The Reign of Terror
Rev. Fr. S. V. B. Mangalarajah
Sri Lankan police attack Tamil
students at the University of Jaffna
on Nov. 28, 2012, during their non-violent protest at which the
students wore black bands over their mouths to signify
the state of their freedom of expression.
The Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic
Diocese of Jaffna would like to bring to the attention of peace and
freedom-loving people the fact that people in the North of Sri Lanka
continue to be tormented by “state terrorism.” Of late, the situation
has worsened. Since November 2012, the repressive measures of the Sri
Lankan government unleashed on the people, and the arbitrary arrests of
the Jaffna University students and other youngsters, have reached new
We have earlier pointed out four months ago that the lasting peace we
longed for still remains elusive and that the measures taken by the Sri
Lankan government do not in any way help to bring about this peace. The
present developments indicate that peace-loving people are on the verge
of total despair, and we have no hesitation in presenting the current
situation now as a “Reign of Terror.”
Three episodes that took place in November 2012 brought about a
deterioration of the general situation, and these incidents that are
described below cause concern and worry for us and for our people.
1. During the last week of November, Hindus celebrate a special festival
of lighting lamps—Vilakkeedu—when they light small lanterns in their
temples and in their homes. This year this specific festival coincided
with the Heroes’ Day of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
Well in advance of the festival, the Hindu authorities had explained
this celebration to the police, and the senior police officer in Jaffna
(SP) had given permission to the Hindus to light the lamps and go ahead
with the celebration. With such assurances, the Hindus held their
celebration and lit the lanterns, only to be interrupted by the security
forces who ordered them not to do so. In some places, some “unidentified
men” came on motorcycles and ordered the people to put out the lanterns
and threatened them.
2. On Nov. 27, there was an unusually heavy concentration of the
security forces around the premises of Jaffna University as Nov. 27 used
to be the day the LTTE remembered the dead during the past 30-year war.
The security forces suspected that the university students would light
some lamps to remember the dead in the war. Hence, in the evening, the
security forces barged onto the campus and entered the hostels of boys
and girls, causing pandemonium and damage to the furniture and other
items. The students were threatened not to have any kind of
commemoration for the dead.
The following day the students organized a peaceful protest against the
unauthorized entry and the high-handed behavior of the security forces.
As a sign of the curtailment of their freedom of expression, the
students tied their mouths with black bands and were getting ready to
march with placards out of one gate of the campus and re-enter through
another gate. As the students started their march in a peaceful manner,
the security forces pounced on them and violently put down the protest,
injuring a number of them. About 20 students had to be rushed to the
One of the photographs taken during this melee, which appeared in the
newspapers the following day, was expressive of the barbarity of the
attack on the unarmed students. It showed that one student with his
mouth tied with a black band had tripped and fallen, probably while
running for safety. This student, who was flat on the ground, was
surrounded by three policemen armed with clubs. These policemen were
beating the student simultaneously with their boots and their clubs.
The journalists who came to the demonstration were also beaten up. The
local member of Parliament (MP), Mr. Saravanbavan, arrived also; and
when he was trying to tell the security forces to exercise restraint, he
was abused and intimidated. The windscreen of his vehicle, which had
been parked where the army was standing, was also smashed.
3. The aftermath of these campus incidents is still more disturbing and
is sending shock waves around the area causing panic. Soon after the
quashing of the peaceful demonstration of the campus students with an
iron hand, four of the university students were arrested and taken to
Vavuniya for questioning. In the following days, more university
students and more youth in the Jaffna Peninsula were arrested. As the
days passed, more arrests were made; and on Dec. 10, International Human
Rights Day, the number of those arrested, students as well as others,
had soared to 45. Some of those who were arrested are the youth who had
gone through a period of rehabilitation due to their alleged involvement
with the LTTE. All these youngsters are being held in detention under
the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). Hundreds of these
youngsters, who are now living normal lives with their families, are
very much disturbed by these arrests.
Lessons Not Learnt
Taking into account the above developments, we feel that no lessons have
been learnt from the serious mistakes of past governments that caused
hundreds of thousands of precious lives to be lost. The use of violence
to put down the peaceful satyagraha demonstration on the Galle Face
Green in Colombo by S. J. V. Chelvanayagam when the Sinhala Only Act was
passed in 1956 led to the birth of Tamil militancy. We are very well
aware of the cost of this action through the hundreds of thousands of
lost lives. Now what happened at Jaffna University is completely
unwarranted, and the Sri Lankan government seems to be igniting another
cycle of violence.
We also have quite justifiable fears for the safety of the dozens of
youth who are being detained in Vavuniya for questioning under the PTA.
Not even six months have passed since the torture and killing of two
Tamil political prisoners—Nimalaruban and Dilruksan—who were in Vavuniya,
and we have not heard of any action taken against the jail guards and
other officers in the prisons who were involved in the torture and
killing of these youth. The longer the current young people are kept in
detention, the more risks they face to their lives.
Moreover, the findings of recent U.N. reports on the last days of the
war in Sri Lanka have not only brought to light the fact that the United
Nations failed miserably in not giving adequate protection to civilians
but have also laid bare the real face of the Sri Lankan security forces.
Some of the most powerful and influential countries which supported the
Sri Lankan government to win the war against the LTTE have begun to
realize that there had been large-scale human rights violations,
violations of internationality accepted norms of treating those who
surrendered fairly; that promises given not to use heavy weapons and not
to attack civilian targets were broken; that there was a protracted
delay in tabling a meaningful solution package to the ethnic problem,
etc. Even after such a heavy loss of lives and property, the
international community is still not able to take a firm decision. The
United Nations and the powerful countries merely express their concern
and worry over developments in Sri Lanka. This expression of disapproval
does not go far enough, and the plight of the minority Tamils remains
The international community should realize that the current situation,
which is volatile, cannot be remedied by local public protests, protests
by local MPs, newspaper condemnations, etc., as the past experiences
show. Rather, there is an urgent need for firm action to be taken by the
United Nations and the international community to stop another cycle of
violence and large-scale loss of innocent lives.
* The Rev. Fr. S. V. B. Mangalarajah is the chairman of the Justice
and Peace Commission of the Catholic Diocese of Jaffna.