PTA Amendment Bill passed amid Opposition scorn


  • 86 votes for Bill, 35 against
  • TNA notes confessions to cops still admissible in court
  • Muslim Congress says Bill serves no purpose
  • Sajith wants PTA repealed and replaced with National Security Act
  • G.L. says amendments not cosmetic and a comprehensive review would follow


BY Pamodi Waravita

Despite scathing criticism from the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), Samagi Jana Balawegeya (SJB), Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) yesterday (22) that the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) (Amendment) Bill is a cosmetic legislation meant to deceive the international community, the Government managed to pass the Bill with 86 votes for and 35 votes against.

During the debate about the Bill, which was tabled in Parliament by Foreign Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris, TNA Spokesman and Illankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) Parliamentarian and President’s Counsel M.A. Sumanthiran said that the TNA would vote against the Government’s “puerile attempt” to amend the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act, No. 48 of 1979 as amended (PTA). 

“The most talked-about provision in the PTA – that confessions made to the Police are admissible as evidence in courts – still remains. I worked on one case of a husband and wife who were prosecuted under Section 5 of the PTA. They were arrested due to the failure to give information about a person named Babu. They obtained confessions from this couple. Using the threat of torture, they were threatened into giving confessions. But Babu, who was arrested, despite severe beatings, did not sign a confession. Babu was released and came to watch their proceedings. The same man whom they were arrested about, came to watch their proceedings. I pleaded guilty on their behalf because they had already spent two years in prison and they had three children. They received a suspended sentence after pleading guilty but the court and everyone else knew very well that they did not commit this crime,” said Sumanthiran.

He spoke about another case where the suspect’s “supposed confession” had claimed that he had given food parcels to members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Jaffna. “On that very day, he was actually having his appendix removed at the Sri Jayewardenepura Hospital. That indictment was withdrawn. They write up whatever stories they want and get one to sign the confession. You have not touched that in these amendments,” stressed Sumanthiran.

Furthermore, Sumanthiran reminded the House about the case of journalist J.S. Tissainayagam who was found guilty under the PTA in 2009. “His supposed confession, which he had been forced to write, said in one place: ‘They offered me money but I said I don’t want’. This was written in black ink. But a correction was made in blue ink to instead read: ‘I said I want’. In that supposed confession, 50 odd other places had corrections made in black ink, with his initials as the signature. But at this particular point, there was no signature. The very document was not authentic. But it was on the basis of that document that he was found guilty and sentenced to 20 years of rigorous imprisonment.”

Sumanthiran also criticised the Bill’s reduction of the detention time without being produced in a court of law, from 18 months to 12 months. “Prof. Peiris, you are embarrassing yourself by saying that you are reducing the detention time from 18 months to 12 months. Does it make any difference on the ground? Who has been released because 18 months have lapsed and now who will be released because 12 months have lapsed?” he questioned.

“We have started an islandwide signature campaign demanding the total repeal of the PTA. We Tamils have said this for 40 years. Even the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna suffered from this. When I started my law practice, I appeared for many of them in 1989 and in the following years. Now you are victimising the Muslim community under this law. All are asking you to repeal. We will oppose this Bill because you are using this (Amendment) Bill to mislead the world by saying that it is a good first step. We will oppose the passage of this Bill to expose this puerile attempt by the Government,” said Sumanthiran.

Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) Leader and Samagi Jana Balawegeya (SJB) MP Rauff Hakeem, who also addressed the House during the debate, accused Prof. Peiris of “using his ability with the Queen’s language to pull the wool over the eyes of the entire House”.

“This is a woefully inadequate, cosmetic exercise, which is a minimalist approach to change the status quo of the PTA. This does not serve any purpose. The impact of these amendments is merely superficial and is a charade. We are calling for at least a moratorium on the use of the PTA,” said Hakeem.

SJB and Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa also called for the repeal of the PTA and for it to be replaced with a new National Security Act, based on the recommendations of the Law Commission’s 2016 draft.

MP Vijitha Herath of the JVP-led National People’s Power (NPP) recalled the words of Rasaiah Parthipan, better known as Thileepan, a former member of the LTTE who died on 26 September 1987 after a 10-day hunger strike which was partly in opposition to the detention of the Tamil youth under the PTA.

“We remember in the past that a youth from the Northern Province named Thileepan did a fast unto death, telling us that the PTA will eventually oppress not just those in the North, but those in the South as well. He said that on that day, we will understand. His sacrifice told us that the Act will eventually be used against Tamils, Muslims, and the Sinhalese,” he said.

However, Prof. Peiris assured the House that the amendments are only an initial step and that the Government is engaged in a comprehensive review of the security legislation. “These amendments are being brought within the framework of the existing legislation but we are now preparing a comprehensive legislation. This is going to take some time and is being done with active inputs from other governmental institutions. We don’t think that it is appropriate for us to keep the country waiting for a long time when there are urgent amendments that should be brought to the 1979 law. So, all that I am doing today is presenting the urgently required amendments. This is not a cosmetic exercise. Every one of these amendments is substantial and will make a difference. The cumulative effect of all these amendments will make a very substantive improvement to the existing law and make a profound and undeniable difference to the existing law,” he said.