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Pressure mounts to free political prisoners

As government denies there are any, activists launch new campaign

Activists launch a signature campaign for the release of hundreds of prisoners Activists launch a signature campaign for the release of hundreds of prisoners
  • by ucanews.com reporter, Colombo
  • Sri Lanka
  • July 30, 2012
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Rights activists and relatives of political detainees have launched a nationwide signature campaign calling for the release of all the country’s political prisoners.

The vast majority of the detainees were arrested during the country’s long-running civil war and have spent years behind bars without charge, they claim.

The campaign was launched outside Fort Railway Station in the capital Colombo on Friday. Organizers say they hope to collect around 1 million signatures.

"We demand the government charge them with a crime or release them,” said Udul Premaratne, a human rights activist and lawyer, as well as one of the organizers of the campaign.

If the government is genuine about achieving true national reconciliation, they should free all political prisoners, he said.

According to the activists there are at least 900 political detainees languishing in prisons around the country.

However the government denies holding any. The minister of Irrigation and Water Resources Management, Nimal Siripala de Silva, told parliament recently there were no political prisoners in Sri Lanka.

He admitted that there are 359 former Tamil Tiger “criminal” suspects still being detained, of which 309 have cases pending against them.

Three new High Courts would be established to prosecute the cases, he added.

Attorney General Palitha Fernando has said that the government has decided to speed up the prosecution of all remaining hardcore LTTE cadres and rehabilitate those charged with minor offences.

“The cases would be heard within three months and the government has appointed a committee to do the preliminary work,” he said.

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