UNP rift deepens over CTA

By Skandha Gunasekara

The rift within the United National Party (UNP) deepened with UNP Deputy Party Leader Minister Sajith Premadasa and numerous others opposing the UNP-led Government’s proposed Counter Terrorism Bill (CTB) which has been championed by Prime Minister and UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Addressing a gathering at the ceremonial opening of the Digawewapura Village in Uhana, Ampara last Friday (17), Premadasa said the CTB should be completely scrapped, and instead, the existing Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) should be retained.

He stated the reason for the Government to bring in a new Counter Terrorism Act with more relaxed provisions as receiving calls by many that there was no need for a law that restricted personal liberties during a peaceful period. However, following the Easter Sunday attacks, all of this changed, and the tragedy now compels us to give priority to national security over other issues such as democracy, human rights, and personal liberties, Premadasa said.

“If we have to send security forces to safeguard schools and install checkpoints at every street corner, we are at a point in time when national security should be at the top of the national agenda. Eradicating IS terrorism should be at the top of our list of priorities. Once we eradicate terrorism, we can give priority to democracy, human rights, and freedom. This is my personal opinion. National security must be given the highest priority in a government’s agenda when the country is faced with a global terrorist threat,” the Minister of Housing, Construction, and Cultural Affairs stated.

He said many other countries had to face the new brand of terrorism and the PTA which assisted in defeating the LTTE is the best option on the table.

“After the LTTE, a new brand of global terrorism has entered our country. Many countries in the world, including the US, UK, France, Russia, and the EU have faced this. This is a different type of terrorism. In the face of this growing threat, I propose that we scrap the CTB and retain the PTA which enabled us to eradicate the 30-year LTTE terrorism from this country,” Premadasa stressed.

Prioritising national security

He said when tackling a terrorist threat, attempting to enforce human rights standards and democratic norms would only undermine the security forces’ ability to carry out their duties.

“We cannot expect the Police and the tri-forces to fight this new brand of terrorism with their hands tied behind their backs while also dealing with matters such as democracy, good governance, and freedom.”

He went on to say that while the PTA functioned well in the face of the LTTE, the Act needed additional powers to face the new threat of global terrorism.

“We have already apprehended a large number of suspects who had some connection to the 21/4 attack. We have managed to contain this terrorist group. How were the Police and tri-forces empowered to act swiftly to accomplish this? They were able to because of the clauses in the PTA. But, even the current PTA is not strong enough. We must include clauses that would help us restrict and contain terrorism even more. It is my honest belief that the President and the Prime Minister too are of the same view,” Premadasa said.

UNP MP State Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation Ashok Abeysinghe, speaking to The Sunday Morning, said that he too believed it was best if the CTB was put on the backburner for the time being.

Minister Abeysinghe agreed that the PTA was sufficient and all it needed was amending: “The PTA was able to defeat the LTTE. What is needed now is to include additional clauses to widen its scope so as to face the challenges of defeating global terrorism. The CTB would not be needed at this time.”

He went on to say that there were many who opposed the CTB, including members of the clergy: “There is stiff opposition to the CTB from the public. Monks, as well as various civil society groups, have objected to it being enacted.”

Abeysinghe added that it would be better to hold off on the CTB till the threat of global terrorism has been suppressed.

“Once we have dealt with the current terrorist threat we can educate the masses on the CTB and bring it in on a later date.”

UNP MP Chaminda Wijesiri also opined that the enactment of the CTB was questionable as there were reports of ulterior motives for bringing it on.

“The CTB is not needed at this point, especially if it is being brought in with hidden agendas which are irrelevant to tackling terrorism as some have claimed,” Wijesiri said.

He went on to say that a modified version of the PTA would be more than sufficient.

“The PTA was adequate to beat the LTTE terrorism that prevailed in the country for 30 years. Now, we need to include provisions on global terrorism to the PTA. That must be done soon,” he said.

He also went on to say the timing was not right as there was public displeasure towards the CTB.

“We should not be bringing in this bill for another reason, and that is the opposition it has received from the public. The public must be made aware of the virtues of the proposed legislation before it can be enacted,” MP Wijesiri.

However, UNP MP Minister of Education Akila Viraj Kariyawasam said that while he had not thoroughly studied the bill, he was with the position of the party.

“I cannot give an informed opinion on the bill just as yet, since I have not properly gone through the provisions of it. But, the party’s position is that it has to be enacted and I too stand by that position,” Minister Kariyawasam said.

At present, the CTB is before the Parliamentary Sectoral Oversight Committee on International Relations.

The Committee is to submit its report to Parliament after which Parliament would decide on whether to take it up for a second reading debate.