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Sunday, July 21, 2024

Sri Lanka: How PTA Violates The Rights Of Political Prisoners

( National Movement for the Release of Political Prisoners continues to campaign for the release of political prisoners ©s.deshapriya)

A memorandum showing how the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) violates the rights of political prisoners.

During the last 30 years due to the war that prevailed in the northern and eastern areas of Sri Lanka arrests were made. While the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) was made use of from arrests like that up to the court proceedings through that those persons as well as the Tamil people as a community of people were subjected to a grave violation of human rights.

The persons who were arrested under the PTA during the past from time to time were released though judicial processes as well as though political decisions. (ex: the detainees of all armed organizations operating in the north and east who were arrested and detained were granted release based on political decisions during the 1987 period. In 2001 when the government changed and the peace agreement was signed the release of detainees on political decisions has taken place). Such releases took place in instances when the war situation has not ended.

While the arrests and detentions under the PTA prevailed at a very high level during the last stages of the war with the end of the war fifteen thousand (15,000) had been under arrest. They have got the release though various methodologies and got integrated with the society and only a small number of persons still remain under detention in prisons.
Up to date seven years have lapsed after the end of the war.

Even from time to time arrests and detentions are made making use of the PTA.

During a period of more than 30 years making use of the PTA from the point of arrest up to the point of acquittal or conviction within the judicial process have entailed grave violations of human rights and disregard of the law causing intensive injustices and it still continues to happen.

We are presenting below major concerns  we have identified.

1.    Arrest
•    While the arrest have happened in an arbitrary way what has happened in most instances were abductions.
•    Few days after the abduction the detention within a police division comes to be known.
•    Unidentified groups abducting and handing over to legitimate security divisions after detaining at unknown places for weeks or months.
•    The abductees have been subjected to torture in terrible ways.

2.    Detention
•    After arrests keeping in detention under Detention Orders for long periods (most detainees for one and a half years or more unlawfully) purportedly for investigations in various police divisions and thereafter remanding them.
•    There are persons who have been kept under the custody of investigation divisions for more than 5 years. They have been indicted in High Courts while being detained as such and are being produced in courts for the cases under the custody of those divisions. They have not been presented in a Magistrate Court even for one day.
•    Had been subjected to torture while being under detention.

3.    Obtaining statements
•    The statements have been obtained after keeping under detention for long periods on Detention Orders in investigation divisions. (most of the persons have been under detention for one year or for one and a half years.)
•    Obtaining statements after subjecting to physical and mental torture while being under detention for long periods.
•    Signatures have been obtained through assault or by coercion to documents purported to be confessions made in front of a Assistant Superintendent of Police or higher ranking officer. (Out of the number of cases filed 95% have been filed based on such confessions. The position that most of the persons coming under arrest made confessions voluntarily to an officer of high rank without being pressurized to do so cannot be accepted.)
•    Most Tamil detainees often time have been made to sign documents presented to them prepared in Sinhala a language which they don’t know.
Example: Most of the persons whose details are given in attachments have faced this situation

4.    Remanding
•    After remanding having been kept in remand for long periods without filing indictment and have been produced in Magistrate Courts only for the extension of the remand order. (There are persons who have been in remand for close upon ten years like that)
Example- Attachment (No 29) Subramanium Senduran
•    Has to be in remand till the conclusion of the trial without receiving a release on bail. (There are persons who have been in remand like that for 19 years).
Example: Fact sheet (No 76) Suppiah Sridharan (No 77) Sinnappu Selvarajah. For both these persons there have been no rails conducted for 19 years and in 2016 on agreement one year imprisonment and 06 months rehabilitation have been imposed and those cases concluded. Presently they are in prison serving the sentence.
•    Even though kept under remand for long periods without concluding the cases release on bail is not granted.
•    Though kept in remand for long periods of time these people not receiving right treatment for their ailments has even results in loss of lives. The possibilities of granting bail to such patients in remand have not even been considered.
•    While there are persons who are over 60 years or even 70 years of age a granting of release on bail for them has not happened. (Even persons who are over 75 years of age have been released only after conviction)
•    While the Tamil detainees within prisons have been subjected to severe racially motivated assaults from time to time on a number of instances, the number who have been killed during such assaults number around 100.

