Indefinite detention of Tamil political prisoners continues

Six years after the end of the Sri Lankan civil war, an estimated 650 Tamil political prisoners remain imprisoned in Sri Lanka, indefinitely, and without charge:

They are being held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), which allows the security forces to detain people for up to 18 months without bringing them before a court.

But some have been jailed since 1997.

The UN’s human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, said in a landmark report last month that the government had acknowledged holding 258 men and women under the PTA but only 54 of them had been convicted of anything.

Nearly 30 prisoners of varied ethnicities died in prisons during rioting in 2012. – BBC, 12 Oct 2015.

Expectations that Tamil political prisoners would be either released, or charged and tried, had been raised as a result of recent political changes in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka’s war time authoritarian leader, Mahinda Rajapaksa, lost to Maithripala Sirisena in January elections in Sri Lanka:

“the country’s numerical minorities voted overwhelmingly for Sirisena during January’s presidential election” – The Diplomat, October 19.

With the war apparently over, it would seem reasonable to demand that war-time powers be repealed:

“A range of people and groups (both on the island and abroad) have been demanding that the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) be repealed for quite some time. The legislation gives the country’s state security personnel wide-ranging authority to search, arrest and detain people; without a doubt, the law has had a disproportionately negative effect on the nation’s Tamil community” – The Diplomat, October 19.

After nine months of political inaction, Tamil prisoners began an indefinite hunger strike in early October. By October 12 President Sirisena had promised to address the status of Tamil prisoners:

Tamil political prisoners who began a fast unto death six days ago demanding their release, suspended their protest temporarily yesterday after receiving a written assurance from President Maithripala Sirisena to solve the issue of their detention prior to 7 November. – Ceylon Today, 18 October

It now appears that the Sirisena government has reneged on it’s commitments to address the status of Tamil prisoners:

The Srisena regime has announced that it will not release most of the Tamil political prisoners who have been languishing in the jails and detention centres in Sri Lanka. Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe announced on Friday only 32 prisoners will be released by 9th November.

Reacting to the announcement from Colombo, Tamil political prisoners said to Ceylon Today:

“We shall launch another ‘fast unto death’ if the President fails to adhere to his promises, as mentioned in the letter, before 7 November. This is the only way we have chosen to find a solution to our burning problem. President Sirisena will be held accountable for our deaths during the hunger strike. President Sirisena will be responsible for our vital organs. He should take responsibility to donate our organs.”

A large number of the Tamil political prisoners have been kept in prison for over two decades without charge or trial by the Sri Lankan state through emergency powers granted to its security forces in the Prevention of Terrorist Act ( PTA) and Emergency Regulation Laws. Majority of the prisoners have experienced torture and been subjected to human rights violations by the Sri Lankan police and intelligence. Some of the prisoners have revealed their stories of sexual torture.

The Tamil Chief Minister of the Northern Provincial Council, C.V. Vigneswaran, in a press release, emphasized that good governance cannot be implanted from the outside; the government has to prove it by actions. He also said that the release of Tamil political prisoners has proven to involve no risk for the state as those released under the previous regime caused no violence. He also pointed out the discriminatory logic of the government, which provided amnesty to the Sinhalese insurgents of the JVP during the 1970’s and 1990’s while refusing it to Tamil political prisoners:

“In the time of the JVP, everyone was given unconditional general amnesty. To say that there are obstacles and delays is surprising for us. It is only by accommodating such small requests that the rhetoric of good governance can have some use, but to maintain such policies, and chanting ‘good governance’ is obsolete.”

The Srisena Government’s reluctance to release Tamil political prisoners and maintain war-time emergency laws exposes their intent to continue with the genocidal agenda of the successive Sri Lankan Governments, Tamil Refugee Council said today.

“We demand the immediate and unconditional release of all the Tamil political prisoners, unlawfully incarcerated by the occupying Sri Lankan forces and its state in official and undisclosed detention camps and prisons.” Said Tamil Refugee Spokesperson Aran Mylvaganam.

“We demand the Australian government and it’s allies, who proved their influence in the island by instigating a regime change earlier this year, to wield the same power in pressing the Colombo government to immediately grant general amnesty to all Tamil political prisoners. The incarcerated Tamils are not criminals, and cannot be subjected to the criminal jurisdiction of the Sri Lankan state. They are rather political prisoners and Prisoners of War.”

“The western governments cannot conceive or expect a cessation to the refugee crisis, involving Tamils, without solving the political situation in their homeland. It is the Sri Lankan state terror and military occupation of their traditional homelands leads to Tamils fleeing persecution and impoverished lives towards countries like Australia” – Tamil Refugee Council Press Office, 9 November 2015

The campaign for justice for Tamils on the island of Sri Lanka continues. Within Australia I strongly encourage comrades to support the work of the Tamil Refugee Council and Tamil Fightback. You can follow Tamil Fightback on Twitter, Facebook and on 3cr Radio in Melbourne.



Trevor Grant has published a new piece on the ongoing genocide against Tamil people in Sri Lanka:

The Sirisena regime says in one forum they are going to release all prisoners, then, in another, denies there are any political detainees. The end result is preservation of the status quo, except for a few token releases designed to silence continued demands from Amnesty International and other well-informed, respected human rights groups to free these people and investigate the 146,000 reported Tamil disappearances, along with the many mass graves that have been uncovered in recent times.

Check it out.

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