Sri Lanka and Its Political Detainees

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  • 7/24/2019 Sri Lanka and Its Political Detainees


    Sri Lanka and its political detainees

    Picture courtesy NDTV

    by Lionel Bopage - on 11/01/201

    T!e "ail syste# in Sri Lanka and t!e $ate o$ prisoners %!o are being !eld

    t!erein !a&e been discussed on se&eral occasions' %!en #a"or &iolence

    occurred %it!in t!e syste#( )o%e&er' t!e #ost recent discussion %as

    based on a !unger strike a group o$ detained political prisoners !ad

    launc!ed( *ccording to t!e in$or#ation %e !a&e recei&ed' t!ese detainees

    !a&e been !eld %it!out c!arges $or a period #uc! longer t!an t!e ti#e

    t!ey %ould !a&e been spent' e&en i$ t!ey !ad been con&icted $or any

    c!arges possibly broug!t against t!e#( So#e o$ t!e# %ould !a&e been
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    taken into custody #uc! be$ore t!e end o$ t!e ar#ed con+ict in 200,( &en

    under t!e Pre&ention o$ Terroris# *ct .PT*' pre-trial detention o$ indi&iduals

    is li#ited to a #ai#u# o$ 1 #ont!s( T!us' t!e aut!orities !a&e &iolated

    t!is pro&ision by !olding t!ese prisoners in detention indenitely(

    Violation o$ t!e rig!ts o$ prisoners is not!ing ne% in Sri Lanka( Political

    prisoners %!o are Ta#il' !a&e been sub"ected to se&ere abuse( T!e ar#ed

    con+ict ended in 3ay 200, and it !as been #ore t!an si years since t!en(

    )ig! 4ourt o$ Sri Lanka recently $ound a Ta#il %o#an %!o !ad been

    detained $or #ore t!an 1 years in prison not guilty( 5t is not %rong to

    belie&e t!at t!ere could be #any #ore prisoners' %!o are being !eld in

    detention like t!is' as t!ere are no bail pro&isions #ade a&ailable under t!e

    Pre&ention o$ Terroris# *ct .PT*( *ccording to t!e state' t!ese prisoners

    are !eld $or aiding or abetting acts o$ terror' %!ile so#e ot!ers consider

    t!e# as being !eld $or political reasons(

    3y personal eperience as a detainee in 1, under t!e PT*' $or !a&ing a

    discussion %it! a leader o$ Peoples6 Liberation 7rganisation o$ Ta#il ela#

    .PL7T' in %!ic! 5 e#p!atically re$used to $or# an organisation si#ilar to

    t!eirs in t!e sout!' %as not di8erent( 9ntil #y detention %as politically and

    legally c!allenged' 5 %as !eld %it!out c!arges( Since t!e enacting o$ t!e

    PT* in t!e 1,:0s' #any ci&il society organisations' political parties and

    groups bot! local and o&erseas !a&e de#anded $or its repeal( T!e PT*

    pro&ides t!e state and its security apparatus %ide-ranging po%ers to searc!

    and arrest people and !old t!e# in detention( &idence appears to be

    a&ailable t!at t!e PT* !as been used inappropriately as t!e &ague denitiono$ an act o$ terror is used to disad&antage people and co##unities( T!e

    i#punity t!e state !as pro&ided to its security personnel and its

    para#ilitaries !as #ade t!e situation %orse and intractable( T!is i#punity

    and lack o$ accountability o$ t!e part o$ t!e state !as led to t!e plague o$

    $a#ily bandyis#' nepotis#' aut!oritarianis#' corruption and #urder(

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    T!e election ca#paigns conducted by t!e President in ;anuary 201' and by

    t!e Pri#e 3inister led coalition in *ugust 201 discussed t!e issue o$

    releasing all political prisoners( Later on t!e ne% regi#e also agreed to

    release t!e#( )o%e&er' recently t!e 4abinet spokesperson and t!e 3inister

    $or ;ustice o$ t!e Sri Lankan go&ern#ent !a&e reiterated t!at t!ere are no

    political prisoners in Sri Lanka6s "ails( T!is is strange %!en t!e &ery sa#e

    persons !a&e recognised t!e $act t!at t!e ations suc! as

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    *#nesty 5nternational and t!e #edia !a&e continued to identi$y t!e# as

    political prisoners(

    T!is is not t!e rst ti#e' Sri Lanka !as gone t!roug! situations o$ t!is kind(

    Sri Lanka !eld close to 0'000 suspects during t!e ;VP uprising in 1,:1(

    T!ere !a&e been #any ot!ers' %!o !ad been !eld in t!e 1,-, period'

    despite t!e alleged procedures so#e security personnel !ad $ollo%ed' o$

    ?not taking any prisoners@( T!e ci&il society' organisations and pro#inent

    indi&iduals' particularly indi&iduals suc! as late Ven 3adi!e Pannasi!a

    3a!anayaka T!ero and late 7blate Aat!er Tissa Balasuriya' 735 !ad

    appealed to stop $ollo%ing t!e process o$ ?not taking any prisoners@ in non-

    co#bat situations( During t!e

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    T!ere are certain si#ilarities o$ t!e current situation to %!at eisted in *pril