5.    Maintaining High Court cases
•    Nineteen 20 year long periods have been spent without concluding the trials
•    The cases have been postponed for 06 to 08 months again and again for long periods (even now such practices continue).
•    After dragging the trails for durations like 15 years the detainees have been both convinced and acquitted (Till then have been kept under remand)
•    After keeping under detention for long periods when it comes close to acquittal and release after conclusion of the trial, the Attorney General Department has filed fresh indictments. For some persons when they are about to be released after serving the sentence fresh indictments have been filed.
•    For many persons cases have been maintained based on confessions. While these confessions have been obtained by force after being subjected to torture often times signatures have been obtained for documents prepared in a language they don’t know. Furthermore in this way signatures have been obtained to documents purported to be confessions after keeping in the custody of investigation divisions for periods around one and a half years. (Due to that reason it is really problematic whether those who were convicted were the real offenders).
•    In the courts in the north eastern Tamil areas the case have been heard speedily while in the courts in the south even weak cases have been maintained without taking up for trail, for long periods of time.
•    In the cases maintained, in the courts in north east Tamil areas, based on confessions in the “voire dire” examination due to the defective/questionable conditions in which the confession were taken the rejection of the confession has taken place. However, in the courts in southern areas the confessions have been accepted disregarding the defective questionable conditions in which the confessions were taken and most of the time convicted based on such confessions.
•    The Attorney General’s Department has transferred cases from north east Tamil areas to Sinhala areas when the accused are about to be granted bail or acquitted after trial.
•    The courts in southern Sinhala areas have imposed maximum punishments than the courts in the north-eastern areas. Most of the time the punishments have been imposed based on the acceptance of the confession at the “voire dire” examination.
•    Due to even after filing indictment in courts the cases not been taken up for trials and even if it is taken up for trial the trials being dragged on for a period as long as 15 years specially in the southern courts most of the detainees have been impelled to come to an agreement with the judiciary and the Attorney General’s Department to plead guilty for a lesser offence with the amendment of the indictment, concluding the case quickly, serving the sentence and get released soon. Most of those who have been convicted up to now (like 80%) have been convicted in this manner and after release have got integrated with the society.
•    While there are cases where maximum punishments have been imposed after trials there are also instances wherein similar cases lesser punishments have been given with amendment of indictments and the opportunity have been given to integrate with the society. This shows that though maximum punishments have been imposed there is a possibility to seek judgements to re-integrate them also with the society.
•    While the arrests were made due to the prevailing war situation the detainees have been charged with many indictments in a number of courts in a number of districts. Most of the time all these indictments have been filed based on the same confession which is the only evidence available and while in one case the confessions gets rejected the other cases gets dragged on for many years without release of the detainee. In the same way though in one court the confession is rejected the same confession has been made use of in other courts.

6.    Re-arrest
•    There are persons who have been re-arrested and remanded after being released by courts.
•    These persons before being arrested for the second time have been kept under detention, on Detention Orders, in investigation units for long periods of time and remanded only after doing the investigations.
•    There are persons who have been re-arrested after getting integrated with the society having been referred for rehabilitation by courts and getting rehabilitated for one year.
•    After re-arrest they incarcerate in remand prison for a number of year without any indictment being filed

