Bishops join call to free Sri Lankan political prisoners

Many jailed in Sri Lanka for years without trial say they are political prisoners
Bishops join call to free Sri Lankan political prisoners

Bishop Joseph Ponniah of Batticaloa adding his signature to a petition seeking a pardon for a political prisoner in this file image taken earlier this year. (Photo by L. Athiran) reporter, Colombo
Sri Lanka
October 3, 2018
Catholic bishops and civil rights activists in Sri Lanka have called for the release of political detainees, some of them held for years without charge on suspicion of having had links to the defeated Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

And 10 Tamil prisoners in Anuradhapura Prison, located about 200 kilometres north of the capital, Colombo, have launched a hunger strike in an attempt to expedite their cases.

Bishop Norbert M. Andradi of Anuradhapura has since the nation's 1983-2009 civil war worked for reconciliation between the majority Buddhist Sinhalese population and mainly Hindu ethnic Tamils.

He visited inmates at the Andradhapura prison Sept. 28.

Many of them felt they had been deceived by past promises from politicians and that they had since been given no indication that their concerns would be fairly addressed.

Bishop Andradi said Tamil political detainees have appealed to be released from prison and permitted to return to their families.

Another option raised with him was that they be granted some form of bail pending the conclusion of any legal proceedings against them.

If they were not to be freed, the prisoners suggested that provision be made for them to be moved from prison to a less harsh environment to allow them to undergo a "rehabilitation" process.

"They also affirmed that if there is no solution to their present situation, they are determined to fast unto death," said Bishop Andradi.

He added that there were cases where there had been no attempt to conduct proper legal proceedings and the families of those in prison suffered miserably as a result.

Bishop Andradi said he understood that under Sri Lanka's justice system, it might not be possible to allow the prisoners  to be released in the short term, so he believed the requested rehabilitation procedure was reasonable.

Relatives of political detainees Sept. 27 held a demonstration in Colombo calling for an amnesty for all political prisoners.

Rights' defenders say there are more than a hundred political detainees in various prisons around the country, including 10 in Anuradhapura.

Ruki Fernando, a prominent human rights' defender, noted that the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) had been used to detain people for up to 15 years before they were eventually found to be not guilty of any offence.

"The Act resulted in serious human rights violations such as arbitrary arrest, detention and torture without charges and these things continue to happen," Fernando said.

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Meanwhile, Bishop Joseph Ponniah of Batticaloa, in the country's east, himself a Tamil, has supported a petition seeking a pardon for Satchithanantham Ananthasuthakaran who was sentenced to life imprisonment.

He was convicted of involvement in a Tamil secessionist bombing campaign during the civil war.

Ananthasuthakaran's wife died earlier this year and his young children have written to Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena seeking his release.

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