Northern Province Chief Minister C V Wigneswaran, in a letter to President Maithripala Sirisena, raised concerns over the safety of the Tamil prisoners staging a fast to register their protest at their prolonged imprisonment.
He said that there is a concern that the fast may be violently dealt with by prison officers, as has happened in the past.
“The problem is a human issue that should be dealt with both passion and empathy, given the number of years that these unfortunate human beings have been kept incarcerated without trial. I believe that if we could take steps to give those unfortunate persons the assurance that steps would be taken in respect of their cases within a specified period of time they would be satisfied,” he said.
He urged the President to take measures to prepare a list of the prisoners, categorizing them according to the offences in respect of which they have been taken into custody and all detainees who are suspected of committing minor offences (e.g. the failure to provide information) could be provided a general amnesty, or at the very least they may be released on bail immediately.
Wigneswaran also proposed that all detainees suspected to come under the provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, but against whom no cases have so far been filed, could be released on adequate bail.
“There is no reason for cases not to be filed if the necessary documents had been maintained by the police or others at the time the offences were said to have been committed. Keeping people in incarceration for years on mere suspicion without filing action against them is a violation of their human rights,” he said.
He also urged the President to give urgent directions to the Attorney General’s Department and the police to file indictments within a specified period of time. He said that given that several years have already passed it would be reasonable to suggest a short period such as one or two months to file indictments.
Wigneswaran said that those charged under the PTA, but whose cases have not been taken up for trial or are pending, where the only evidence against them is a so called confession made under the rovisions of the PTA could also be released on bail. He said time and again the conviction of accused on such confessions have been frowned upon by the Law as well as by Lawyers both local and international.
“Those against who cases have been filed and other evidence are available in their cases, steps may be taken to provide adequate Legal Aid to them and finish their cases on a priority basis. It is ideal to fix time constraints in respect of such cases. Judges could be directed by the Judicial Services Commission to hear the cases on a day to day basis. Judges must be given the option of granting such accused bail if the Trials get unduly delayed. I hope Your Excellency would take some urgent steps in this regard to prevent the fast and instead assure those affected that their plight is being considered with compassion,” he said. (Colombo Gazette)