In the wake of TNA, US call for release of remaining political prisoners
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe PC, yesterday said that those who had been in government custody were convicted members of the LTTE, suspected members of the group with indictments or cases pending and, therefore, the demand for the release of so-called political prisoners was irrelevant.
Minister Rajapakshe insisted that thousands of LTTE cadres as well as those who had been apprehended during the conflict and in the immediate aftermath of the conclusion of the Vanni offensive had either been rehabilitated and set free or released through courts. The previous government held as many as 12,000 men, women and children in May 2009.
The minister was responding to four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA) call to release political prisoners held by the Maithripala Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration.
US Secretary of State John Kerry during his visit to Colombo last month, urged the government to release the remaining political prisoners.
The appeal was made at a lecture Kerry delivered at Taj Samudra on the invitation of Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera.
Responding to a query by The Island, President’s Counsel Rajapakshe said that recent reports pertaining to proposed talks between him and the TNA regarding the release of political prisoners was baseless. The PC said that recent media reports as regards proposed talks weren’t true. The misleading reports had been brought to President Maithripala Sirisena’s attention and remedial measures discussed, a well-informed official told The Island.
The Justice Minister said that he had an opportunity recently to brief religious leaders regarding the current status of those who had been held for their involvement with the LTTE. “The government expect religious leaders to advice those who had been making unsubstantiated claims meant to cause turmoil. Such strategies only undermine post-war national reconciliation efforts.”
According to Minister Rajapakshe, soon after the Jan. 08 presidential election, the government had compiled a list of those who were in custody at the time of the new administration took over consequent to the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s defeat.
The minister said: “Fifty four persons who had been convicted on terrorism charges were serving prison terms; indictments were being prepared against 85 persons; cases were pending against 134 persons; eight given bail and 45 convicts released through courts after rehabilitation.”
Rajapakshe said that there was absolutely no basis for accusations pertaining to operation of secret detention camps over six years after the conclusion of the conflict. Asked whether the government was ready to share information regarding those in state custody, Minister Rajapakshe said that the detainees’ families were aware of the whereabouts of their loved ones.
They couldn’t be released outside procedures, the minister said, while reiterating the government commitment to proceed with the remaining cases.
A senior government official told The Island that US Secretary of State wouldn’t have called for the release of remaining political prisoners without being advised by the US embassy in Colombo. “Perhaps, we should brief the Colombo based diplomatic community as regards those who had been convicted as well as other categories of LTTE suspects in custody. Influential Tamil Diaspora groupings, too, should be briefed in addition to the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).”