HRW calls for ending use of anti-terrorism laws on protesters in Sri Lanka

New Delhi, Aug 31 (EFE).- Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Wednesday called on Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe to immediately end the use of “draconian counterterrorism laws” to attack peaceful demonstrators, and release those detained, including several activists.

“President Wickremesinghe’s use of anti-terrorism legislation to lock up people peacefully calling for reform sends a chilling message to Sri Lankans that rights won’t get priority during his administration,” HRW South Asia director Meenakshi Ganguly said in a statement.

The rights watchdog reported that on Aug.18 three student activists who participated in a protest were arrested “under the abusive Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), which allows up to a year’s detention without trial.”

PTA was introduced in 1979 as a temporary measure, and contains numerous provisions that are contrary to international rights, and that have allowed the authorities to make arbitrary arrests, carry out torture, and attack the opposition and minorities.

“The president’s suppression of dissent at home flies in the face of his pledges to allies abroad,” underlined Ganguly.

Wickremesinghe, when he was prime minister in 2015, had already pledged to repeal the PTA by supporting a resolution of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

In 2017, he reiterated the same when the country was readmitted to the special provision of the Generalized System of Preferences of the European Union, which allows privileged access to the European market, the rights body recalled.

HRW also noted that in July, then-Foreign Minister GL Pieris told the UNHRC that Sri Lanka was observing a “de facto moratorium on arrests being made under the PTA.”

Earlier, in March, the then justice minister, now foreign minister, Ali Sabry, told parliament there was a “de facto moratorium on the use of the PTA on offenses other than those which have a direct involvement with terrorism,” something that has not been put into practice.

The president, who also serves as defense minister, used the PTA law to send the three activists to prison for 90 days without evidence or an opportunity to apply for bail.

Since then, they have been imprisoned under poor conditions in the south of the island, without access to their lawyers, thus violating international legal standards, something human rights organizations, including the Bar Association, have condemned, according to HRW.

Sri Lanka’s international partners, such as the US and the EU, whose support the government seeks to address the economic crisis, also urged Wickremesinghe to end repression and use of the PTA.

Sri Lanka is in negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to conclude an emergency bailout program of some $4 billion to restore fiscal balance.

In this regard, “the Wickremesinghe government should show that it tolerates peaceful dissent if the Sri Lankan people are to have any chance of holding it accountable for how new international loans are spent,” according to HRW.

“While people inside the country suffer repression and economic hardship, Sri Lanka’s international partners need to make sure that Wickremesinghe can’t ignore their message,” concluded Ganguly. EFE


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