

Meanwhile, a series of protests were held yesterday with the participation of a number of trade unions and civil organisations protesting the continued arrest of people involved in the people’s struggle. The main demonstration was held yesterday at 10 a.m. in front of the Colombo Fort Railway Station and simultaneously, a number of other demonstrations were held in front of schools and zonal education offices across the country.