Tamil political prisoners fast for 'trial or release'

[TamilNet, Friday, 01 February 2002, 14:05 GMT]
Tamil political prisoners in scores of jails and detention centres across Sri Lanka began a protest fast Friday demanding that they be acquitted or be released as they are being held for extended periods without any legal proceedings being instituted against them in courts by the Attorney General's Department.

Human rights lawyers estimate that more than 1800 Tamils arrested under the PTA are being held in the detention centres and prisons in various parts of the island. One of the protesting prisoners in the Batticaloa jail, Mr. Soysa Arunasalam of Mannampitti, said that four members of his family are also being held under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) in other parts of the island, separated from him.

(Library photo) Sri Lankan police detain a young Tamil girl during a search operation in Colombo, 7 January 2000.Photo:Reuters
"We are being held unjustly. Many Tamil political prisoners are framed insidiously by the Police because several courts continue to accept confessions obtained under torture. Hundreds more have languish in jail for years because the Police do not bother to start or conclude investigations, conveniently availing themselves of the PTA provision which allows for indefinite inquiry. In many cases proceedings are stalled because legal medical reports of Judicial Medical Officers are inordinately delayed. There are several cases before some courts where the Police are still able to frame PTA prisoners with false productions", the prisoners said a letter sent this week to Tamil journalists outlining their predicament.

A large number of the Tamil political prisoners are innocents who have been arrested who have been arrested and detained under the "failing to provide information" provision of the PTA Tamil human rights lawyers say. The security forces, according to them, widely and regularly abuse this provision.

Tamil human rights lawyers charge that the all Tamils living in the north and east are culpable in theory under this provision of the PTA which makes it an offence to withhold information about "terrorist" activity from the Sri Lankan security forces. They point out that there absolutely no safeguard to prevent the Police from arbitrarily arresting any Tamil under this draconian law, particularly because the term "terrorist activity" is not defined in the PTA.

The main prisons in Sri Lanka where Tamil political prisoners are being held are Welikada (Colombo), Kalutara, Boosa (in the southern districts), Bogambara (Kandy), and Anuradhapura.

A few are in the smaller jails of Jaffna and Vavuniya.

The Batticaloa jail holds the largest number of Tamil political prisoners in the north and east. There are forty-three Tamils detained under the PTA here, including four school students and a woman.

Four of these have been incarcerated for more than four years.

Mr. Joseph Pararajasingham Tamil National Alliance MP for Batticaloa Friday visited and spoke to the protesting prisoners in the eastern town's jail.

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