30 October, 2020

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Gota, The National Security State And The PTA

By M A Sumanthiran –

M.A. Sumanthiran

The arrest and detention of Azath Salley, leader of the Muslim Tamil National Alliance, brought the incongruously named Prevention of Terrorism [Temporary Provisions] Act to the spotlight. There is nothing quite temporary about the PTA. It is here to stay unless the people of this country demand that it be abolished. Until it is, it will continue to victimize and terrorize families and communities, as it has done for more than three decades now.

The PTA is a draconian piece of legislation that rights activists, progressive politicians and well meaning international friends have asked successive governments to repeal. The Tamil people have been the worst affected victims of the PTA. Indeed, the PTA continues to strike terror into Tamil families and the larger Tamil community. I have appeared for a number of individuals held in detention under the PTA. Typically, persons arrested under the PTA are arrested and whisked away to a police station, or worse, the TID or CID Headquarters. The desperate families of the arrested person must then go looking for their loved ones, often relying on unhelpful officials for snippets of information on the location in which their relative is held. When this trauma ends, another begins. That of attempting to visit the detenue. Almost always, a Detention Order is issued within days of the arrest, extending the period of time under which a suspect can be held without charge to eighteen months! As suspects are kept in custody without charge or judicial supervision for long periods, police abuse is rampant. This is compounded by provisions in the PTA which enable confessions made by suspects to the police to be admissible in evidence. In fact, many convictions under the PTA are based solely on the confession of a suspect. Being aware of this, the police stop at nothing to extract confessions. The methods of torture are legion. The lucky survive with telltale mental and physical scars of torture – paranoia, panic attacks and headaches. The not so lucky are permanently disabled. Some are killed. One person whom I represented was blinded in both eyes. This is the reality of the PTA.

While the PTA has brought agony and distress to its victims, it has played a fundamental role in defining governance in Sri Lanka.

Firstly, it enables the government in power to persecute and terrorize communities and classes of people considered ‘enemies of the state’. The PTA is almost never used in isolation. Its purpose is not to deal with individuals suspected of terrorism. Instead, its use has always been designed to subjugate communities thought to be troublesome. This is why the PTA has been used so widely against Tamils. The PTA enables governments to crush the source of any organized resistance against it and this is why it continues to be used in the North and East today. During the second southern insurrection, the PTA was turned on Sinhala youth. Thus, the arrest and detention of Azath Salley under the PTA was not an ad hoc exercise done in response to a single line in a single interview in a single newspaper published outside Sri Lanka’s shores. The treatment of Salley was not merely a threat to Salley. Instead, it is a chilling reminder to Muslims that they too must be cautious, lest the fate of the Tamils come to haunt them. The message is that any resistance to the prevailing orthodoxy of Sinhala Buddhist suzerainty will be crushed.

Secondly, the PTA has been instrumental in ushering in the ‘National Security State’. The use of the PTA to carve a ‘national security’ niche within the law of this country was the first step toward the establishment of the National Security State. While a confession to a police officer is not admissible in evidence in respect of every other criminal offence on the law books, the PTA carved out an exception, ostensibly in the pursuit of national security. While persons charged of offences are normally entitled to bail, the PTA takes this right away. While the constitution recognizes the freedom of speech and the right to criticize the government, the PTA nullifies the effect of the constitution by criminalizing legitimate criticism. In short, the PTA forces the judiciary and lawyers to view regular civic activity through the narrow prism of national security. In his book “The Brave New World Order”, Jack Nelson Pallmeyer identifies the first characteristic of the national security state as one in which “the military is the highest authority. In a National Security State the military not only guarantees the security of the state against all internal and external enemies, it has enough power to determine the overall direction of the society. In a National Security State the military exerts important influence over political, economic, as well as military affairs.” This characteristic is strikingly apt to describe the current dispensation of governance in Sri Lanka. While the government makes much of its victory in the war, it has used the euphoria and triumphalism surrounding that victory to entrench the military in governance. From animal husbandry to golfing, and whale watching to the management of entertainment venues, the military is in the process of establishing control over the country’s economy. The Defence Secretary – only a public servant – now plays a central role in the formulation of national policy. The militarization of society is continuing apace, in which the PTA had no small role.

