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Unrest In The North: Student Deaths And A Troubled Aftermath

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Cassendra Doole

Cassendra Doole

Staff Writer

Last week’s killing of two Jaffna University students by the police has sparked protests in the North, with shops and businesses in Jaffna shutting down yesterday (October 25) and students on strike boycotting lectures.

The two Jaffna University undergraduates were killed on Friday (October 21) after being shot at by police at a roadblock near the Kulappidi Junction when returning from Chunnakam. Police later claimed that the boys had been ordered to stop their motorcycle at the roadblock, which they had failed to comply with, prompting the police to shoot at them.

Protests and calls for justice aside, other events that have taken place in the aftermath of the shooting have given rise to more serious concerns in the North.

On Sunday (October 23) it was reported that two Government Intelligence Service officers had sustained injuries after being stabbed with a sword by two unidentified motorcyclists in Chunnakam, Jaffna. A local gang later claimed responsibility, saying that this was in ‘retaliation’ to the shooting of the students.

What Happened On Friday

According to media reports, the shooting took place in the early hours of Friday at around three a.m. when the two students, who are believed to have been under the influence of alcohol, were returning from a party in Chunnakam.

The two third-year students, attached to the Arts Faculty of the Jaffna University, were identified as Paunraj Sulakshan of Kandarodai in Chunnakam and Nadarasa Kajan of Kilinochchi.

The rider of the motorcycle was shot twice in the head and was already dead by the time he was admitted to hospital. Upon being shot at, the rider had lost control of the motorcycle, and had rammed into a roadside wall, which in turn grievously injured the pillion rider.

Jaffna Magistrate S. Satheeshkaran, who arrived at the scene, conducted the Magisterial Inquiry while the postmortem of the two bodies was carried out at the Jaffna Hospital.

It was also reported that until the post mortem examination confirmed otherwise, the police responsible for the shooting maintained that the deaths were caused due to an accident.

Later, however, five policemen were arrested in connection with the killing, and remanded till November 4.

Amid widespread outrage and calls for justice, two separate investigations have been initiated by the CID and the National Police Commission, while on Saturday (October 22) it was also reported that President Maithripala Sirisena had ordered an independent investigation into the matter, and promised a ‘compensation’ to the parents of the two students.

Protests And Demonstrations

Student bodies across the country have voiced their solidarity with the students of Jaffna in their call for justice.

A representative for the Student Union of the Jaffna University said that, “We are all participating in a strike. We don’t go for lectures. There is a lot happening here in protest against the shootings. We are waiting for an overall judgment, and I suppose we will have to wait and see if justice will be served. All faculties ‒ the Sinhala stream and the Tamil stream ‒ are on strike.”

They also said that the incident “has spread fear and now everyone is afraid to go out during the night” and that “the police has not contacted any of the University unions or students.”

The Inter University Student Federation (IUSF) has meanwhile claimed that the Government is attempting to cover-up the facts behind the incident.

Speaking to Roar, IUSF Convener, Lahiru Weerasekara, said that the blame for the deaths of the two students lay with the Sri Lanka Police. Condemning the incident, Weerasekara said that the police had not only shot at the two students in the middle of the road, but also had the audacity to claim that they had died in a road accident.

Politicians Concerned

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has condemned the shooting, and it was reported that TNA chief and Opposition Leader R. Sampanthan had spoken to President Sirisena to voice his concerns regarding the incident.

“Sampanthan, who also spoke to the Inspector General of Police (IGP) and expressed his dissatisfaction regarding the incident, has also requested the IGP to conduct an impartial investigation and take immediate action. The TNA expresses its deep regret about this incident and would like to convey its condolences to the families, friends, and the loved ones of those deceased.” the TNA said in a statement.

During Parliamentary sessions, Opposition Leader R. Sampanthan requested that the culprits responsible be brought to justice.

“Serious doubts have been raised in the recent past as to the jury processes through which high-profile crimes have ended with no conviction at all,” he said, adding that the Government must ensure that such unlawful acts are not repeated, especially by those who in charge of law enforcement.

The incident was debated at length during the week’s parliamentary sessions and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe assured an independent and transparent inquiry into the shooting.

Troubled Aftermath

While demonstrations carried out by students were, for the most part, recognised as peaceful, authorities were put on alert after the incident involving the sword attack on the two Government Intelligence Officers.

According to the Daily News, Law and Order Minister, Sagala Ratnayake, told Parliament that the incident wasn’t aimed at the Police, but that the two officers had “accidentally become victims of a clash between a trader and some of his rivals.”

The Daily Mirror, however, reported yesterday that a group calling itself ‘Aava’ has, in fact, claimed responsibility for the sword attack. The group had reportedly put up posters in Jaffna stating that the attack had been carried out in retaliation to the deaths of the two students, and that they would not stand to “witness the destruction” of their culture.

Meanwhile, the Jaffna University Students Association handed over a petition to the District Secretary on Monday, demanding that the suspects be brought to justice within a month’s time.

With contributions by Maryam Azwer

Featured image courtesy prokerala.com

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