All universities, schools closed after suicide bombings

Sri Lanka’s education officials decided to close down all schools, state universities and several other higher education institutions until further notice after the deadly blasts in churches and hotels that killed hundreds of people on Sunday. The decision was taken after considering the security situation in the country.

By Tuesday 253* people including 38 foreigners were reported dead and more than 500 injured as a result of the coordinated suicide bomb attacks. Local Islamic extremist group National Thowheed Jamath was behind the incidents, according to the government state defence minister.

Suicide bombers had entered churches and hotels in Colombo while Christians celebrated the Easter services. Six bombs exploded at the St Anthony's Church in Kochchikade, St Sebastian's Church in Katuwapitiya, Katana, and Zion Church in Batticaloa, while the Kingsbury, Shangri-La and Cinnamon Grand hotels came under attack. A seventh bomb exploded near the National Zoo in Dehiwala; and an eighth inside a housing complex in Dematagoda.

After the attacks on Sunday, several bombs, explosives and suspicious items were found in locations across the island, but especially in Colombo. Security has been tightened in Sri Lanka and a curfew has been imposed. A national state of emergency has been declared. Use of social media, including Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and WhatsApp, has been temporarily banned to avoid fake news and hate speech adding to the turmoil. Island-wide search operations are ongoing in search of the remaining suspects.

Academic activities suspended

The University Grants Commission (UGC) decided to suspend all academic activities at state universities. The UGC said students in hostels are allowed to stay on and informed all university administrations to provide adequate security to hostels immediately and to seek assistance from army camps and police stations. One suspicious parcel was found near the Open University of Sri Lanka in Nawala.

The education ministry decided to close all schools. Schools had been scheduled to open on 22 April after the vacation, but the ministry instructed principals all over the island to assure the safety of the school premises and the surrounding areas before the schools commence their academic activities for the second term.

Several scheduled examinations, including the National Colleges of Education exams, were postponed indefinitely.

Medical faculty student Ruwanthi told University World News: “I do not feel safe anywhere and again feel so insecure to go in public transport to university. My outstation friends have not come to Colombo yet because of the fear.”

She added that the closures would delay their clinical appointments too.

Fathima Farah, a Muslim higher education student, told University World News: “After seeing others’ tears, my heart filled with sorrow. This was never expected, foreigners died, this is a black mark to our country; foreigners will fear to come to our country; we must respect every race and every religion.”

A teacher in a remote village in Galle said: “Ten years after the civil war ended we were living happily, [but the] government failed to protect their citizens. Leaders must step down immediately.”

University teachers appeal for truth

The Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA) appealed strongly to government leaders to rise above petty political divisions, and to demonstrate genuine statesmanship. FUTA urged the government not to use the tragic events for political advantage but rather to reveal the truth to the people and ensure that victims and their families are supported.

“We have suffered too long because of the squabbles and power struggles of our leaders. Indeed, power struggles and the pettiness of the political leadership in this country are responsible for much of the suffering of our people,” FUTA further said.

There have been reports that due to a power struggle between the president and the prime ministers, the prime minister had been denied access to intelligence reports and had not seen warnings in advance of the attacks.

FUTA appealed to all students, teachers, non-academic staff and administrators to come together and stand against violence and extremism in all its forms within and outside universities.

In 2009, Sri Lanka declared the end of the 26-year war between government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Fears are growing among Sri Lankans that these incidents will create another war.

This is the third occasion that all universities have been closed in Sri Lanka. In August 2012, the government closed all universities after a two-month lecturer strike. In November 2013, universities closed for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.

*The number of deaths has been changed in this article as a result of the government publishing a revised lower official figure.