Repeal the PTA!
The Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA)
With the UNHRC session around the corner, Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE) took the initiative to find out the stance of different stakeholders (political parties, CSOs and intellectuals) about the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), a draconian piece of legislation that the Sri Lankan CSOs have been campaigning against for over 30 years.
Although the debate on PTA has subsided in recent months, CaFFE believes that it the most draconian piece of legislation in the country and a powerful tool to suppress dissent. Even today there are over 2 – 3 dozens persons detained under the PTA, on charges that are not related to terrorism in the least.
In the last 48 hours, the discussion regarding abolishing the PTA has been rebooted with CaFFE director Keerthi Tennakon’s publically stating that the PTA should be abolished, however despite the massive media attention response we received from the political parties, CSOs and intellectuals was a deafening-silence.
Finally Minister of Justice, Wijedasa Rajapakshe responded, after being prodded by a journalist, that the government is not considering the revocation or the amendment of the PTA at present. Speaking to the Daily Mirror he has said that the government priorities lie with the ‘enactment of legislations such as the Right to Information Bill, National Audit Bill and the Judicial Protection Bill. He said that government would start work on these, and also on amendments to the Buddhist Temporalities Ordinance on a priority basis.’ (Daily Mirror – August 28, 2015).
However so far there has been no response from others, even from organizations which wrote reports, held seminars, workshops and trainings against the PTA. CaFFE wonders whether they have changed their minds about the PTA.
However with the response from the Minister of Justice we hope that in the next 72 hours, local and international media will raise this issue further and that other stakeholders will be compelled to speak up. Stakeholders ranging from the Army, Police, Judiciary, Legal Experts and Lawyers, Media (suppressed by the PTA), civil society, political representatives, student and trade unions (suppressed by the PTA) and families of the disappeared from the North and East will have to reveal their stance on the issue we have raised.
CaFFE believes that there will be three main positions:
1. Abolish the PTA,
2. Reform the PTA
3. And don’t touch the PTA.
Civil society, North Eastern Activists and Families of the Disappeared will want to abolish the PTA. Legal experts and academics may shift their position to state that the PTA should be amended. A majority of political parties, the military and police will not want to do anything regarding the PTA.
While it is important that the positions of the JVP, TNA, EPDP, SLMC and then the MEP, PHU and NFF in opposition are exposed in the press, what will be more interesting is how the civil society responds to the call for the abolition of the PTA as this would be a litmus test to determine whether various organizations were truly concerned about rights of the people or whether they opposed the PTA because of their animosity towards former president Mahinda Rajapaksa. This will have to be done by asking them for their opinion regarding critical cases such as Prageeth Eiknaligoda, the IUSF leaders, abduction and other practical cases.
Our opposition to the PTA started in March 2008 after witnessing the negative impact the legislation had on the now infamous Eastern Provincial Council election. Ever since we have carried out continuous effort to repeal the act as it greatly hinders freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of movement.
The PTA was brought in 1979 as counter terrorism legislation but failed in its purpose to prevent two full blown insurrections in Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan state was only able to end these insurrections through two full blown out civil wars. The PTA’s primary purpose has been to stifle political and socio economic dissent and arrest key members of the public who dissents against the government of the period. It has become the primary roadblock against personal freedoms in Sri Lanka. It stands as a major issue related to Sri Lanka’s response to the Geneva Process. Therefore, the PTA must be negated through by utilizing an act, executive decision or judicial implementation to achieve either one or all of the following objectives:
1. Immediately Repeal the PTA
2. Amend the PTA
3. Temporarily suspend the PTA
CaFFE’s Future Action
CaFEE will either engage in a massive public campaign against the PTA with other players with the possible backing of politicians but this will be affected by the formation of a National Government which will have very nationalist groups within it or publically expose it stand and push for reforms and a roadmap in regards to addressing the stifling of personal freedoms by the PTA.
CaFFE and the Center for Human Rights and Research (CHR) believe that addressing the existence of draconian legislations in Sri Lanka should be an important part of the Geneva Response. Thus we are planning to launch a massive campaign to abolish the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) which we believe is the most draconian legislation in Sri Lanka. We plan to educate the people on how the PTA was used during the post conflict period and how this was used to suppress the general public. PTA was used by the Rajapaksa regime against human rights activists, journalists, and student and trade union activists, an aspect that is only being discussed now. We propose to highlight this fact to Sri Lankans explaining how they themselves have been victims of these draconian laws.
CaFFE and CHR has held extensive discussions with a number of CSO activists, experts, journalists, student and trade union activists to prepare the course of action for our Abolish the PTA Campaign. Thus this would be a campaign encompassing views of many sections of Sri Lankan society which will add more weight to our campaign and make our message resonate with people with diverse inclinations.
Executive Director/CaFFE and CHR Sri Lanka
August 28th, 2015