HRW flags abuse of anti-terror law in Sri Lanka

Colombo, Jun 29 (EFE).- Nonprofit Human Rights Watch on Tuesday flagged the abuse of an anti-terror law in Sri Lanka, after the government “cynically” pardoned 16 prisoners held over a decade ago for allegedly being members of the rebel group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

The Prevention of Terrorism Act was recently criticized by the European Union, which recommended withdrawing the preferential trade status GSP+ from Sri Lanka until it fulfills its promise of annulling the legislation.

“The release of people imprisoned for years under the Prevention of Terrorism Act in no way removes the need to replace the abusive law or the need for pressure from Sri Lanka’s partners to do so,” HRW’s South Asia director Meenakshi Ganguly said in a statement.

Ganguly called the pardons, announced on Thursday, Colombo’s “blatantly cynical measures to keep trade preferences” with the EU, as all the prisoners were close to completing their sentences or had already served them but continued to be behind bars.

President’s counsel KV Thavarasha, who has worked on many cases of people accused under the PTA as a lawyer, told EFE that many of the accused could spend over a decade in preventive custody.

Since Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected president in 2019, the PTA has been used to arrest human rights lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah, poet Ahnaf Jazeem and the former director of the criminal investigations department Shani Abeysekera, among others.

“Within the last year, nearly 90 people were arrested under the PTA. Most of them were (held) for very minor offences such as a Facebook post or a poem” as in the case of Jazeem, Thavarasha said.

The lawyer said the law was “problematic” because it handed unrestricted power to the government, which could be used to arrest critics.

On Jun. 10, the European Parliament urged the EU to revoke the GSP+ status of Sri Lanka, which had pledged to abolish the PTA back in 2017.

Colombo has not fulfilled its promises, local human rights lawyer Ambika Satkunanathan told EFE.

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