Image: Former President Gotabaya Rajapakse issued the controversial notification in 2021. (Original Photo: AFP)
COLOMBO (Daily Mirror) – The Supreme Court yesterday made a declaration that the regulations issued by former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in respect of Prevention of Terrorism (De-radicalization from holding violent extremist religious ideology) Regulations No. 01 of 2021 are not legally valid.
The Supreme Court further held that these regulations are in violation of the fundamental rights of the petitioners guaranteed under Articles 10 (the freedom of thought, conscience and religion), 12(1) (right to equality) and 13 (freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention) of the Constitution.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court three-judge-bench comprising Justices Buwaneka Aluwihare, Murdu Fernando and Mahinda Samayawardhena ordered the State to pay a sum of Rs. 25,000 to each petitioner as costs of the application.
Centre for Policy Alternative and its Executive Director Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu and Shreen Saroor and Ambika Satkunanathan had filed these Fundamental Rights petitions seeking a declaration that the Deradicalization Regulations are not legally valid.
Justice Samayawardhena observed that it was not practically possible for the Court to suggest amendments to rectify the Regulations to align with all fundamental rights due to their inherent flaws.
The Petitioners stated that the President had made regulations titled Prevention of Terrorism (De-radicalization from holding violent extremist religious ideology) Regulations No. 01 of 2021 issued under Section 27 of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act, No. 48 of 1979 (PTA).
The petitioners stated that individuals arrested in terms of these Regulations could be subjected to executive or administrative detention camouflaged as rehabilitation, without proper judicial evaluation of the evidence against the individuals arrested, surrenders or detainees.
They further alleged that Deradicalization Regulations run counter to the fundamental safeguards in the Constitution, international human rights norms, and interfere with the judicial power of the People.
Senior Counsel Viran Corea, Luwie Ganeshathasan and Thilini Vidanagamage appeared for CPC.Counsel Suren Fernando with K. Wikramanayake appeared for Shreen Saroor and Pulasthi Hewamanna with Harini Jayawardena appeared for Ambika Satkunanathan.
Additional Solicitor General Nerin Pulle with Deputy Solicitor General Awanthi Perera appeared for the Attorney General.
Church leaders and rights activists have hailed Sri Lanka’s top court for rejecting a government move to expand an abusive anti-terrorism law under the guise of curbing extremist religious ideology.
The Supreme Court on Nov. 13 declared “null and void” a gazette notification issued in 2021 to widen the scope of the country’s anti-terrorism law to cover government effort to de-radicalize extremist religious ideology.
According to human rights activists, the expansion amounted to “pre-trial punishment” which is banned under the island nation’s constitution.
Rights activists say the extraordinary notification widened the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and enabled the state to easily target religious and racial minorities, in violation of their basic rights.
The notification imposed without parliament’s intervention allowed detention of people without trial, accused of using words or signs that cause religious violence or spreading hate and disharmony among religions.
“The order provided government officials an opportunity to interpret any ideology, speech or activity of a minority group as extremist religious ideologies if the notification was passed,” said Nalini Bopage, a human rights activist based in the capital Colombo.
Bopage appreciated the Supreme Court decision as it upheld the country’s constitution, which, she said “clearly states that an arrested person has a fundamental right to a fair trial.”
“Many activists, including the clergy, would have been sent to detention camps if the notification was passed,” said a Catholic priest who did not want to be named.
The priest called the decision of the Supreme Court “important” as it set free the Catholics from being unnecessarily victimized by the government.
“It will pave the way for Catholics to seek justice for the victims of Easter Sunday bombings which left more than 350 dead in 2019,” he said.
The Center for Alternative Policy (CPA), an advocacy group, along with several others pointed out that the notification, issued by former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government, could be used to target minority religions and ethnic communities.
Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, executive director of CPA, said that the extraordinary gazette notification has violated several fundamental rights.
It was described by Human Rights Watch as the Sri Lankan government’s attempt to add “a new weapon to its arsenal of abusive laws, putting religious and racial minorities at greater risk of torture and prolonged detention without trial.”
Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, had said that the Rajapaksa administration “instead of addressing the UN’s concerns by repealing the notorious Prevention of Terrorism Act, was embracing it with a vengeance.”