7.    Solutions offered in response to protests
•    Due to protests made by detainees from time to time while the authorities have promised to release them on those occasions proposals have been made that detainees will be granted bail, will be rehabilitated and released after conducting the trials speedily.
•    More over while there are occasions where it has been accepted that it is unjust to keep them in detention, there are also occasion when those acceptances have been publicly stated and also occasion when actions have been taken towards achieving that end.
•    Due to the fast staged by these detainees a release have been made with a Presidential Pardon.
Example: Attachment (No 30) Sivarajah Jeniven
•    There is the instance when a group of close to be 40 detainees who continued to be in remand after the filing of indictments were produced in the Colombo Chief Magistrates Courts and released on bail, during the time of the fast in November, 2015
•    There are occasion when letters have been obtained from detainees inquiring about their consent for rehabilitation.
•    There has been an instance when the Attorney General Department has published a list of 20 detainees for batch by batch rehabilitation consequent to a fast staged in 2016 (This has not been out into action as yet)
•    Another time on the advice of the Attorney Generals Department the officers of the Legal Aid Commission have gone inside the prisons at the beginning of 2016 and have obtained the signatures of detainees stating their consent for rehabilitation (This has not been put into action as yet).

Establishment of special High Courts as a solution

Due to protests staged by detainees on the many occasions and the protests emerging from the society on the unjust situation in which people were detained special High Courts have been established purportedly  to the solve the problems by accelerating the cases. After the controversial situation that ensued due to a fast staged by detainees in the Vavuniya Prisons in 2012 demanding that either the hearing of their cases be accelerated or else they be released while proposals were made to establish special High Courts in the Mannar Districts and the Vavuniya District in 2013 a special High Court was established in the Anuradhapura District. (In the instance of that fast 2 detainees were killed and the human rights of 17 detainees were violated by wounding them with the breaking of their limbs).

In the High Court established in Anuradhapura a while around 400 cases of child abuse and raping of women are being heard the hearing of cases of political detainees are postponed for long periods deviating from the purpose for which it was established.
Consequent to a fast staged by the detainees in Colombo prisons in 2016 a special High Court has been established in the No 8 High Court. Even there the trials are not conducted speedily and log trial dates with postponements extending to many months are being given.

It does not seem that special ability has been created by the establishment of special High Courts to conclude the cases field under the Prevention of Terrorism Act speedily except in the usual lethargic way the Attorney Generals Department acts as the High Courts are unable to overcome the impediments posed by the Attorney General Department.
Enjoying freedom for political reasons

Though there is reluctance to grant freedom to these political detainees there are persons who have been released on political exigencies without going through a legal process. Karuna alias Vinayagamoorthi Muralidaran, K.P. alias Kumara Pathmanadan are special. While those who have received military training under Karuna and getting arrested and received punishment for acting on his orders, and those who are awaiting a resolution of their cases for number of years, those have received imprisonment for life sentence (example: Attachment for (No 10) Sellapillai Mahendran) are still languishing in jails Karuna alias Vinayagamoorthi Muralidaran had represented a seat in the Parliament even holding a ministerial portfolio. In addition based on political needs there are persons who have received legal redress. Among them Daya master and George master are special.

Around 160 detainees who are still detained in the prisons in Sri Lanka under the Prevention of Terrorism Act have been subjected to injustices in ways as described above. Our belief is that it will become amply clear from the little bit of facts we have presented above the extent of injustice they will be subjected to by going to resolve the problems of these detainees though a legal process.

The number of attachment containing the facts, we present as examples are very few in number. The violations of human rights and actions taken disregarding the law and beyond the law have been faced by the detainees under arrest during the whole of last 30 years. Likewise many detainees who are not included in our attachment have been subjected to the injustices we have enumerated.

We say that at this time 7 years after the conclusion of the war to continue to act like this making use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act is a baseless act and is a great hindrance towards fostering reconciliation among the ethnic groups.
As the existing situation is as aforesaid we propose that instead of going through the legal process to resolve the issue of political detainees that all detainees be freed through a political solution.

(Prepared by the National Movement for the Release of Political Prisoners)

Note: Examples given in the original document mentioning names of the political prisoners has been removed for security reasons.


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