In conclusion, it is worth recalling Benjamin Franklin’s reminder that those who give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety. These words have prophetic ring to those of us listening to the voices of history. In Sri Lanka’s pursuit of temporary safety, it has lost respect for civil liberties. Indeed, the National Security State spawned by those very compromises is now making enemies of constituent communities of the country. To say this undermines the country’s security is but an understatement. This is what, I believe, Azath Salley was warning us about.

*The author – M. A. Sumanthiran (B.Sc, LL.M) is a Member of Parliament through the Tamil National Alliance, senior practicing lawyer, prominent Constitutional & Public Law expert and civil rights advocate

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Latest comments

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    It will be a useful exercise to discuss why (and when) the PTA was promulgated. Are there threats of separatism and violence still being voiced by local as well as foreign based organizations?

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      It was probably promulgated around end of 1979.

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    The creation of an independent and sovereign State of Tamil Eelam remains the only viable option to lead a life with security, dignity and equality, both individually and collectively. TGTE statement

    Repeal the PTA in the circumstances?

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    “PTA.. has played a fundamental role in defining governance in Sri Lanka….The PTA enables governments to crush the source of any organized resistance against it and this is why it continues to be used in the North and East today”

    MAS,
    What’s wrong with that ? Have you forgotten there was a terrorist war, worlds most ruthless terror out fit ran a defacto state in North & east for about 25 years ? Is N&E good or bad today , than it was before 2009 May ?
    Do some homework man, Let few trouble makers spend time in jail, rather than carrying a whole community to uncharted terrain & bring misery to whole country.

    People like you need another wave of insurrection in some other form, that’s how you do politics & that’s what you love, no any damn love for Tamils or this country, never thinks this is your motherland, try to create problems here & most of you guys live in Europe or North America , Try to help govt. to develop N&E or Go to hell man.

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    Good analysis….

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    Could Mr Sumanathiran give a preamble to why the PTA came into operation in the first place ?.

    Hasn’t Mr Sumanathiran’s read or heard about his close friend and fellow TNA MP Premachandran threatening to install a SGA soon?.

    Hasn’t Mr Sumanathiumanathiran heard or read about his mates and fellow TNA MP’s clandestine visits to Tamil Nadu to tee up with the Terrorist organizations there?.

    If Mr Sumanathiran comes out clean and make a Public Declaration that he and his leader Sambandan has nothing to do with terrorism and would never again allow terrorists to take over his party and pledge to work towards the Econonomic empowerment of the people and bring them to the main stream with equal rights as anyone else. wouldn’t the PTA become null and void?.

    And one more thing.

    Can Mr Sumanathiran issue a statement for a start dissociating himself and his leader Sambandan from the Elaam Charter of PM Mr Rudrakumaran ?.

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      Mr. K.A.Sumanasekera,
      Attack is the best way to defend. Thats what you do all the time. You know Mr. Sumanthiran says facts in this above article. Neither he would wast time nor would write something stupid as Gota or Keheliya or any other regime jokers including Perci MAHENDRA Rajapaksa does.
      Your counter attacks wont justify nothing mate. Anyone can debate anything for the sake of debating and thats exactly what you are doing. Perci Mahendra Rajapaksa is boasting about the peace that he brought to this country in every oppotunity he gets. If so why do we need this freaking PTA? He didnt want to abolish the Emergency. finally he had to do away with it, yet reluctantly due enormouse pressure from all corners. Mahendra and Nandasena Gota Rajapaksas are the weakest people in this regime and this is the weakest leader ever came to power. With PTA they love to intimidate people because they are paranoid, just for one reason. They cannot affored to lose power. so they wil stick to it at any cost. The entire Family and their Henchmen, Sidekicks will be Disgraced, Ashamed, Mortified and dishonored the day they lose the power. Its inevitable and imminent.

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        This sounds like the usual response of Tamil separatists who resort to vituperative attacks either on the entire Sinhala race or on members of the Government.

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      Mr. Sumanthiran recently wrote an article to CT talking about Sri Lanka issues and the week after there were news report that he talked in the parliament ONLY ( apart of that previously mentioned article) about the Tribalist tamils’ issue in the North. That is getting rid of all the army camps and making the north 100% tamil. That was the issue of high security zones in the north.

