Sri Lanka will still detain hundreds of terror suspects and outlaw the defeated rebel Tamil Tiger group despite lifting wartime emergency laws, an official said Thursday. An ethnic Tamil lawmaker condemned the moves as undemocratic and said the anti-terrorism law the government is expanding is too restrictive and should be abolished.
The emergency laws that have curbed civil and political liberties for most of the past 30 years lapsed Tuesday after the government did not renew them. President Mahinda Rajapaksa said the laws were no longer needed, more than two years after Sri Lanka’s deadly civil war ended and under international pressue to lift the emergency.
But Rajapaksa approved four regulations under the powerful Prevention of Terrorism Act that became effective Tuesday on a temporary basis, Attorney General Mohan Peiris said. The government will bring them to lawmakers to make them permanent law.
The first two regulations will continue to ban the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam group and the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization, which received donor funds to rehabilitate rebel-controlled areas and was accused of financing the rebels.
The other two regulations will allow the government to continue to hold rebel suspects and rehabilitate the rebels who have surrendered, he said.
Peiris did not say how long the suspects in custody will be detained. Tamil lawmakers say there are about 900 such detainees.
The government is also holding about 3,000 ex-rebels in military-run rehabilitation centers. About 11,000 Tamil rebels surrendered at the end of the war and nearly 8,000 have been freed after rehabilitation, the military says.
Suresh Premachandran, an ethnic Tamil lawmaker with the Tamil National Alliance, condemned the government move as undemocratic.
“On one hand, they abolished the emergency laws to satisfy the international community, while on the other hand, they bring in new regulations to the PTA, which itself is a draconian law. We oppose this move. We have always been calling to abolish the PTA, too.”
“What’s the use of abolishing emergency laws if they include same tough laws in the PTA. This will not help to strengthen democracy at all,” he said, adding that they will oppose the new bill in Parliament.
The emergency laws had allowed the government to detain suspects without trial, displace residents from their land and set up ubiquitous military checkpoints.
The island had been under a state of emergency since 1983 except for brief lapses to help peace talks between the government and rebels.
A suspect detained under the emergency laws could be detained for up to one year without appearing in a court.