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Easter Sunday extremists to rehab soon

Religious extremists associated with the Easter Sunday bombings of 2019 will be rehabilitated soon, according to the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation, Maj. Gen. Dharshana Hettiarachchi.

Speaking to The Morning, Maj. Gen. Hettiarachchi said that the relevant authorities would seek the Attorney General’s (AG) advice to identify and select religious extremists who are to undergo rehabilitation.

“The Poonthottam Rehabilitation Centre would be our preferred place for this rehabilitation programme.”

According to Hettiarachchi, the religious extremists would be encouraged to learn religious education and the real teachings of the particular religion.

“We believe that extremism associated with religion largely ignores the actual teachings. We have to fix that first.”

Apart from religion, this rehabilitation programme would include meditation, yoga, leadership training, agriculture, art, music, dancing, and drama.

“Religious extremists would be rehabilitated in different setups. These extremists should know the real meaning of life and we need to broaden their capacity of social understanding by teaching these subjects,” Maj. Gen. Hettiarachchi added.

This one-year training would focus on the extremists who were arrested for the 2019 Easter Sunday terror attacks.

Maj. Gen. Hettiarachchi added that the ones who were arrested under the offence of religious extremism would also be categorised under this programme.

“Intelligence services like the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) and the State Intelligence Service (SIS) would select the extremists to be rehabilitated, then seek the AG‘s advice for further assistance on whether to rehabilitate them or punish them according to the offence they committed.”

Regulations to rehabilitate those arrested over extremist activities were issued by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa through the Ministry of Defence, and are cited as the Prevention of Terrorism (Deradicalisation from holding violent extremist religious ideology) Regulations, No. 1 of 2021. The regulations were issued through the Extraordinary Gazette Number 2218/68 on 12 March.

The provisions of the Regulations in the Gazette indicate that any person who surrenders or is taken into custody on suspicion of having violent extremist religious ideology is dealt with in accordance with the provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act, No. 48 of 1979.

The Regulations will also apply to those who surrender or are taken into custody and detained under the provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism (Proscription of Extremist Organisations) Regulation, No. 1 of 2019 published in the Gazette Extraordinary No. 2123/3 of 13 May 2019 and the Emergency (Miscellaneous Provisions and Powers) Regulation, No. 1 of 2019 published in the Gazette Extraordinary No. 2120/5 of 22 April 2019, and they would be referred to a rehabilitation programme as per the Regulations.

The Commissioner General of Rehabilitation shall provide a person who surrenders or a detainee with psycho-social assistance and vocational and other training during the period of his/her rehabilitation in order to ensure that such person is integrated back to the community and society.

The Commissioner General of Rehabilitation shall, every three months from the date of handing over a person who surrenders or a detainee for rehabilitation, forward to the Secretary to the Ministry of the Minister of Defence, a report on the nature and the progress of the rehabilitation program carried out in respect of such person, and said Secretary shall submit such a report to the Minister.

A person who surrenders or a detainee referred for rehabilitation may, with the permission of the Officer-In-Charge (OIC) of the centre, be entitled to meet his/her parents, relations, or guardian, once every two weeks.

However, where there is reasonable cause to suspect that a person who surrenders or a detainee has committed an offence, said OIC shall submit a report to the Minister for consideration as to whether such person who surrendered or the detainee shall be detained for the purpose of conducting an investigation.

Furthermore, where in the course of such an investigation it is disclosed that said person who surrendered or the detainee has committed an offence, the matter shall be referred to the AG for appropriate legal action.

Where the AG is of the opinion that according to the nature of the offence committed, the person who surrendered or the detainee shall be rehabilitated at a centre in lieu of instituting criminal proceedings against him/her, the person who surrendered or the detainee shall be produced before a Magistrate with the written approval of the AG.

The Magistrate may make the order, having taken into consideration whether the person who surrendered or the detainee has committed any other offence other than the offences specified, referring him/her thereafter for rehabilitation for a period not exceeding one year.