Updated: July 17, 2021 05:20 AM GMT
Sri Lanka's main opposition MPs stage a demonstration at Colombo's Independence Square on July 9 against a government crackdown on trade union and student protests against the administration of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. (Photo: AFP)
Catholic teachers have joined teachers at Sri Lanka's government-run schools in withdrawing from online teaching to protest the detention of union leaders and others held in quarantine centers under pandemic laws.
Schools remain closed because of the outbreak and lessons have been held online to stem the contagion.
According to the Ceylon Teachers’ Union, 242,000 teachers and 16,000 school principals joined strike action on July 12.
The decision to launch a strike was based on several demands including the release of illegally detained teachers' union leaders, the elimination of salary discrepancies between teachers and principals, and the privatization of education.
Police arrested peaceful protesters including Ceylon Teachers' Union general secretary Joseph Stalin, a Buddhist monk and other union leaders on the pretext of violating quarantine laws on July 8. They were released on bail but sent to government-run quarantine centers.
Father Sherard Jayawardana, a government teacher, denounced attempts to privatize education and criticized the arrest of union leaders.
It is a shame that elderly women and protesters have been treated badly in a country where all religions coexist
"One minister said that it would be good to have one teacher for this online education. The minister of mass media says these teachers have been misled," said Father Jayawardana.
"No one can mislead teachers like puppets. The whole world saw the most disgraceful way an elderly mother who was arrested on the day of the demonstration was dragged away by the police.
"It is a shame that elderly women and protesters have been treated badly in a country where all religions coexist."
Church-run schools have also halted online education and stopped term exams that some schools had prepared.
Father Sarath Iddamalgoda, a prominent rights activist, said the government was suppressing people who have taken to the streets to fight for their rights and has violated the constitution.
"Protesters, teachers and rights activists have been arrested for violating health and quarantine rules. Not allowing freedom of expression is a violation of human rights and democratic freedom," the priest said.
Public Security Minister Sarath Weerasekara said the government will not hesitate to arrest anyone who breaks health regulations and engages in protests during the pandemic.
Parents of students who hope to sit government examinations have expressed deep regret. They said it was unfair for teachers to take their children's education hostage to win their demands.
Several fundamental rights applications have been filed with the Supreme Court claiming that the Sri Lankan police preventing protests and public assembly violates the fundamental rights of the people including the right to expression and speech.
Minister of Education G.L. Peiris said the ministry would take the first steps towards reopening schools in August.