On June 21, 2017, student protesters and police officers clashed violently during a protest that took place at Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Health. At least 80 students and nine police officers were injured, and five students were arrested.
The protest was organized by the Inter University Students Federation (IUSF) and Medical Faculty Students’ Action Committee (MFSAC) to advocate abolishing the South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine (SAITM), the country’s only private medical college. Critics allege that the SAITM matriculates students who do not meet the national standards for medical training.
After the student group moved beyond the protest’s planned boundaries, police obtained a court order mandating that any protest continue without causing a public nuisance. Students reportedly forcibly entered the Ministry of Health building, damaging property. Security forces reportedly used tear gas, hoses, and batons to disperse the students, injuring at least 80.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about reports of violence during a student protest. Students and other members of the higher education community have the right to free expression and association; however, those rights must be exercised peacefully and responsibly. Similarly, while authorities have a legitimate interest in maintaining order, they must do so in ways that are proportional to the situation, minimize the risk of physical injury, and otherwise respect freedom of expression, freedom of association, and other applicable human rights standards.