Controversy Over Tamil Political Prisoners

by Ashanthi Warunasuriya

The controversial issue of Tamil political prisoners has become a key topic in society in relation to reconciliation. With the recent protest demanding the release of  223 Tamil political prisoners, who have been kept behind bars for a long time, a hartal  was held in eight districts of the North and  Eastern provinces of the country. Minister Mano Ganesan had urged the government to release these prisoners immediately as promised by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to give bail to political prisoners according to the due process.

After the case was taken in up at the Magistrate’s Court, the issue was subjected to a major debate between the law enforcement officers and the legal representatives of the suspects. At that time the former Law and Order and Prison Reforms Minister Thilak Marapana stated that the prisoners who have been detained as LTTE suspects would be released prior to the Deepavali festival. The releasing of prison inmates is a complicated process. The prisoners then commenced a fast till death unless the government takes steps to release them unconditionally.  Along with the leaders of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the coordinator of the national movement to free political prisoners, Rev. Shakthiveil, after checking out the conditions of the protestors, claimed that the government must come to a clear stand on this issue.

DSC_0006Afterwards, several detainees who had been taken in to custody under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) were released on bail in groups and with this decision even the prison headquarters became a hot spot.

At that time 116 suspects had been indicted at the High Court under PTA provisions. Further 52 prisoners had been charged at the Magistrate’s Court and tenof them had filed writ applications before the Court of Appeal. After discussing the matter with the President, the Prime Minister and other relevant government agencies, the Attorney General’s Department had been advised to take necessary steps to release several suspects, who could be released, on bail. Accordingly after the lawyers of these suspects had filed bail applications to the relevant courts, steps had been taken to grant bail to such suspects. Meanwhile, the prisoners held at the Magazine Prison in Colombo, temporarily halted their fast. Issuing a statement, the office of the Opposition Leader R. Sampanthan stated that the protest was halted temporarily.

Hence it is clear that the problem has not yet been completely resolved. During the tenure of Mahinda Rajapaksa, the detention of these suspects was justified based on rehabilitation. He had warned that unless they are completely rehabilitated, releasing them would pose future threats. However, the following are some of the comments made by several political party representatives and intellectuals regarding this matter.

 

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Dr. Nalinda JayatissaJVP MP

We always believed that the PTA must be abolished.  We urge the government to take immediate steps to produce those who have been charged before the Courts for action. There are those who have been detained in prisons for 10-15 years without any charges. Our stance is that while the wrongdoers must be punished, the innocent must be released.

New laws must be enacted to protect the sovereignty of this country.  Through this the unitary state of the country must be preserved. Here certain senior and top level terrorist ring leaders have been acquitted without any charges. These were the culprits who had given weapons to innocent Tamil youth turning them in to terrorists. If they are being freed under government protection while the ordinary Tamil youth are kept in prisons then it is unfair. Plus this is going to reduce their trust in the government.

However, these things cannot be done through mere protests and fasts. We must try to find permanent solutions for this issue. The laws that we have in the country are adequate to counter offences against the state. In recent times there was a delay in filing the cases in the Courts. If that can be stepped up then immediate solutions can be given by doing justice for these detainees.

 

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Ven. Galagodaatte Gnanasara TheroLeader of the Bodu Bala Sena and Bodu Jana Peramuna

Since the attacks in Paris the world has started boldly calling terrorism in its own name and has urged for correct punishments. But today in Sri Lanka with the change of government, terrorist suspects have been converted in to political prisoners. Recently it was mentioned in the media that most of these suspects have been indicted in the High Court. This is a serious issue. With these demands, the Harthal movement was able to shut down everything in the North and East. All this shows that our national security is in a serious danger. Plus the government is arresting the army intelligence officers who helped bring the terrorism on its knees while releasing the LTTE cadres. It is our opinion that this could in future lead to a serious crisis. So we are taking steps to raise the awareness of the people on this matter. Instead of carrying on from where we have stopped, we must not drag the country backwards.

 

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Mohammed Mussammil – Spokesperson, National Freedom Front

At present a broad discussion regarding terrorism has started all over the world. We too suffered from such a crisis for a long time.

It is those who had been caught up with such issues who are now being released by the present government. Among these suspects there are those who possess information regarding some of the serious terrorist activities such as the murder of Lakshman Kadirgamr. Further, today they are not to be rehabilitated.

