South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR), a regional network of Human Rights Defenders, perceives the newly gazetted ‘Anti- Terrorism Bill’ (AT Bill) as a deplorable act on the part of the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) against the democratic values that shape the nation and the rights and freedoms of people in Sri Lanka. The civil society has vehemently opposed this proposed legislation which is referred as ‘a continuation of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) of 1979 in a much repressive form’. Political parties of the opposition, lawyers, academics and civil society activists at national and international levels have strongly criticised the AT Bill demanding it be withdrawn immediately. SAHR believes that this Bill violates the strict standards of human rights. The content of the proposed Bill, if enacted, will greatly impact fundamental freedoms of all people in an irreversible manner.
SAHR observes that the broadly framed ‘offence of terrorism’ in the AT Bill could potentially be used to suppress political activism of Sri Lankan people. This is clearly evident from the past abuse of the PTA which has been used for decades to stifle dissent and peaceful protests as well as against the Tamil and Muslim minorities. The AT bill confers sweeping powers to the executive empowering the President to formulate regulations and directions that undermine the powers of the judiciary. Further, the power granted to a Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) to make Detention Orders in the AT Bill is extremely alarming. The introduction of the death penalty for murder as a terrorism offence is also deeply concerning in the context of a several decades long moratorium on executions in Sri Lanka.
SAHR has also noted the undemocratic and authoritarian manner in which the GoSL is foisting this proposed AT Bill upon people without properly carrying out consultations with the public, especially the victim groups impacted by the draconian PTA of 1979, prior to drafting it.
Activists and legal professionals have also pointed out the adequacy of prevailing laws which cover a wide range of offences including terrorism, such as the Penal Code’s offences against the State and the Section 3 of the ICCPR Act.
Therefore, SAHR strongly urges the Government of Sri Lanka to immediately withdraw the proposed Anti-Terrorism Bill. It also calls upon the Government to repeal the PTA immediately and release prisoners arrested under PT, still languishing in prisons without charge. SAHR reiterates that public participation is crucial in rebuilding the country, especially during this critical economic crisis.
On behalf of the members of South Asians for Human Rights
Dr. Roshmi Goswami
Dr. P. Saravanamuttu