COLOMBO: The Ranil Wickremesinghe government is open to the idea of allowing Tamils held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) to get bail, the Minister for National Dialogue on ethnic issues Mano Ganeshan told Express here on Wednesday.
Ganeshan said that those under trial and those detained without any charges having been filed against them yet, could be enlarged on bail. But those who had been convicted could be released only by the President of the country. Releasing convicts is a Presidential prerogative, he explained.
However, the Commissioner of Prisons, Rohana Pushpakumara told this correspondent that there is no one in detention now without a charge. Forty eight have been convicted and are serving a sentence, 116 have cases against them in High Courts and 62 in Magistrates ‘courts. According to the Minister of Justice, Wijedasa Rajapakse, there are no “political prisoners” in Sri Lanka and those alluded to as “political prisoners” are those held under PTA.
Asked if bail could be granted to a person in detention under PTA, senior lawyer K.Neelakandan said that bail is possible.”The courts have wide powers,” he said.
About 150 of the Tamil detained had gone on a fast unto death earlier this month but had broken it when the Minister of Justice assured them that government will find a solution to their problem by November 7. The government is mulling a less stringent anti-terror law.
The prisoners and Tamil political parties have been demanding a “general amnesty” for persons held during the war for political reasons. But the government has said that a general amnesty is not possible as the detainees are in prison for terror related offenses, and not political offenses as such. The Tamils’ argument that Sinhalese militants held for the insurgencies of 1971 and 1989 were released without much ado, has fallen on deaf ears. The Tamils have pointed out that following the India-Lanka Accord of 1987 Tamil militant detainees were also given a general amnesty. But the government is unmoved with Sinhalese extremist groups saying that letting off PTA detainees will only revive the movement for an independent Tamil Eelam.