The Government has informed the Office of the Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) that it plans to table a new Counter-Terrorism Act, to replace the PTA, along with a number of other draft Laws to regulate cyber-security in the digital space, including an Online Safety Bill to ‘combat online falsehood and manipulation’, which are also in the preparatory satge, the OHCHR noted.
The High Commissioner also has encouraged the Government of Sri Lanka to continue consultations with civil society stakeholders in drafting these Laws, and to seek technical advice from her Office and relevant United Nations special procedures.
In a long-awaited legal reform, Parliament passed the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) Amendment Bill on 22 March 2022. While the amendments improve some safeguards, they leave intact some of the most problematic provisions of the Act. In June 2022, the Government announced it had been applying a de facto moratorium on the use of the PTA since March; however in an alarming development three student leaders were detained under the PTA on 18 August 2022.
Also, the Government informed the OHCHR that the Advisory Board established under Section 13 of the PTA in August 2021 has facilitated the release of 103 detainees charged under the PTA as of July 2022.
According to information available to OHCHR, there remain 47 long-term prisoners under the PTA, 22 of whom are serving sentences and 25 of whom are at various stages of appeal; there are a larger number of detainees from recent years, particularly after the Easter Sunday attacks.
On 1 August 2022, the Government delisted six entities and 316 individuals who had been listed under counter-terrorism regulations, although three organisations and 55 individuals were added including the young Muslim poet, Ahnaf Jazeem, who was detained for eighteen months under the PTA before being released on bail in December 2021.
By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan