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EU welcomes release of those detained under PTA

 The European Union (EU) has welcomed the recent releases on bail of those detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).  

The EU also said that civil society’s critical engagement on PTA reforms and human rights issues should be welcomed rather than met with hostility.

“Welcomes the recent releases on bail of those detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). Civil society’s Critical engagement on PTA reforms and human rights issues should be welcomed rather than met with hostility,” the EU office in Colombo tweeted.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch claimed in a report that the Sri Lankan Government is using the discredited Prevention of Terrorism Act  to commit prolonged arbitrary detention and torture.

HRW said that the European Union, other trading partners, and donors, should press for time-bound action to repeal the abusive law and reject the government’s vague pledges of reform.

The 59-page report, ‘“In a Legal Black Hole’: Sri Lanka’s Failure to Reform the Prevention of Terrorism Act,” documents the Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration’s misuse of the PTA against the minority Tamil and Muslim communities, and to suppress civil society groups. 

The administration rejected pledges by the previous government to repeal the law after it was readmitted to the EU’s Generalized Scheme of Preferences plus (GSP+), which grants Sri Lanka special tariff-free access to EU markets.

“Sri Lankan authorities continue to use the Prevention of Terrorism Act to sweep away targeted people’s basic rights, reneging on past government promises to repeal the law,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “EU members and other countries should reject the Rajapaksa administration’s unconvincing promises to reform the PTA and press for the law’s prompt repeal.”

This report is based on Human Rights Watch research on the Prevention of Terrorism Act carried out since 2018, interviews conducted between January and December 2021, and a review of newly available court documents. Human Rights Watch wrote to the attorney general of Sri Lanka and to the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, and received a response from the commission which is included in the report.

The PTA allows the authorities to arrest people without warrants for unspecified “unlawful activities,” and to detain suspects for up to 18 months without producing them before a court. This denies suspects’ basic due process rights and removes safeguards that would help protect them from abuse, effectively creating a legal black hole, Human Rights Watch said.

Between 1983 and 2009, during the civil war between the government and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the authorities used the law primarily against suspected members or supporters of the LTTE or other armed groups. 

Since the deadly 2019 Easter Sunday bombings by a little-known Islamist militant group that targeted churches and hotels, the authorities have used the law to arbitrarily detain hundreds of Muslims. In the past three years the authorities have arrested over 600 people under the PTA, according to Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka data.

Many suspects have been held for years awaiting trial. Statistics indicate that most are tortured in custody, and convictions frequently rely on confessions obtained under torture

Meanwhile the Court of Appeal has ordered the release of Attorney-at-Law Hejaaz Hizbullah on bail.The Puttalam High Court had earlier refused to grant bail to Hizbullah.

However, the Court of Appeal today ordered that Hizbullah be granted bail.Hizbullah was arrested on 14 April 2020 by members of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the Sri Lankan Police.

After initially not being informed of the reason for his arrest, the authorities later accused him in the media of aiding and abetting the individuals involved in 21 April bombings in Sri Lanka—an accusation that has since been withdrawn. The authorities later charged him with speech related offenses under the notorious Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).

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