Reiterating a long-pending demand from human rights activists and some politicians in Sri Lanka visiting UN experts on Friday urged the government to repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).
UN experts say the act is an enabler of arbitrary detention
Following a 10-day visit to the island, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention pointed to “significant challenges” to Sri Lankans enjoying the right to personal liberty, resulting in “arbitrary detention across the country”.
Sri Lanka Government does not agree
While the Sri Lankan government maintains that no arrests have been made under the PTA after 2015 — when the President MaithripalaSirisena and Prime Minister RanilWickremesinghe combine rose to power
The UN Working Group said it was “gravely concerned about the numerous severe restrictions to fair trial guarantees that the application of the PTA entails”.
Threats and torture
- The three-member delegation pointed out that under the PTA, a suspect cannot access legal assistance until the court proceedings commence.
- In practice, this means that any statements, including confessions, which normally form an essential part of the prosecution under the PTA, are given in the absence of lawyers
- The Working Group also underscored instances where persons convicted under the PTA had allegedly been subjected to harassment, intimidation, threats and torture to extract confessions.
Used against Tamils
- Successive governments have used the PTA against Tamils in the north and east during the war and after, at times arresting large groups of people by surrounding villages
- In the south, the government used it in the late 1980s, during the second armed insurrection led by the leftist JVP, in an apparent attempt to curb dissent.
In 2016, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration began drafting a new legislation to counter terrorism that would replace the PTA. However, several lawyers and human rights practitioners have voiced concern about the draft carrying forward problematic elements from the PTA, particularly those which sanction torture.