In recent days, the government has sent mixed signals with regard to improving the human rights situation in the country. On December 10, on which day International Human Rights Day is celebrated, a civil society organisation in Kandy, the Human Rights Organisation headed by Fr Nandana Manatunga was issued a court order obtained by the police to block it from organising a human rights event on the theme “Ensure the Prisoners their Dignity and Rights to Human Conditions.” A similar event in Puttalam organised by an inter-religious group was subjected to surveillance by persons believed to be from military intelligence in civvies.
On the other hand, on November 27, the Ministerial Subcommittee to amend the PTA chaired by Foreign Minister Prof G L Peiris outlined proposed amendments to the PTA in a discussion with members of the Sri Lankan Collective for Consensus (SLCC). We consider our meetings with the government to be part of a process of necessary engagement between the government and civil society in general where issues could be highlighted and government members would give serious hearing and attention beyond partisan defence and inaction.
When SLCC met with the ministerial subcommittee, a case involving ten persons arrested under the PTA was highlighted by us as an example of unfair detention and remand. One of the draconian features of the PTA is the power it gives to the police to arrest people on suspicion and to hold them in prison custody without bail until the conclusion of the trial. This can extend to several years.
We are pleased that on December 8, the 10 persons who were being legally represented in the court by one of our members were granted bail after 7 months in remand. This was at the Magistrate’s Court Valaichchenai on the instructions and recommendation of the Attorney General’s office. As we had taken this case as an example during our discussion, the release of the detainees from remand may be a coincidence or consequence of SLCC’s discussion. In either event we are happy that this has been done.
The larger picture with regard to the PTA is to hear the voices of all those in remand who have been granted an order by the Magistrate’s court and are awaiting the decision of the AG for release or indictment. If all those could be considered for bail until a decision is made either way, as we proposed at our meeting, it will be of great value for a great number of those in remand under the PTA. Consequently we call for the government to become more institutionalised and less ad hoc in its approach to human rights. This is not only in regard to the content and implementation of the PTA but also the ordinary law.
Sri Lankan Collective for Consensus