‘Sri Lanka is all talk and no action on repealing terror law’

The Prevention of Terrorism Act was enacted in 1979, under President J.R. Jayawardene, primarily to crush the emerging armed struggle of Tamil youth. — THE HINDU PHOTO ARCHIVES  

Criticising the Sri Lankan government for its failure to repeal the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), Human Rights Watch on Monday accused the government of being “all talk and no action”.

Releasing a report titled ‘Locked Up Without Evidence: Abuses under Sri Lanka’s Prevention of Terrorism Act’ — based on interviews with 34 former detainees and relatives — the rights watchdog said the PTA allowed arrests without warrant for unspecified “unlawful activities,” and permitted detention for up to 18 months without producing the suspect in court. Many of the interviewees reported torture and abuse during their detention.

The PTA, enacted in 1979 when President J.R. Jayawardene was in power, was mainly aimed at crushing the nascent armed struggle of Tamil youth outraged by the Sri Lankan state’s discriminatory policies. Critics have repeatedly questioned the prolonged use of the legislation, particularly after the civil war ended in 2009.

Pressure grows on govt.

Amid growing domestic and international pressure to repeal the legislation, the government helmed by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe promised to abolish it, and initiated efforts to draft a new counterterrorism law in 2016. However, the first draft sparked fear among lawyers and activists who noted with concern that some provisions were worse than the PTA’s.

Reportedly, at least 11 people have been arrested under the PTA in 2016. The government is yet to respond to the report, and attempts to reach officials in the Law and Order Ministry for a comment were unsuccessful.

Worryingly, the latest draft of the counterterrorism legislation, according to senior human rights lawyer K.S. Ratnavale, is “shrouded in mystery”. “It was neither placed as a Bill in Parliament nor presented for any public consultation or debate,” he told The Hindu on Monday. “The PTA has to be completely repealed and the law replacing must be progressive, in keeping with international standards. There need to be legal safeguards for suspects,” he said.

Recommending that Sri Lanka repeal the PTA and replace it with rights-respecting counterterrorism legislation, HRW has urged the country to consult victim rights groups, civil society, human rights lawyers, and experts while drafting the new legislation.

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Printable version | Sep 25, 2021 9:36:18 PM |

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