ucanews.com reporters, ColomboUpdated: April 02, 2014 05:22 PM GMT
Rights activists march to the Ministry of Justice in Colombo yesterday to hand over a petition calling for repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act.
Rights activists are calling on Sri Lanka’s government to repeal its Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), which has been used to justify the arrest and detention of several prominent activists this month.
Over 200 activists staged a protest opposite the Supreme Court in Hultsdorf, Colombo, yesterday and marched to the Ministry of Justice to hand over a petition demanding the repeal of the law.
Hundreds of journalists, opposition political leaders and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam suspects have been punished over the years under the 1979 law. In some cases, suspects have languished in remand for 15 years without trial.
Father M. Sakthivel, convener of the Christian Solidarity Movement, said during the protest that the PTA was a draconian piece of legislation that was being misused by the government.
“Under this law, the victims can be held for any amount of time according to the whims and fancies of the government, victims are not allowed to even meet lawyers, [and] there is no chance of meeting family members,” he said. “The war ended five years back and there is no terrorism in the country now, but the government wants to keep the PTA and military in the north to suppress the people.”
On March 13, the country’s Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) arrested outspoken activist Balendran Jeyakumari and her 13-year-old daughter Balendran Vibooshika in Kilinochchi. The pair had been campaigning for information about Tamils who disappeared during the country’s civil war. Jeyakumari was detained under the PTA.
Three days later, rights activists Ruki Fernando of the Inform Human Rights Documentation Center and Oblate Father Praveen Mahesan, director of the Center for Peace and Reconciliation, were also arrested in Kilinochchi, when they visited to look into Jeyakumari’s case.
After a wave of condemnation from foreign governments and rights groups, the pair were released. Fernando has been barred by court order from speaking to the media about his arrest.
“The law is being used to intimidate activists and suppress dissent, not for preventing terrorism,” said Fred Carver, campaign director at the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice. “There is no evidence whatsoever that Ruki Fernando, Father Praveen Mehesan, or Jeyakumari Balendran have been in anyway involved with terrorist activities, and the idea is patently absurd.”
Carver added: “The working environment for activists in Sri Lanka has never been easy but over the last few weeks it has got far far worse."
Prominent human rights lawyer J.C. Weliamuna added his voice to the calls for repeal. “Since its inception, from 1979, this law has been misused...by different successive governments of Sri Lanka,” he said.
“This law does not contain accountability measures. Normal crimes can be converted to crimes against national security.”
Concerns have also been expressed at parliamentary level. “That law was suitable only at a time of war, or when the country was faced with a grave threat,” said Minister of National Languages and National Integration Vasudeva Nanayakkara. “[The] PTA must be repealed as there is no necessity for it at this period of time."