COLOMBO: The leader of Sri Lanka's main opposition, also the country's main Tamil party, has asked the government to immediately release all Tamil political prisoners besides repealing an "obnoxious" anti-terrorism law.
Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leader R Sampanthan accused the Maithripala Sirisena-led government of not acting promptly since coming to power.
"Even the Mahinda Rajapaksa government released over 11,000 persons in custody. They gave them rehabilitation and released them. But this government in the course of the past almost 18 months or more than that has not been acting in this matter as expeditiously as we expected them to," he said in a speech made in the Parliament here yesterday.
This is the first time he has made such a charge in the Parliament against the Sirisena government, which has been accused of being pro-Tamils by nationalist groups.
Citing that the present government had at the UN Human Rights Council accepted the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) was an "obnoxious law" and needs to be repealed, the TNA leader said that in December 2015, the government released on bail 39 individuals detained without charge but around 250 detainees are believed to be in detention.
The government has made indictments in 117 of these cases and in January, created a special High Court Bench to expedite proceedings.
"The government had promised that the Attorney-Generals Department would make decisions by the end of March, but there have been no further charges or releases this year. This situation is not only traumatic for the individuals concerned.
"Some of whom resorted to hunger strikes and for their families but a source of growing frustration among Tamil political parties and the community at large," he said.
He added Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera told the UN Human Rights Council that a committee was putting the final touches to the first draft of the new counter-terrorism legislation that will replace the PTA - introduced in 1979 to counter the separatist movement - in keeping with Sri Lankas commitments and obligations to human rights and countering terrorism.
"Even the Sri Lankan Minister of Foreign Affairs described the Prevention of Terrorism Act as the much criticised and the much abused Act. He has said this in his Statement before the UN Human Rights Council. How can anyone be held in lawful custody under such a law? It is a law which you say is obnoxious, it has been criticised by everyone, not merely by people in this country, by the international community, and it is a law which has been abused.
"How can anyone be held legally in custody under that law? How can anyone be charged under that law? How can anyone be convicted under that law? It is our submission that all persons taken into custody under the Prevention of Terrorism Act must be released because your Government concedes that the law is unjust, is obnoxious and is not a law that should remain on statute books in this country," Sampanthan said.
He added that KP alias Kumaran Pathamanathan has not been charged yet, despite being the LTTE's international arms procurer. He is a favourite of the Rajapaksa government and continues to be so under the Rajapaksa successors.