    1,:1' but at t!e sa#e ti#e t!ere are certain di8erences( T!e argu#ents

    raised by t!e go&ern#ent t!en %as not dissi#ilar to t!ose raised by t!e

    pre&ious and current regi#e regarding t!e prisoners !eld in detention(

    During t!e se&enties' t!e go&ern#ent insisted t!at t!ere %ere no political

    prisoners' and t!at only t!ose %!o aided and abetted terrorist acts %ere

    being !eld in detention( Nonet!eless' %it! t!e political opposition gaining

    ground in t!e country led to t!e triu#p! o$ t!e idea t!at t!ose detainees

    and e&en t!ose %!o !ad been con&icted' !ad $oug!t $or an econo#ic

    political causeC t!ey %ere !eld $or political reasonsC and t!ere$ore t!ey %ere

    political prisoners( 5$ t!e sa#e criteria are applied' t!e Ta#il prisoners t!at

    are being !eld in detention $or a long ti#e' !ad also $oug!t $or a nationalist

    political cause' t!ey !a&e been !eld $or political reasons and t!ere$ore' t!ey

    are also political prisoners(

    * #a"or di8erence in t!e t%o situations is t!at #ost o$ t!e leaders o$ t!e

    *pril 1,:1 uprising !ad been !eld in detentionC and t!at t!ey !ad been able

    to lead t!e ca#paign $or t!e release o$ political prisonersC %!ile in t!e

    current situation' al#ost no leader o$ t!e LTT is !eld in detention( 3ost o$

    t!e# !ad been killed during t!e ar#ed con+ict and t!e rest !a&e beco#e

    identied %it! t!e Sri Lankan state( 7ne could uestion t!e et!ical aspect

    o$ !olding rank and le #e#bers in detention %!ile t!eir leaders !a&e

    re#ained scot-$ree( 3any do#estic and international organisations !a&e

    been asking t!e Sri Lankan go&ern#ent to release t!ese Ta#il political

    prisoners( Locally' t!e pressure to release t!ese prisoners co#es #ainly$ro# t!e Ta#il leaders in Sri Lanka or in t!e diaspora( =ecently' Ta#il

    political party leaders and certain Sin!ala acti&ists !eld protests calling on

    t!e go&ern#ent to release t!ose prisoners t!at are being kept detained(

    4ertain Ta#il ci&il society and political groups organised protest actions in

    t!e nort! and east and also in 4olo#bo' %it! relati&es and $riends o$ t!e

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    detainees playing a pro#inent role( 5nternationally' #ost o$ t!e !u#an

    rig!ts organisations !as been de#anding t!e release o$ t!ese detainees(

    5 can recollect t!e "udicial strategy t!e t!en go&ern#ent o$ Pri#e 3inister

    Siri#a&o Bandaranaike adopted in 1,:1( T!e 4ri#inal ;ustice 4o##issions

    *ct .4;4 *ct t!e t!en go&ern#ent enacted' reuired t!e accused to pro&e

    t!at t!ey %ere innocent' rat!er t!an t!e prosecution pro&ing t!at t!ey are

    guilty( T!is process allo%ed t!e creation o$ se&eral epedited trials( Leaders

    o$ t!e insurrection %ere tried at a separate ?3ain 4;4 Trial@( So#e %ere

    con&ictedC so#e %ere released' %!ile #any %ere sub"ected to lig!ter

    sentences $or assisting t!e 4;4 in t!e trial( Aor t!ose %!o !ad not been

    categorised as leaders o$ t!e uprising' t!e state encouraged t!e# to plead

    guilty by pledging to li#it con&ictions to suspended sentences( *s !appens

    a$ter t!e $ailure o$ any insurrection' c!aos pre&ailed at t!e ti#e' and #any

    !eld in detention agreed to plead guilty( T!ey %ere eit!er released or gi&en

    suspended sentences(

    &en t!ose con&icted by t!e 4;4 %ere eit!er pardoned or released %!en t!e

    Parlia#ent repealed t!e 4;4 *ct( T!is %as again due to t!e actions o$ ci&il

    society' political groups and #any ot!er indi&iduals t!at opposed t!e

    &iolation o$ rule o$ la% and t!e in"ustices co##itted under t!e i#position o$

    state o$ e#ergency and t!e 4;4 pro&isions( 7ne o$ t!e #a"or ca#paign

    issues during t!e ;uly 1,:: parlia#entary elections %as t!at o$ t!e political

    prisoners t!at !ad been detained or con&icted under t!e 4;4 *ct( T!e

    traditional le$t parties supported 3rs Bandaranaike during t!e electionca#paign( )o%e&er' t!e #ain opposition led by t!e 9nited National Party

    %on t!e elections gaining 1E0 o$ t!e 1F seats( T!e SLAP %on only eig!t

    seats and t!e traditional le$t %on none( Soon a$ter t!e $or#ation o$ t!e ne%

    go&ern#ent t!e 4;4 *ct %as repealed under t!e 4ri#inal ;ustice

    4o##issions .=epeal La% .No( 12 o$ 1,::(

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    5n 1,,' President =anasing!e Pre#adasa li$ted t!e state o$ e#ergency

    t!at %as i#posed in 1,< allegedly to counter t!e LTT led ar#ed struggle(

    )e also arranged to release #ore t!an 200 political prisoners t!at %er