The Campaign for Free and fair Election (CaFFE) believes that Sri Lanka can’t become a nation with a rule of law until the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) is abolished as it has the same suppressive powers of the Emergency Laws which were lifted in 2011.
Rajith Keerthi Tennakoon, the Executive Director of CaFFE said that the PTA effectively makes all the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) invalid.
“What is more concerting is the fact that PTA has now become a part of Sri Lankan laws. While emergency laws had to be extended monthly, thus being easy to lift, abolishing the PTA needs more concerted efforts. In addition emergency laws can be convoked under the PTA, for example the PTA allows the ban of certain organizations and allows extended detention of persons,” he said in a statement today.
CaFFE says it witnessed with dismay of the detention of Jeyakumari Balendran and Ruki Fernando last year, the extended detention of journalist J. S. Tissainayagam in 2008 and arrest of politician Azath Salley in 2013 under the PTA. It is because of the profound understanding of the fear and suppression it can unleash according to the whims of the government, that we have been consistent with our demands for abolishing the PTA. If it is not possible to repeal the PTA immediately, at least steps should be taken to remove the most harmful aspects of the PTA, including Part II, III and V.
After the January 8 Presidential election was over, a number of Civil Society Organizations (CSO) from the North, especially those who deal with missing persons, called for the repeal of PTA. However CSOs from the South stated that it will be harmful for the electoral prospects of the government if they repeal the PTA right before a General Election. Indeed, such a step would have been exploited by extremist elements in Parliament. However after a significant electoral victory the time has now come for the government to repeal the PTA and it is the responsibility of the CSOs to lobby the government.
When the former Deputy Mayor of CMC Azath Salley was arrested on May 2, 2013 by a team of officers from the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and the Terrorism Investigation Department (TID), and placed under detention for further interrogation by the CID for 3 months under Section 2(1)(h) of the PTA, then Opposition Leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe accused the Government of using the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) to suppress rival politicians and Opposition political parties. Section 2(1)(h) states that a person who has committed an offence under the PTA “….by words either spoken or intended to be read or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise causes or intends to cause commission of acts of violence or religious, racial or communal disharmony or feelings of ill-will or hostility between different communities or racial or religious groups…”
Speaking in parliament, Wickremesinghe demanded to know the “name of the terrorist organisation or the movement Azath Salley held membership or got involved to get arrested under PTA. Why was action taken on Azath Salley under the Prevention of Terrorism Act rather than under average law? Will this Act be used further for suppressing politicians of the Opposition and public forces? Since terrorism has been terminated by now, will the Prevention of Terrorism Act be abrogated? If not why?”
In response former Prime Minister D.M. Jayaratne stated that the PTA was helpful in defeating the LTTE and the Government was not using it for political purposes.
Ironically, when CaFFE raised the issue of repealing the PTA a few weeks ago, the Minister of Justice, Wijedasa Rajapakshe gave a similar retort stating that repealing the PTA is not a priority for the government. CaFFE would like to know if Wickremesinghe too has changed his opinion of the PTA, as he has not commented on the issue.
The PTA was first enacted in 1979 as a temporary provision and it was amended by acts no 10 of 1982 and act no 22 of 1988. However this act was not able to prevent the July riots, put a quick end to the LTTE or prevent the JVP from taking up arms in 1987. Indeed it is not the PTA which led to the end of the LTTE but was a systematic political and military strategy, thus CaFFE calls for an immediate repeal of the PTA or at least amend the most harmful aspects of the PTA.
Keerthi Tennakoon said that the Government expects the support of the Tamil and Muslim parties, thus they have a lot of incentives to a repeal of the PTA. In addition the Government comprises of a number of parties that were the victims, either party leaders or members, of the PTA, for example members of the Up Country Peoples Front, Mano Ganesan, northern and eastern Muslim parties. Moreover those who accept good governance as a principal must agree to a repeal of the PTA. 16 MPs of the TNA will vote against the PTA and JVP will also assist a move to repeal the act. So given such favourable circumstances, CaFFE believes that removal of the PTA should be in the agenda of the Parliament in the coming two months.
“One of the key elements of transitional justice, in the Geneva response, is an investigation of alleged incidents of rights violations carried by those using PTA. In addition a considerable space of a Truth Commission must be given to the use of PTA for torture, illegal detention, disappearances/missing persons. Meanwhile without the removal of the PTA we can’t prevent a repeat of the tragedy because PTA leads to attacks on personal freedoms, including freedom of expression and association, which in turn leads to rebellion,” he said.
Tennakoon noted that what is transpiring now is an attempt to ignore the PTA while talking of establishing a domestic mechanism. In addition he said that some so called human rights champions are planning to drop the abolition of PTA from the agenda.
“As a human rights defender which has not shifted its agenda on personal freedoms, we believe that those who strive for human rights in Sri Lanka should not drop the repeal of PTA from their agendas. In addition we believe they should unite against the government if it intends to continue the PTA,” Tennakoon said. (Colombo Gazette)