They are being released back to a place where the Tamil separatism exists. Thus there is a possibility that they may resort back to their old violent ways. Today the national security of the country is in danger. Today the government is executing the agreements made with the TNA in the past, even though they deny such allegations.

The government, the TNA and the prisoners are performing an act to justify these moves before the people. The prisoners are fasting. The TNA then intervenes. Later the government grants a common pardon.

In order to prevent any objection from the general public this is being done in several steps. We are now looking for ways to stop this by legal means.

We also plan to rally the people against this move. Today the government is imprisoning Army intelligence officers and releasing the LTTE suspects. So we would rise up against this sort of conduct.

 

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Vasudeva NanayakkaraUPFA MP

I would not accept the term political prisoners in this issue. These are prisoners of war. There is no LTTE at present. But there are LTTE prisoners under the government’s care. Thus it is the responsibility for the government to take action regarding those who have resorted to violence during the war must stand trial. If they are found guilty, a presidential pardon is granted since the offence has been committed during the time of war. The other thing is that there is no evidence against certain suspects to prove them guilty.

So these cases must be quickly resolved   after holding trails for those who have been detained without charges, a decision must be taken after considering both the national security and the human rights. It is inhuman to keep this issue stagnant. Both the People’s Party and the Patriotic People’s Party take same stance.

 

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Prof. Mayura Samarakoon

The people have a suspicion as to whether there is some sort of a link between the releasing of the LTTE suspects and the government’s mechanism. On the other hand this raises serious concerns regarding the rule of law. When people start losing trust in law, they will take matters in to their own hands by making their own laws.

In this jungle law, there is a possibility of crime rates increasing. Under these circumstances people may start to believe that their politicians could do things for their favor by going above the law. Good Governance is the main theme of this government.

The preservation of the rule of law is one of the basic conditions of good governance. So with the undue interventions made by the government in this issue, it seems that that the rule of law has been unduly influenced.

These suspects are persons who have bee involved in terrorist activities. After going through the rehabilitation programmes in the prison system, they will be released back to the society with a better awareness of their crimes. Although the Attorney General has claimed that it has not been reported to the court these people are going to pose a challenge to the society.

Under these circumstances the view that is generated in the society about the government and the LTTE is justifiable. Thus the government shouldn’t have intervened in the issue of bailing out these suspects. It is something that has to be decided by the Attorney General. It is under the rule of law a society could develop a sense of discipline and morality. That is important in getting the crime rates lowered. Thus no good can happen to the society from the political mechanism that is behind granting of bail to LTTE suspects.

 

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Rev. Shantha Sagara

Punishments can only be given if they are found guilty in courts. Although these people have been detained for many years they have not been charged or proved guilty. It has become problematic to both punish them and rehabilitate them at the same time. Rather than talking about rehabilitation there is no fault in considering a common pardon after following jail terms.  If it is going to disruptthe future progress of the country then steps must be taken to follow spiritual means to achieve the objectives. There is no fault in taking a common decision. Sometimes a common pardon is helpful for common co-existence. But this must be done along with rehabilitation to make them become better citizens. That is where the good governance must lead the country to. We must not always prejudice this as a future threat. We must release them in a manner that such threats do not take place.

 

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Dr. Tudor WeerasingheSenior Lecturer, Sri Palee Campus, University of Colombo

With the decision of the government taken on this issue the topic of punishing the LTTE suspects and releasing them has attracted a huge social discussion. It is also problematic as to why there was such a delay to take a decision regarding these suspects in order to file charges against them. So they are only suspects.

There is another problem releasing people who had banded up with a terrorist army under regular legal procedures. Sometimes there may not be adequate evidence to prove their guilt. But still there may be clear and acceptable reasons as to why they have resorted to such violent acts. In that case proper legal measures are ineffective. May be they have been cast aside as political prisoners for a long time due to this contradiction on policies. So it is problematic as to deal with them in the ordinary manner. Thus a different approach must be used to solve this problem. By detaining them for long periods new problems have been created.

Although the Government changed in this country in January, the situation has barely changed. What changed was the relationship. Although it is said that the ways of the previous government has changed, it is only the relationship between the actions and the motives that have changed. Our legal system still moves in a snail’s pace. Therefore it could turn the innocent in to culprits and vice versa.

Around 90% of the wrongdoers are being freed at present. There may be issues regarding the national security. We must think seriously about such matters. We are not against freeing a human being. But the authorities must think about their relationships and ideas of regrouping. There are things in people’s lives that are not always visible to the law.