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PTA is an insult to Sri Lanka’s independent judiciary!

Last Updated on March 10, 2022 by Panduka Herath

Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa says he believes the Prevention of Terrorism Act is an insult to Sri Lanka’s independent judiciary. Sajith Premadasa has stated this in a letter to Sumanthiran regarding the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

Hon. M. A. Sumanthiran, MP

Parliament of Sri Lanka

Sri Jayewardenepura – Kotte.

Dear Hon. Sumanthiran,

I write to you with respect to the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act, No. 48 of 1979 (PTA), and your laudable campaign to repeal it.

In June 2021, in a public statement, the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) stated, that it is committed to the development of ‘a robust and effective national security framework, without compromising on human rights and democracy’. I wish to express that the SJB unequivocally maintains this position.

We recall the PTA was enacted as a ‘temporary provisions’ Act for a period of six months in 1979. Yet, this law has remained on Sri Lanka’s statute books for 43 years.

The PTA contains major weaknesses, which we believe are irredeemable. These weaknesses have enabled the persecution of political opponents, journalists, lawyers, and human rights activists. Indeed, even twelve years after the war ended, the PTA is being weaponised against these stakeholders.

We believe that the PTA is an insult to Sri Lanka’s independent judiciary, as it deprives judicial officers of powers afforded under the constitution and ordinary law, and places undue authority in the hands of the executive branch of government. For example, under ordinary law, a confession may be made only to a magistrate, whereas under the PTA a confession may be made to a police officer. Moreover, under ordinary law, a trial judge has the power to consider a suspect’s bail application, whereas, under the PTA, the trial judge is stripped of that power. These provisions reflect an undue lack of trust in the competence and capacity of judicial officers to make appropriate decisions, within the purview of the constitution.

We find that none of the many weaknesses of the PTA are addressed by the proposed amendments to the PTA that have been placed on the order paper of parliament. Therefore, the SJB rejects the proposed amendments in toto. Our position is that the PTA cannot be tinkered with. It must be repealed, and a law that accords with international standards and effectively balances public and national security, and personal liberty must replace it.

In its public statement in June 2021, the SJB noted that it does ‘not merely wish to point out the failings of the present government without offering viable solutions’. In this context, we recommend that the 2016 proposals of the Sri Lanka Law Commission, a body comprising eminent members of Sri Lanka’s legal fraternity, be adopted as the starting point to repeal and replace the current PTA. The proposals, titled the ‘Protection of National Security’ Bill are concise and effective, and are compatible with international best practices and our national security and human rights interests.

Warm regards.

Yours sincerely,

Sajith Premadasa, MP

Leader of the Opposition &

Leader of Samagi Jana Balawegaya