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Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) in Sri Lanka: Why we need to unite against it

Chandrapala Kumarage, Attorney-at-Law
The PTA law is being applied arbitrarily, and even offences that could be dealt with under the normal laws are being dealt with under the PTA. This is at a time when the Emergency Laws have already been revoked. Since the PTA law is being wrongly used in this way, it is necessary for us to acquire a good knowledge of what this law is and what are its implications.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) is very clear about civil and political rights of the people but all its provisions are not enshrined in our country’s law. Right to Life, Right to Liberty, Anti-torture etc. are enshrined in our country’s law. Such rights are not negotiable. Yet, when a State of Emergency is declared by the Govt., some of these rights can be limited.

In August 2011, the Emergency Laws were lifted. However, under the PTA, all the provisions of ICCPR are made invalid. PTA law is now part of the normal law in the country and it can be continued, unlike Emergency Laws which can be lifted. Yet, under the PTA, the Emergency Laws can be convoked. For example, banning certain organisations, prolonged detention of persons etc. The regulations promulgated under PTA law are, however, a violation of the provisions of ICCPR.

Recently, when some organisations were banned, the necessary regulations were not gazetted at once but it is only subsequently that these are being gazetted. Not only the banned organisations and their members, but even those who have connections with them may fear that they too will be arrested. Such actions by the Govt. seem to be in retaliation to certain steps being taken by the international community.
Presently, Emergency Law is not in force but the PTA is being used in its place. This is dangerous because we who are working for the protection of the Rule of Law could also be in danger. The Bar Association is working against the militarization of society.
We must also identify certain dangerous clauses in the PTA law. For example, the term “unlawful activities”. This is not defined anywhere. It could be omission or commission and it does not have any bounds, because anything could be defined or interpreted as “unlawful activity”.  Thereby, detention for 18 months is also possible.
Already, there are people who are in prolonged detention, and this trend could continue. We have to learn to face these things in the future. Even in the case of Ruki Fernando, the “unlawful activity” clause was used to detain him for 72 hours. Bail can be refused also. Only the Attorney General can decide on bail or release but is the AG free to act on his own?
The AG is under the President’s purview but the decisions are actually taken by the Defence Secretary. At present, fair trial, or the right to free trial, is denied. Ruki and Fr. Praveen were released only because of the public outcry. Even a lawyer’s right to intervene on behalf of a detainee is highly restricted. Issuance of a receipt to family members of detained persons is taking place only now, though it did not happen earlier. Even a confession cannot be coerced from a detainee. Yet, proof that a confession was not given willingly is a burden on the accused himself. This is a serious situation. 
The PTA law of 1979 is a draconian piece of legislation that has caused fear among the people. Therefore, we must all unite against it.
– Taken form the Notes of discussion on Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) held at CSR, Col.10 on 10th April 2014 ( courtesy Right to Life Human Rights Center)


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