The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) has reportedly obtained a detention order to keep Azath Salley, the former Deputy Mayor of the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC), in custody, for an additional three months, according to the family of the detained politician.
Clause 2.1 (h) of the PTA states that, “Any person, by words, either spoken or intended to be read or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise causes or intends to cause commission of acts of violence or religious, racial or communal disharmony or feelings of ill-will or hostility between different communities or racial or religious group” shall be guilty of an offence under the Act.
Salley’s story highlights three fundamental errors in the law enforcement system: In the first place, the arrest smacks of a political witch-hunt. Second, the incident is a stark remainder as to how the PTA is being abused to cater to the whims of the political leadership. The abuse of the PTA in this magnitude has potential to turn this country into a Kafkaesque nightmare for its citizens, especially for those who are critical of the current regime.
For instance, the General Secretary of the Bodu Bala Sena, Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thera, at a rally held in Maharagama earlier on, called on its supporters to act as ‘unofficial police’ in order to protect and promote Buddhist interests. In other words, the venerable monk was calling for vigilantism by his supporters.
Other members of his group have, on various occasions, heaped diatribe on the Muslims, and reiterated the exclusivist status of the Sinhala Buddhist.
Sinhala Ravaya, another extremist group which competes with the BBS for a receptive audience and followers, has launched protests in front of Muslim-owned business establishments. Disparate activists of those groups have been unleashing hateful propaganda online, and in the real life. Some customers of some of the Muslim commercial establishments and a group of youthful activists who launched a night vigil against the Bodu Bala Sena had been targeted by a sinister campaign of character assassination.
However, sauce for the goose is not sauce for gander. In the eyes of the government, while Sinhala Buddhist extremism is permissible, the same liberties should not be accorded to the Muslims, even when the rhetoric of the Muslim activists may have been in response to the Bodu Bala Sena.
Also, the arrest of Salley under the PTA highlights the residual effect of the special terrorism laws, which, at one point of time in the country’s recent history, had been quite useful. Special terrorism legislations are a necessary evil for the States that have been pitted against ruthless terrorists and insurgent groups.
Terrorists and insurgents in general exploit freedoms that are available in our societies and are guaranteed under our constitutional systems and the rule of law, in order to destroy those very structures and to recreate new ones. It was due to those limitations of the traditional legislations that special legislations were enacted to fight terrorism. Sri Lanka was no exception and this country had been held ransom by terrorists and insurgents of three rebellions, who exploited whatever the liberties that were available in our societies to destroy those societies in order to create, (a) a communist dictatorship (by the JVP), and (b) a monolithic Tamil Eelam (by the LTTE). Democratic States, though the degree of democracy of each of them may vary, are generally forced to the wall by the terrorists and are often forced to fight with one hand tied to its back.
In this backdrop, the States may have to increase their freedom of action and suspend some of the freedoms and enact special legislations, so that the democracies won’t fell prey to terrorists. Those are unpopular measures, but they are a necessary evil.
A number of fragile States in Africa were turned into veritable hellholes by cross-dressing cannibals and drugged youthful warlords, because weak governments tend to be sitting ducks to ruthless and determined terrorists. Therefore, strong governments are sometimes a blessing.
However, the blessing becomes a curse when those very governments abuse those very laws which are meant to be used with utmost caution in order to cater to its political agendas.
The special terrorism legislations are supposed to be temporary.
They are not expected, under any circumstance, to be a permanent fixture of the legislation. However, Sri Lanka is a case in point where the special legislation which was meant to be temporary has become permanent. Any rational threat assessment is unlikely to support the continuance of the PTA, four years after the end of the war. However, political prerogatives require that it remains a fixture, so that the executive is at liberty to indulge in a witch-hunt of its enemies.