Government To Consider General Amnesty

An end seems to be in sight for the political prisoner issue with the Government saying it will consider a General Amnesty for the detainees arrested for minor offences under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).

The detainees, The Sunday Leader learns, had informed the Government through their relatives last week that they will not accept another investigation but instead want their unconditional release.

The Government had earlier said it will appoint a special commissioner to expedite the investigations into the detainees.

However, the detainees had demanded that the Government keep to its word given when they launched a hunger strike earlier, and to free them unconditionally or send them for rehabilitation and set them free.

Last week the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) had written to Attorney General (AG) Y. J. Wijayatilake, conveying to him its grave concern about the rights of the detainees and remandees held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and the Emergency Regulations and called upon him to take necessary measures to ensure the protection of the rights of these detainees and remandees.

The Commission also called for the immediate release of those held in detention or remand for a long period of time without charges and against whom there is no credible evidence.

The Commission has further called upon the Attorney General to review the cases of those indicted and to withdraw those cases which are solely based on confessions made to police officers, cases where no credible evidence exist and cases which are relatively minor.

In respect of accused indicted under the PTA and Emergency Regulations against whom there is credible evidence but who have been in detention and or remand for long periods of time, the Commission has expressed its view that arrangements should be made to release such persons on bail immediately.

The Human Rights Commission has also communicated to the Attorney General its concerns about the rehabilitation process to which detainees and remandees will reportedly be subjected.

The Commission has shared these concerns with the Attorney General in the hope it will be able to engage in dialogue with, and extend its support to, the Attorney-General’s Department in order to seek an urgent resolution to this critical issue.

The Commission views prolonged administrative detention or remand of persons as a serious violation of the fundamental rights guaranteed to them under Articles 72 and 13 of the Constitution of Sri Lanka as well as under Sri Lanka’s human rights obligations under international law. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) meanwhile raised questioned the Government’s failure to free the detainees.

TNA leader R. Sampanthan said he cannot understand why the Government is refusing to release the Tamil political prisoners.

Sampanthan noted that the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and former army commander Sarath Fonseka have also backed calls to free the detainees.

TNA Parliamentarian Dharmalingham Sidharthan said that there is no basis to claim that releasing the detainees will pose a threat to National Security.

He said that if the Government cannot decide on the political prisoner issue then the Tamils will not have faith in the Government on putting forward a political solution for the Tamils.

The Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) says the tragic news of an Advanced Level student of Kokuvil Hindu College in Jaffna named Rajeswaran Chenthuran committing suicide by jumping in front of an express train from Colombo reportedly over the political prisoner issue, came as a rude shock to Tamils all over the world.

It was reported that the student committed suicide in protest over the failure to release all political prisoners. A suicide note said to have been written by the boy was also found. The police are attempting to verify the authenticity of the note.

TULF General Secretary V. Anandasangaree said that everyone in Jaffna and many others around the country shared the grief with the bereaved family. On the 27th, the day of cremation, all schools in the peninsula remained closed as a mark of respect and to enable thousands of students from many other schools to participate in the funeral. “Why did this boy do this? What did he gain except bringing unending grief for years to come, to his kith and kin. There is no one related or even known to him in jail. This is what I am worrying about. Are we heading towards a new culture? At the funeral which I attended and made a brief speech of condolence, I found fault with the politicians including me for this unfortunate incident which may not be the last one. We should not forget the fact that fiery and stimulating speeches of some politicians contribute liberally for incidents of this nature,” Anandasangaree said.

He said what the people are asking is the release of the Tamil Political prisoners unconditionally under a general amnesty, as done on two or three occasions previosuly.

mahinda-rajapaksa-colombo-telegraphEPDP leader Douglas Devananda also called for the release of the Tamil detainees under a general amnesty, similar to how it was done in the past.

Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera has informed Devananda that President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wikckremesinghe are looking into the possibility of releasing the prisoners under a general amnesty.

Former President Chandrika Kumaratunga said that the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR), which she chairs, is also looking at the political prisoner issue very seriously.

She said that, based on information she had received, only 300 Tamil political prisoners remain in detention.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein had earlier taken note of the political prisoner issue.

In September he had said that according to local civil society sources, from January to August this year, 19 people were arrested under the PTA.

He welcomed the Government’s commitment to review and repeal the PTA, which he said has long provided a legal context facilitating arbitrary detention, unfair trials and torture.

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