By Maryam Azwer
Almost two years since the end of the conflict, hundreds of people arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) remain in detention. What is of real concern here, is that in many cases, families of those detained have no knowledge of their whereabouts – or even if they are alive.
Among these detainees are former LTTE cadres who surrendered at the end of the war. At the outset, the Government placed the number of ex-combatants who were later sent to rehabilitation centres at around 11,900.
Although over the last two years thousands of these ex-combatants have been released in batches following rehabilitation, there have been several claims that, until their release, families of the detainees are left in the dark.
“Initially, 11,900 surrendees were detained, and the Government says the number has now come down to 4585,” said Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP and Attorney-at-law, M. A. Sumanthiran. “But until they were released, no information was given, not even to relatives.”
For many months now, not just the TNA, but several other organizations have been pushing for the release of a list of names of those remaining in detention – a demand that is yet to be met.
Sumanthiran, meanwhile, claims that the Government had offered no specific reason as to why an official list of detainees was never released. “I don’t know why they don’t release the information,” he said. “There are parents who don’t even know if their children are alive or not.”
However, the long wait of anxious relatives may finally be coming to an end. During the TNA’s last dialogue with a Government delegation on April 29, the much needed detainee information was among the issues discussed.
Justice in limbo
Apart from ex-combatants detained in rehabilitation camps, other cases of detention that have been a cause for concern are those who were arrested under the PTA and remain in custody, without release or charge, pending investigations.
The TNA last week said they were trying to compile records of such long-term detainees, beginning with a visit to the New Magazine Prison on Friday (May 6).
“We met with over 100 prisoners in just 2 wards at the New Magazine Prison. We even came across one PTA case that has been dragging on for 13 years,” Sumanthiransaid. While some of these prisoners’ cases are still in the process of being resolved, some don’t even have lawyers, said Sumanthiran.
At present, there are around 470 people being held in remand under the PTA, according to Commissioner General for Prisons, Major General V. R. de Silva. He also said that contrary to claims made by others, very few of these prisoners had remained in custody for a long period of time. “The longest case is that of the woman who assisted in the assassination attempt on former President Chandrika Kumaratunge,” he said.
Major General de Silva however went on to explain that he had no authority over the issue, and was merely a custodian of the detainees, on behalf of the courts