Pursuing Justice - Dr. Vickramabahu Karunarathne

One Tamil intellectual said “Later, when the President and the Prime Minister formed Common Governance despite their Political differences – my respect for Mr. Sirisena went up. It is not easy to maintain such a partnership in the current disorder in Sri Lanka.

 

When I read the following passages in the news paper articles, my respect for Mr. Sirisena went up many notches: it said- President Maithripala Sirisena took his security detail by surprise after he threw caution to the wind and abruptly alighted from his official vehicle to confront a group of protesters in Jaffna yesterday.

The President was in Jaffna to inaugurate the National Tamil Language Day celebrations at the Jaffna Hindu College when the incident took place.

"If you stage protests against me and I am weakened, the devil will get an opportunity," President Maithripala Sirisena told a gathering in Jaffna yesterday. President Sirisena was heard as saying: "Come let us discuss and see how the matter can be solved. The Tamils voted for me, you must remember."

Sivajilingam replied: "So how do you pay back your gratitude to the people who supported you." Sivajilingam told the President that 160 Tamil prisoners held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) are languishing in prisons without trial.” - Mr. Sivajilingam was defeated by Mr. Sirisena who has endured and continues to endure pain to remain in that marriage with a party that has been for a long time, the Political Opposition in his mind.

My Energies are with Mr. Sirisena in this issue.” It was impressive from both sides as Tamils weeping and angry but not even word of abuse thrown to Sirisena. However, Defence State Minister Ruwan Wijewardene insisted recently that prisoners kept under PTA cannot be released. He reiterated that the remanded LTTE suspects, who had allegedly committed serious crimes, will not be freed without a judicial process despite the

Hartal campaigns in the North and elsewhere. However it is not clear whether he meant the few who are charged with some evidence or the entire 158 Tamil prisoners who are kept under PTA; because many of them have only their confessions ‘against’ them. The State Minister observed that the Hartal campaign in the North is politically motivated and a group seeking political mileage is behind it. Obviously keeping prisoners, years and years without formal charges, will automatically become serious political issue in a situation of nationality discrimination is involved. 

Wijewardene made these observations speaking to the media after an event at a school in Biyagama. The State Minister pointed out that several TNA members are trying to disrupt the day-to-day life of the people in the North by organizing a Hartal campaign. It is true that these prisoners have become political problem not only in the north but also in the south. They are prisoners accused of fighting for liberation of Tamil home land using violence and terror. The Minister pointed out that there are no ‘political prisoners’ as claimed by the TNA, explained that the investigations have revealed that those prisoners were involved in serious crimes during the time of war. That is not true; several of them are already accused of crimes against the state while others have not been charged so far. 

He noted that those prisoners could not be released without a judicial inquiry. “If there are delays in the judicial process, those must be rectified. However the prisoners must go through the judicial process and either be convicted or released at the end of it,” he said. However minister Rajitha did not agree with Wijewardene. Rajitha said “Apart from those who face legal issues for their criminal activities, the government should take legal steps either to charge them or release them. The issue of political prisoners should be resolved once and for all.” Health Minister Senaratne’s remarks have come as the families of these prisoners stepped up their protest campaigns in the north and in the south demanding for the early release of their loved ones. Rajitha indicated “The delay in releasing the Tamil political prisoners will seriously hamper the efforts for national reconciliation.” As a top cabinet minister he insisted that the government should act fast on releasing the Tamil political prisoners who are being held for several years without proper charges.

“The government has to take an urgent decision in this regard. They cannot keep these political prisoners forever,” Cabinet Spokesman Minister Rajitha Senaratne told the media. Pointing out that similar political prisoners of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) were released under general amnesty after its 1971 and 1988 insurrections in the South, he said “therefore, it is incumbent on the government to take a faster decision on the release of Tamil political prisoners”. Meanwhile, the Leader of the Opposition R. Sambanthan raised the issue of Tamil political prisoners in parliament recently and demanded the government to take a flexible approach this issue. He said although the Foreign Minister has given a pledge to the UN Human Rights High Commissioner to repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), “the Tamil political prisoners are still being held under this draconian law.

“Only 19 people have been released in the past. Many others are still being held under the PTA despite many protests. How can the government detain them under the PTA when Foreign Minister himself is highly critical of it? The PTA is against the law and we cannot accept any legal action under it,” Sambanthan said.  An unnecessary complication has been created by the transfer of some cases from Vavuniya to Anuradhapura. If witnesses needed protection, such protection could have been provided without the cases being transferred.

He very strongly urges that these Prisoners be released without any further delay. At the same time Sambanthan the leader of opposition wrote to president Sirisena on behalf of the above category of prisoners who have been agitating for their release for a long period of time. It said  “I wish to state the following: –

(I)These persons are held in custody under the Prevention of Terrorism Law irrespective of whether they have been convicted, have been charged, or have not yet been charged. They have been arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Law and all action taken against them has been in terms of that Law.

(ii) It has been accepted by the Sri Lankan State both domestically and internationally that, the said Prevention of Terrorism Law is draconian, obnoxious, and should therefore be regarded as obsolete. The Sri Lankan State has made several commitments

(ii) It has been accepted by the Sri Lankan State both domestically and internationally that, the said Prevention of Terrorism Law is draconian, obnoxious, and should therefore be regarded as obsolete. The Sri Lankan State has made several commitments both domestically and internationally that the said Law will be repealed, and that a new Law will be enacted in keeping with acceptable domestic and international norms.

(iii) The Sri Lankan State is yet to fulfill this commitment, but that does not derogate from the Sri Lanka State’s commitment that the said Law should not remain on the Statute Book.

(iv) The only evidence available against most of these persons are confessions extracted from them against their will under the Prevention of Terrorism Law which would be inadmissible against them in normal Court of Law. Many of the cases have been postponed because the Prosecution is not ready to proceed with the Cases.

(v) Almost all of them have been in custody for very long periods of time, for as long as, they would have been sentenced, if sentence was passed on them shortly after being taken into custody.

(vi) The families of these persons in custody have suffered for very long periods of time, without the support of their bread winners. This vitally important factor has not been given due consideration.

(vii) Quite apart from the pernicious nature of the Prevention of Terrorism Law, persons in similar situations such as persons taken into custody during the insurrections of the J.V.P have been granted an Amnesty and released. It is not understood why the same principle cannot be applied in regard to these prisoners.

(viii) These cases cannot be considered as coming purely under the purview of the Attorney General’s Department. With due respect to the Hon. Attorney General as the Chief Legal Adviser of the state, these cases have a certain political dimension and cannot be addressed as a purely legal issue. It can be justifiably stated that if the Sri Lanka’s national question had been reasonably addressed in time, many of the persons in custody, would not have been in their present position and would have been useful citizens. This circumstance makes it obligatory that you address this issue politically too. The issue not being addressed politically is a strong impediment to reconciliation and the restoration of goodwill and harmony.

(ix) An unnecessary complication has been created by the transfer of some cases from Vavuniya to Anuradhapura. If witnesses needed .protection, such protection could have been provided without the cases being transferred.I have to very strongly urge that these Prisoners be released without any further delay.” The transfer of cases from Vavuniya to Anuradhapura raises the hilarious question whether Lanka got district wise divided judiciary, at Anuradhapura Dutu Gemunu judiciary while Vavuniya is still under Elara judiciary!

http://www.dailynews.lk

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