As of late, the Sri Lankan government has been amplifying the Prevention of Terrorism Act,…
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa pardoned 94 people on June 24, 2021; only 16 of which were arrested as part of the Prevention of Terrorism Act. This action came at the celebration of a Buddhist festival. This also came a day after Justice Minister Ali Sabry announced reforms to the PTA.
Of the many not pardoned were poet Ahnaf Jazeem and lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullzah who both have been detained for over a year under the PTA.
A political ally of the President and former MP, Duminda Silva has been pardoned. Silva was sentenced to death in 2016 with four other people for the murder of Bharatha Lakshman, a political rival and three of their supporters in 2011. Lakshman’s daughter, Hirunika Premachandra said that it was a difficult legal battle to reach justice for her father, and she questioned how people could continue trusting the country’s court systems in the future.
Sixteen of those released were members of the Tamil community who had been accused of being connected to the Tamil Tigers. Most of them had been detained for over a decade. Prison Superintendent, Chandana Ekanayake said they were also close to completing their sentences.
Tamil group TNA says there are over 100 Tamil political prisoners, which the Sri Lankan government disputes.
President Rajapaksa had also pardoned another death row inmate, soldier Sunil Ratnayake who had murdered eight Tamil civilians in 2000 in Jaffna.
Former director of the Criminal Investigation Department, Shani Abeysekara, who led the investigation on Silva is still detained for accusations of falsely implicating another officer.
Human rights lawyer Ambika Satkunanathan told the BBC that Silva’s pardon lacked rule of law, accountability, and legal process.
U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Alaina Teplitz tweeted that she welcomed the early release of those convicted under the PTA, but echoed that Silva’s pardon undermined rule of law.
The United Nations Human Rights Council had adopted a resolution against the Sri Lankan government in March. Their Twitter account replied to Silva’s release that the arbitrary granting of pardons undermines accountability.
Inmates at Bogambara prison had staged a protest on June 26 to reduce their prison sentences due to Silva’s release. The army was called in to quell it.
Earlier this month, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for the immediate repeal of the PTA. Should the Sri Lankan government not comply, Parliament called for the immediate temporary suspension of their GSP+ status. This status has allowed Sri Lanka to enter the market duty-free. Throughout this year and last week, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said that the PTA and other government policies seemed to target Muslims and other minorities.
The release of the 16 PTA detainees was a result of international pressure and economic stress if the GSP+ status is pulled, not ethics, morals, or following the rule of law. When poets, human rights lawyers, and others are detained without trial or charge for over a year, and charged murderers are pardoned, pressure needs to be maintained and eyes need to be focused on repealing the PTA.
Release the Prisoners:
We need to push for the release of poet Ahnaf Jazeem and human rights lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah. The Sri Lankan government has released a convicted murderer but not those detained under the PTA who have received neither trial nor charge. Ask United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the European Parliament on Twitter to keep pressure on Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to release Ahnaf Jzaeem, Hejaaz Hizbullah, and the rest of those unlawfully detained under the PTA and to fully repeal it.