COLOMBO: Sri Lanka's Parliament on Tuesday approved amendments to the country's controversial counter-terrorism law, which has drawn widespread international criticism for its harsh provisions. The bill to amend the Prevention of Terrorism Act (Temporary Provisions) of 1979 was approved with 86 votes in favour and 35 against in the 225-member assembly.
The main Opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB), the main Tamil minority party TNA and the NPP voted against the amendments.
The Sri Lankan government by a gazette notification in late January announced amendments to PTA, which the officials described as its bid to make the law fall in line with international standards of counter-terror legislation.
The amendments gazetted included steps such as the reduction of the period of detention, magistrates visiting the places of detention to eliminate torture, lawyers to be given access to detainees, allow communication with relatives, to expedite hearing of cases and the introduction of a new section to allow bail for PTA detainees.
Foreign Minister GL Peiris told parliament that the government is of the view that the law needs amending in consideration of the social transformations that have taken place since when it was originally enacted. The Opposition argued that the amendments were inadequate.
MA Sumanthiran, the main speaker for the TNA said, "The amendment is a puerile attempt at pulling wool over the eyes of the world. It makes absolutely no change on the ground." The TNA has been carrying out an island wide signature campaign to force the repealing of the PTA.
The European Parliament in June 2021 had called for the repeal of the PTA and urged the EU Commission to consider temporarily withdrawing Sri Lanka's access to GSP+, a favoured trade concession for the island's exports.
GSP+ preferences for Sri Lanka were withdrawn in 2010 due to significant shortcomings in the country's implementation of three UN human rights conventions. Sri Lanka was readmitted to GSP+ in May 2017.