Repeal PTA soon!
Last week, the Centre for Human Rights raised concerns about repealing the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), claiming that by dragging their feet on repealing the PTA and taking legal action against those detained under the PTA, the AG’s Department and the Ministry of Justice are harming the credibility of the government. The issue came up again in the backdrop of a hunger strike by 12 PTA detainees demanding release from prison.
PTA, in the recent past, was regarded as a controversial law and the existence as well as the need for its existence was questioned by many, particularly human rights organizations. International community had identified PTA as an obstacle to promoting reconciliation during the post-war period and suggested the government to repeal it.
The stance of the government seems to fit in with the opinion of the international community. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, during his visit to Jaffna, stressed that PTA will be repealed and an alternative similar to the Anti-Terrorism Law in the United Kingdom will be introduced. However, certain parties, some of which are even part of the government, are of the view that PTA should exist as it will help the country face terrorism threats in the future.
PTA was introduced in 1979 during the tenure of late President J.R. Jayewardene and the Act granted extensive powers to the Police to search, arrest, and detain suspects. Under the PTA of Sri Lanka, a person can be detained for periods of up to 18 months (renewable by Order every three months) if the minister has reason to believe or suspect that any person is connected with or concerned in any unlawful activity.
The government cannot further delay taking a firm decision regarding the PTA. If the decision is repealing the PTA, that should come with a proper alternative which would address the shortcomings of the PTA. The government cannot undermine the importance of national security and they should not. On the other hand, repealing PTA too, is a need of the hour from which the government cannot escape.
Many human rights advocates had raised serious concerns over the existence of the PTA. As such advocates highlighted that one of the major concerns is that PTA effectively makes all the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Sri Lanka is a State party, invalid. A law in the nature of PTA spread fear and promote suppression, as it is granted extensive powers to the minister who is in charge of the subject and to the Police.
When a law like PTA exists, the politicians can use it according to their whim and to suppress their enemies. There is room for abuse of power in the political system as we have witnessed over the years, hence a law like PTA with its current provisions requires repealing.
On the other hand, it is a question whether the PTA had really served its purpose. Although the Act came into effect in 1979, the terrorist attacks were not prevented. Despite the existence of the Act, the war prevailed for more than three decades. One of the allegations against Sri Lanka was the human rights violations that took place in the name of PTA. That means, in future, we should ensure that there is no room for human rights violations committed in the guise of PTA. For that to happen, repealing the PTA is a must. Laws are supposed to protect the rights and freedoms of individuals. If any law violates that principle, it should be abolished or repealed. PTA, by no means, an exception.