Colombo, May 5 (newsin.asia): The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has lambasted the Sri Lankan government for trying to push through a revised Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) which, it says, is infinitely worse than the one which it had promised to replace.
In a statement on the draft law approved by the cabinet on April 25, but still kept under wraps mysteriously, Sri Lanka’s principal Tamil party said that the draft’s broad and indeterminate definition of terrorism will extinguish freedom of speech and advocacy of a diverse, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural Sri Lanka.
“We observe that the proposed definition of terrorism would extend far beyond activities defined internationally as terrorism, replicating restrictions on free speech that have previously been used to punish dissenting voices including politicians and journalists such as Azath Salley and J. S. Tissainayagam among others,” TNA said.
The Sri Lankan government has been under pressure from the UN Human Rights Council and the European Union to replace the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). But the security establishment and the opposition nationalist parties would not allow it to tamper with the PTA, out of a fear that the Tamil militant separatist movement, which was crushed militarily in 2009, would be revived.
“The definitions (of acts of terrorism) are also exceedingly vague and indeterminate and would have a chilling effect on advocacy in favor of greater diversity in Sri Lanka,” the TNA said in the strongly worded statement.
“We are shocked by the extent to which the draft framework curtails civil liberties, erodes judicial control over the state security apparatus, and the staggering potential for abuse and torture,” the statement said.
The proposed Counter-Terrorism Act appears to be a Cabinet memorandum approved on April 25 but it has neither been discussed with the TNA nor has it come to parliament yet.
Apparently, news about it being approved by the cabinet was leaked to the media in order to give an impression to the European Union parliament (which was then in session) that government is revising the much maligned and abused PTA so that the parliament does not stall the granting of GDP Plus trade concessions to Sri Lanka.
“The safeguards which we believe are essential to prevent torture—such as eliminating confessions—were initially assured, but have since been reversed. The present framework envisages the admissibility of confessions under certain conditions, which are deeply inadequate to prevent torture and abuse given the widespread and continuing practice of torture in Sri Lanka,” the TNA said.
“Moreover, the Act also permits the extensive violation of the rights of those wholly unconnected with terrorism. The proposed framework envisages the unconstitutional stripping of judicial discretion even where a suspect is produced before a Magistrate after arrest, and renders the judge a virtual appendage of the executive arm,” the statement said.
“We urge the Government to reconsider and urgently reformulate its proposals in light of the fundamental need to avoid torture and enforced disappearance, prevent abuse and effectively investigate actual threats to terrorism.”
“The proposed framework neither ensures the security nor the liberty of Sri Lankans. Instead, it represents an attempt to enlarge the scope of unchecked executive power over the citizen, stifle freedom of speech and diversity, and provide the necessary loopholes for continued torture and abuse.”
“We are unequivocally committed to supporting a legal framework that would prevent and punish acts of terrorism in a manner that is lawful, in compliance with fundamental rights and the rule of law. To this end, we have engaged constructively in Parliament. We are therefore deeply perturbed by the turn the government’s latest draft has taken,” the TNA said in anguish.
(The featured picture above shows families of Sri Lankan Tamil boys arrested under PTA crying for their release)