Sri Lanka teachers on strike over detention of protesters

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Teachers in Sri Lankan government-run schools withdrew from online teaching Monday to protest the detention of union leaders and others in quarantine centers under pandemic laws.

Schools in Sri Lanka remain closed because of the coronavirus pandemic and lessons are conducted online.

Eleven education trade unions said in a statement that three union leaders and many others were illegally detained at the quarantine centers after being arrested at protests last week. They said the leaders and other protesters were pushed inside vehicles and taken away to the quarantine centers as they walked out of courtrooms after having been released on bail.

Priyantha Fernando of the Ceylon Teachers’ Union said 242,000 teachers and 16,000 school principals joined Monday’s strike action.

Fernando said the union leaders had protested against a proposed law which they say will lead to privatization and militarization of universities. Also at issue are salary disputes that have remained unresolved for over 23 years, he said.

The Bar Association of Sri Lanka, the main professional body for lawyers, wrote to the police chief expressing concern that the right to peaceful protests is being violated using health guidelines, while the guidelines themselves do not prohibit indoor or outdoor protests.

It also wrote to the director general of health services asking him not to allow health guidelines be misused against peaceful protesters.

Law and Order Minister Sarath Weerasekara told Parliament that the protesters violated the rules and police will continue to arrest violators in the future.

There are 4.3 million students enrolled in schools but many are unable to join online lessons because they do not have access to electronic devices or internet service.

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