The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) called upon the President and the law enforcement authorities to refrain from using the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) to arrest and detain persons who have been involved in anti-Government protests and to immediately rescind the Detention Orders.
BASL, citing a statement issued by the Sri Lanka Police that certain suspects are currently detained in relation to incidents which occurred during the protests from 9 April 2022, noted that since then Detention Orders for 90 days, have been issued, signed by the President in his capacity as the Minister of Defence detaining three protesters under Section 9 of the PTA.
They observed that detention may result in the detainee being subject to torture and inhuman treatment.
“The PTA is a draconian piece of legislation, which gives wide powers to the Executive to arrest and detain persons for a lengthy period of time. Although Detention Orders are amenable to the Fundamental Rights and Writ Jurisdictions of the apex courts, they are not subject to regular judicial supervision unlike instances of arrests and detention under the general law,” BASL noted.
It was stated that administrative detention confers the Executive with wide powers over the freedom of physical liberty of a person and lengthy detention periods without judicial supervision go against internationally accepted standards of protections of human rights.
The provisions of the PTA must be resorted to only in very exceptional circumstances where there is manifest evidence indicative of a terrorist dimension that would make resort to its use justifiable, BASL noted.
The PTA was intended to address situations of terrorism and never to address offences which may have occurred during the expression of dissent against the Government such as protests for which there exist the ordinary law of the land including the Penal Code, they said.
BASL noted that the PTA is now being used despite assurances by the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) that it was implementing a moratorium on the use of the PTA.
BASL added that the use of the PTA has been seen as a matter of concern in granting to Sri Lanka an extension of the GSP+ by the European Union adding that abuse of the PTA has also been raised time and again at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.
“In these circumstances and in the absence of a clear definition of terrorism in the PTA, there is a grave danger of it being abused to stifle legitimate expressions of dissent and to target persons who exercise their democratic rights including the freedoms of speech and expression, peaceful assembly, and association,” BASL emphasised.