Political Prisoner Issue Sees Light At The End Of The Tunnel

by Easwaran Rutnam

The political prisoner issue is likely to see an end soon with the Attorney General’s Department set to file charge sheets on those arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) but not charged.

At least 14 political prisoners not charged after being arrested under the PTA when the former government was in office, were on hunger strike for several days demanding that they either be charged or be released, suspended the strike last Friday.

Earlier the prisoners refused to accept rehabilitation and instead demanded unconditional release.

The Tamil political prisoners also reject a request by the Tamil National Alliance to suspend the fast before Parliament met Tuesday.

The TNA urged the prisoners to suspend the fast saying the issue will be raised in Parliament but the prisoners refused to comply.

A demonstration was also staged in Jaffna recently seeking the release of all political prisoners arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

Civil society members, politicians and relatives of the political prisoners participated in the demonstration.

A Tamil detainee who was freed from prison this week also joined the demonstration.

Later during the week Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Parliamentarian M A Sumanthiran said that the Tamil political prisoners who had refused to accept rehabilitation and demanded unconditional release are now willing to accept rehabilitation.

Sumanthiran said that while the lawyers of the prisoners had said earlier that the inmates will not accept rehabilitation, those same inmates have now changed their minds.

Minister of Rehabilitation and Prison Reforms D.M. Swaminathan said that the government is ready to offer the option of rehabilitation once again to the prisoners who had refused to accept it earlier.

While some Tamil political prisoners had accepted rehabilitation and were eventually freed, a few others refused to accept it and some of them are now on a hunger strike.

Opposition leader R. Sampanthan however asked the government in Parliament last week how the Tamil political prisoners can continue to be kept in detention after being arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act especially if the current government has taken a policy against the PTA.Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera responded by saying that the government is still opposed to the PTA and the process to repeal the PTA is now underway.

The issue was raised in Parliament when the House discussed about political prisoners and missing persons.

During that discussion joint opposition member and Mahajana Eksath Peramuna leader Dinesh Gunawardena created a storm by saying most people reported “missing” sought asylum overseas.

He claimed that of 7000 Tamils reported missing during the war some had sought political asylum in Canada, Europe and India.

Sumanthiran then accused Gunawardena of insulting those killed during the war by saying they are living overseas.

Gunawardena however stood by his comments and accused the Tamil National Alliance of working with a UN panel to create false numbers of those missing and killed during the war.

He also questioned the right the Tamil National Alliance had to speak on human rights when they remained silent at the time the LTTE abducted and killed Tamils.