News

Prevention of Terrorism Act: Cabinet subcommittee continuing discussion

  • Provisions in the legislation still being looked at despite PCoI recommendations
  • Subcommittee has not decided against repealing the piece of legislation

By Yoshitha Perera

Despite the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) probing the Appraisal of the Findings of Previous Commissions and Committees on Human Rights and the Way Forward submitting an interim report on 20 July to the President, and having proposed not to repeal the controversial Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act No. 48 of 1979 (PTA), the Cabinet Subcommittee is yet discussing provisions of the piece of legislation.

The PCoI, in the report, suggests three recommendations to the Act without repealing it.

When The Sunday Morning inquired from Minister of Justice Ali Sabry as to how the Government would proceed with the relevant recommendations, he refused to comment on the subject.

“The recommendations have been handed over to the President and I can’t comment on that at this juncture,” he said.

Meanwhile, informed sources at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the Cabinet Subcommittee appointed to present the recommendations to the Act is revisiting the provisions of the Act and that the Ministry had still not decided on the amendments in relation to the proposed recommendations submitted by the PCoI recently.

A cabinet subcommittee was appointed to present recommendations in relation to the PTA on 23 June and they had been given three months to propose changes.

The Sunday Morning learnt that the reforms to the Act will be recommended by the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Justice, Defence, and Public Security.

At that time, Sabry stated in Parliament that the Government was ready to revisit the provisions cited in the PTA and make the relevant changes to protect human rights and ensure national security.

The key amendments provided by the PCoI highlighted an amendment to Section 9 of the PTA, which gives the authority to the Minister of Defence to extend the detention periods of a suspect without filing charges against him or her.

However, the PCoI recommended that the President amend the particular section and include that indictments be filed against those detained for more than three months.

Although the long-term detention period was a matter that was discussed extensively, according to the above recommendation, it is unclear that in case the Attorney General (AG) does not find sufficient evidence to indict those detained under the PTA for more than three months, what action would be taken against them.

The PCoI has also recommended that Section 11 of the PTA be amended, so that persons detained for over three months be confined to their own homes or residential areas under special security. Section 11 of the existing Act provides for the minister to impose prohibitions or restrictions concerning a suspect’s movement outside their residence/s.

Currently, Section 13 of the PTA allows the President to appoint an advisory board to advise the President and/or the Defence Minister. The PCoI has proposed that all ethnic groups in the country be represented in the said advisory board.

The commission is represented by Supreme Court Judge A.H.M.D. Nawaz. Judge Nawaz, along with former Inspector General of Police (IGP) Chandra Fernando, former District Secretary Nimal Abeysiri, and former Jaffna Mayor Yogeswari Patkunarajah, was required to submit the final findings within six months. The President appointed the relevant commission in February this year to investigate the situation of the committees previously appointed to investigate matters related to human rights.

The PTA has been always identified as a draconian law in the country and many claim that it has been used for arbitrary arrests. While denying these claims made by several international partners, including the European Union (EU) recently, many local organisations, and activists, government authorities maintain that they would amend the current provisions cited in the PTA.

However, speaking to The Sunday Morning, Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) Executive Director Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu said the Government’s commitment should be to repeal and replace the Act in conformity with international standards with regard to national security.

“We do need an Act for certain restrictions, but we need to come up with an Act that does not unnecessarily violate basic fundamental rights of freedom,” he said.

Dr. Saravanamuttu added that these ad hoc amendments proposed by the PCoI are not satisfactory and thus needs a proper revisit. He strongly suggested that the Government, Opposition parties, and civil society organisations collaborate and come up with a new Act.