Religious leaders call for release of Tamil political prisoners

Sri Lankan government agreed last December to grant them freedom but few have been released
Religious leaders call for release of Tamil political prisoners

Rights activists hold a demonstration outside Colombo's main prison on Aug. 8 to demand the release of political prisoners. (Photo by Niranjani Roland)

Sri Lankan religious leaders have called for the release of Tamil political prisoners during a demonstration in front of the main prison in Colombo on Aug. 8.

Catholic, Christian and Buddhist religious leaders, human rights activists, politicians and relatives of political prisoners urged the government to release political prisoners arrested under anti-terror laws during the country's civil war.

Political prisoners were arrested on suspicion of having links with the rebel group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), during the war or soon after it ended in 2009.

While the government agreed last December to release political prisoners, few have been freed.

"The political prisoners followed the orders and commands of the leaders of the LTTE. Today these leaders are out of prison but the innocent ones are held inside and without charge for many years," said Father Jayawardena Sherad.

"The government wants reconciliation but it must find the reasons why Tamil people took up arms and address them," he said.  

"Release and forgive [the prisoners]. Let them go back to normalcy. This is true reconciliation."

Anglican pastor Marimuthu Sakthivel said there are 150 political prisoners still behind bars.

"Political prisoners should be released without charge and unconditionally," said the Rev. Sakthivel.

He also said there had been no justice for inmates beaten by prison officers in Anuradhapura prison in 2012.

"Officers brutally attacked inmates and many were severely injured. Two inmates later died. Today marks four years since those murders but there has been no justice for them yet," said Sakthivel.

Anandan Shanthi, 44, demanded the release of her son who was taken into custody in 2008.

"My son was arrested on his way to the airport by police. They took him to the Criminal Investigation Division and sent him to Boosa camp. He is now in Welikada Prison in Colombo," said Shanthi.

"My son has written several letters to the United Nations and Red Cross. At present I have filed a case for the release of my son. Every hearing I have to pay 2,000 rupees [US $14] to the lawyer."

"I work in a restaurant in Colombo and send money to my daughter-in-law so her child can go to school in Kilinochchi," she said.

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"Now my son is 33-years of age and his son doesn't know his father."

Srinath Perera, a human rights lawyer, said political prisoners were sometimes charged without proper evidence.

"There are prisoners who have been jailed without proper charges for more than seven years," said Perera, a lawyer. "They have already been punished by being kept in prison for so long."

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