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Who is “Pulidaran?”: Reflections on International Day of Democracy

Photo courtesy Vikalpa

Who is “Pulidaran?” What everyone knows – “On July 15, 2008, Pulidaran reportedly shot Kanapathipillai alias Satchi Master, while in Batticaloa prison.[1] What everyone does not, or chooses to ignore – “Pulidaran was a mere boy of 14 when he was arrested under suspicion of terrorism. Pulidaran was held for far longer than 18 months. He is now 29. He was detained for 14 long years before any charges were brought against him. In the news, Pulidaran was described as a LTTE cadre. Most readers did not stop to question what Pulidaran was doing in prison. The words “LTTE cadre” was more than sufficient to quell doubts.”[2] 

In “celebration” of the International Day of Democracy today, I would like to bring our attention back to the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA)[3], (particularly in light of the recent ‘so called’ removal of the Emergency Regulations (ER),) which has reared its ugly head in the “Democratic” Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka for more than three decades now. I say ‘so called’ because, a mere week following the President’s announcement to eliminate ER, our “eloquent” AG, Mohan Peiris tells the media “there is no change even though the emergency has been allowed to lapse.”[4] Thus affirming all fears that the Government’s move was purely cosmetic, and that it was in all likelihood only done to appease the international community albeit momentarily. Successive “Democratic” Governments of Sri Lanka have wielded this Secret Weapon which has enabled them to legitimize their illegal actions in the name of “safeguarding” the nation from “terrorism.” The State has long held the entire country to ransom by their arbitrarily usage of the term terror to suit their own racist agendas.

Enacted in 1979, countless campaigns for the ‘Repeal of the PTA’ by human rights groups both at home and internationally, including many Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights System, the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, Frank La Rue[5] and treaty body Committees, have been to no avail. Now more than two years since the conclusion of the war in 2009, the PTA and its trusty side-kick the ER[6] continues to be meted out liberally to “dissenters” across the country.

The PTA is not only in violation of one specific fundamental human right, but rather, numerous rights, including the right to live free of torture, free of arbitrary arrest, detention or exile, to the freedom of expression, freedom of movement, and to equal protection under the law, as mentioned in the UDHR,[7] of which Sri Lanka is a signatory.

As of 2009, approximately 10,000 prisoners were held under the PTA in prisons island-wide, with numbers having increased significantly since then. (No official record on the exact numbers of detainees is available, due to the Government’s lack of transparency and outright denial of access to anyone to Government records.)[8]

Although the first to be detained under the PTA in 1979 were two Sinhalese activists from Kandy, (thus affirming the fears that the PTA would be misused to stifle dissidents,)[9] thereafter, it almost solely targeted Tamils arrested under “suspicion” of being affiliated to the LTTE.

The PTA allows for the arrest (without a warrant) and detention of a “suspect” for up to 72 hours prior to being produced before a Magistrate. The implementation of the PTA overrides the provisions of any other written law that protects the rights of detainees. The PTA permits the admission of confessions in evidence made to the Police while in custody, and protects all Government officials from prosecution against human rights abuses.

Many persons have been arrested under the PTA, and released without charge after extended periods of incarceration, e.g. Editor of the Tamil Newspaper Sudar Oli, N. Vithyatharan was arrested on February 26th, 2009 and released 57 days later without charge[10].  Veteran Journalist, J.S. Tissainayagam was arrested by the TID on the 7th of March 2008, indicted 5 months later under the PTA[11] for inciting communal violence through his writings and allegedly receiving money from the LTTE. On August 31st, 2009 he was convicted of the charges by the Colombo High Court and sentenced to 20 years of rigorous imprisonment. Having been released on bail on medical grounds, he was eventually given a full Presidential Pardon. Vettivel Jasikaran was arrested by the TID on the 6th of March 2008, and was held in detention for nearly six months before being released without charge. He was indicted on the 27th of August, 2008 for “inciting communal disharmony” by printing, publishing and distributing the magazine North Eastern Monthly. Valarmathi, his wife, was charged with aiding and abetting her husband. On the 29th of January 2010, CID officers broke into the premises of the Lanka Irida newspaper and arrested its Chief Editor, Chandana Sirimalwatte. He was detained in CID custody for three weeks before the court ordered his release in February, citing lack of evidence.[12]

Even though the Government and pro-Government “terrorism experts” have repeatedly stated the necessity to perpetuate the PTA to maintain national security,[13] our Incumbent himself has clearly stated that “…the war against the terrorists is now over.”[14] If so, why then are we as a nation still so insecure?

Most importantly though, as the PTA has been a long standing means of “systematic” human rights abuse in Sri Lanka, it has always taken the back seat to the numerous other violations the state has been accused of over the decades. This is more the reason why the Government must abolish this draconian law with immediate effect, and ensure the security and welfare of all its people.


[1] Sri Lanka: The Campaign For Justice For Political Prisoners – http://www.asia-pacific-action.org/node/295

[2] Sri Lanka: The Campaign For Justice For Political Prisoners – http://www.asia-pacific-action.org/node/295

[3]The Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) of Sri Lanka –  http://www.lawnet.lk/section.php?file=http://www.lawnet.lk/docs/statutes/stats_1956_2006/indexs/Vol2/1979Y0V0C48A.html

[4]Sri Lanka detains suspects despite end to emergency –http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5jdZb3hRdipcN7jJDE41HlG5BBJIg?docId=CNG.ee159abe0e0b3f7c4e870162182b6233.4f1

[5]Forum-Asia Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur Mr. Frank La Rue – http://www.indigenousportal.com/Human-Rights/FORUM-ASIA-Interactive-Dialogue-with-the-Special-Rapporteur-Mr.-Frank-La-Rue.html

[6]Sri Lanka: Briefing Paper – Emergency Laws and International Standards – International Commission of Jurists – http://www.icj.org/IMG/SriLanka-BriefingPaper-Mar09-FINAL.pdf

[7]Universal Declaration of Human Rights

[8]More Tamil prisoners join hunger strike – http://sundaytimes.lk/index.php/latest/8938-more-tamil-prisoners-join-hunger-strike

[9]Sri Lanka: Briefing Paper – Emergency Laws and International Standards – International Commission of Jurists – http://www.icj.org/IMG/SriLanka-BriefingPaper-Mar09-FINAL.pdf

[10]Reporters Without Borders welcomes release of N. Vithyatharan – http://sunandadeshapriya.wordpress.com/2009/04/27/reporters-without-borders-welcomes-release-of-n-vithyatharan/

[11]Sri Lankan journalist indicted on terrorist charges – http://cpj.org/2008/08/sri-lankan-journalist-indicted-on-terrorist-charge.php

[12]http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/ASA37/001/2011/en/64530ad7-76a6-4fb1-8f46-996c8543daf8/asa370012011en.pdf

[13]Don’t repeal PTA, Emergency – http://www.sundayobserver.lk/2011/06/12/sec10.asp

[14]Address by President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the Victory Day Parade and National Tribute to the Security Forces following the defeat of terrorism – http://www.slhcaust.org/speeches-a-statements/36-presidential-secretariat-priu/321-address-by-president-mahinda-rajapaksa-at-the-victory-day-parade-and-national-tribute-to-the-security-forces-following-the-defeat-of-terrorism-galle-face-green-colombo-june-03-2009.html