CUPE Ontario, representing over 280,000 workers in Canada’s largest province, is adding its voice to the call for the government of Sri Lanka to end its repression of students, teachers, and trade unionists in the country.
On September 25, the Sri Lankan police violently dispersed hundreds of demonstrators a day after severely curtailing protest rights in response to months of popular and widespread protests. President Ranil Wickremesinghe, on September 23, ordered a ban on all demonstrations and protests near key institutions, including his office and the homes of the military’s top brass.
Since March, Sri Lanka has been rocked by mass protests over inflation, fuel and food shortages, government corruption, and attacks on fundamental freedoms. On July 9, tens of thousands demonstrated at the President’s house in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital, forcing the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on July 14. His successor, Acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe, initially supported the protesters but then escalated the crackdown on dissent. The targeting of education and democracy activists has been widely condemned, including by the United Nations Human Rights High Commissioner, Amnesty International, and the International Crisis Group.
On August 3, police arrested Joseph Stalin, General Secretary of the Ceylon Teachers’ Union and a leading human rights campaigner. Stalin is the most senior trade union leader detained during the government’s crackdown. Following protests by teachers, he was released on bail. On August 18, police arrested nearly 20 people during a march led by the Inter University Students’ Federation, the largest student organization in Sri Lanka, to protest the economic crisis and government repression. Most protesters were later released, but the government invoked its Prevention of Terrorism Act on August 22 to justify the continued detention of student leaders.
CUPE Ontario condemns the police violence, and the targeting and detention of student and labour activists in Sri Lanka, and we demand an immediate end to the government’s campaign of repression. We support the rights of students, education workers, trade unionists, and all people in Sri Lanka to engage in legitimate mass protests that have been sweeping the country in response to the worsening economic crisis and in support of urgently-needed systemic changes.