PTA out, NSA in

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This newspaper, elsewhere on these pages today, quoting Cabinet Spokesman Bandula Gunawardena, said that a new National Security Act (NSA) will be drafted to replace the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).

Gunawardena, speaking further at yesterday’s (Tuesday’s) weekly Cabinet briefing, said that Justice Minister Wijeydasa Rajapkshe is in the process of drafting the new Act. He also said that the NSA will not be as draconian as the PTA.

Under the PTA, the Defence Ministry recently approved a 90-day detention order (D/O) on Inter-University Students Federation (IUSF) Convener Wasantha Mudalige. When asked if investigations revealed that Mudalige was involved in terrorism, the Minister said that what they believe that there is a coup underway to destabilise the Government and that the Security Forces have requested time to conduct investigations.

But it was only on the previous day, Monday, that the US Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Julie Chung, in a twitter message said, “Using laws that don’t conform to international human rights standards – like the PTA – erodes democracy in Sri Lanka. We encourage the Government to uphold the rights of the people to express their views.”

On the same day (Monday), the EU in Sri Lanka on twitter said, “Concerned about reports on the use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act in recent arrests as we refer to information given by GoSL (Government of Sri Lanka) to the international community about the de-facto moratorium of the use of the PTA.” 

Coinciding with these developments, Gunawardena, the following day (yesterday) informed the media that the GoSL is in the process of drafting an NSA, a milder version of the PTA.

USA, leave alone IT and IT Enabled Services (ITES) exports, is Sri Lanka’s largest merchandise export market and without considering tourism services exports generated from the EU, the EU is Sri Lanka’s second largest merchandise export market.

Therefore, the Government’s haste, in saying yesterday, that the PTA is to be replaced by the milder NSA, no sooner after the aforementioned twitter messages, appears to be a pacifistic approach taken by the Ranil Wickremesinghe Government to appease concerns raised by Sri Lanka’s top two markets about the recent arrests of the above protesters under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, as an afterthought.

Meanwhile, Minister Gunawardena’s argument for the arrest of Mudalige under the PTA was because there was an alleged coup and that the Security Forces wanted more time to conduct investigations.

Mudalige, Hashantha Jeewantha Gunathilake and Galwewa Siridhamma Thera have been detained for 90 days under the PTA. However, under the normal laws of the country, a suspect has to be produced before a Magistrate within 24 hours after his arrest.  According to the Code Of Criminal Procedure Act (No. 15 of 1979), “Whenever an investigation cannot be completed within the period of 24 hours and there are grounds for believing that further investigation is necessary, the Officer-in-Charge of the Police station or the inquirer shall forthwith transmit to the Magistrate having jurisdiction in the case a report of the case, together with a summary of the statements, if any, made by each of the witnesses examined in the course of such investigation relating to the case, and shall at the same time forward the suspect to such Magistrate.

The Magistrate before whom a suspect is forwarded under this section, if he is satisfied that it is expedient to detain the suspect in custody pending further investigation, may after recording his reasons, by warrant addressed to the Superintendent of any prison authorise the detention of the suspect for a total period of 15 days and no more.”

But as seen above, under the PTA, the arrest period is different, where Mudalige, et al have been detained for 90 days beginning from Monday (22 August) without having to be produced before a magistrate/court.

However, with international pressure, led by the USA and the EU, that has led to yesterday’s conciliatory gesture by the Government, the PTA is going to be replaced by the NSA. Therefore, it may be sooner than 90 days before the NSA becomes law, repealing the PTA, leading to the aforementioned suspects being tried under the new law.