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      I say Leela (K A Sumansekera) you leave out TNA for the moment,please come out clean on the Lee Potter housing scandal once and for all ok

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      Hi K.A Sumanasekera are you in a perpetual state of paranoia? A proverb that comes to my mind is that, “for a scared person any object in the dark is a ghost” You have labelled those who demand for their fundamental rights as terrorist, and those who support the idea and demand the rights for their kith and kin’s on their behalf are also terrorist. Is it your conviction that Tamils have to be subservient to you people?
      Then how would you describe the successive Srilankan government’s that had carried out crime against humanity for the past 58 years? Aren’t they called state terrorists? The Government’s that had spread mega lies, and misleading propaganda to tarnish the Tamil citizens of Sri Lanka and their defenders/ liberators for the past four decades, are they not terrorist? killing civilians, [extra judicial killings] shelling and bombing schools and hospitals; according to you Who are they ? Angels! Get out of your parochial thinking and become a rationalist, understand the history first to know the present day situations. When your mind becomes much clearer, then sit down and plan the future, to live without hatred. No one is immortal in this world. During the few years you live do good things, prevent unwanted hatred on others. adopt a policy of ‘Live and let live’.

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    “Do you know what astonished me most in the world? The inability of force to create anything. In the long run, the sword is always beaten by the spirit.”

    Napoleon Bonaparte

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    Mr. Sumanthiran:

    Just investigate and see how hard the security in the USA is after just one day incidence of 9/11 which killed less than 3000. I think Sri Lankan govt should be well prepared for any thing when some Tamils, TNA, inside the country, Tamilnadu and LTTE rump living overseas are still working to revive the dead LTTE and live tribalism.

    In Sri Lanka, Tamils killed every one for thirty years. Those days, you were silent and probably you talked only about the political solution and how brave the LTTE was.

    As Azad Sally is a Tamil – muslim who tries promote terrorism, as you tamil politicians did before 1970s, I think, what he got is not enough. The Sri Lankan govt is too lenient. That is why all these problems are.

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    Awadiyaw!, Awadiyaw!, Awadiyaw!

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      Double Standards.

      Even Monkeys have better Ethics.

      This is Sinhala Buddhism of Monk Mahanama, known as racism.

      Even the Monkeys know that.

      Read:

      Look, even Monkey’s, Capuchin Monkeys, do not put up with such blatant discrimination.

      Cucumber for the Muslims, Grapes for the Terrorist BBS!

      Arrest Assath Sallie and NOT arrest the Real Terrorist Law Breakers, Budu Bala Sena.

      Is this Buddhism?

      Fairness Study. Cucumber and Grapes.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lKhAd0Tyny0

      DéJà Vu …..

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    Thank you for writing this.
    How many people are there now held under PTA without charges, how long are they held please and where are they held please?

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    Actually this is a ‘One Family Dictatorship’ cloaked in the guise of a Democracy. Most of the majority sold their souls to the devil in the south, to get rid of the devil in the north. I saw a comment by a Sinhalese on an FB political group where he asks another person, “There is no war now…isn’t this freedom?” This is how idiotic a part of the majority are. As long as a substantial amount of idiots like the chap I mentioned continues to support the Rajapaksa family, there is nothing that the few freedom loving people who want democracy, the rule of law and a country with a minimum amount of corruption and nepotism can do.

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    Sumanthiran…. What do you prefer, Patriotic Act & Homeland security or the PTA……….
    You are just a Talkshop making speeches. Where were you when the barbaric praba & LTTE were around? We did not hear your voicer?
    Were you experiencing a sore throat or loss of voice??

    Sumanthiran, go and make yopurself useful elsewhere.

    Have you ever tries visiting the family of Jayawardhini & Naganathan in Vadukoddai, at Koddaikadu in Jaffna ?
    If not, why don’t you pay a visit and let us know what she had to say?

    Don’t waste your time behaving like a talkshop.

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    PTA is not really a law; it is now only an excuse to arrest and harass innocent people. There are no judicial safeguards for ordinary people; it is totally determined by the Secretary of Defence who acts in a rather irrational manner. Though he is only a public official he has been allowed a free hand to do as he pleases.

    The case of Azad Sally was exceptional due to the way so many people worked legally, politically and through word and deed to secure his release. Also his stubborn refusal to eat for seven long days ultimately led to his release. Same cannot be foreseen for innocent civilians.

    It is time that this draconian act is challenged in the courts. The arrest of 15 civilians for remembering the deaths of their near and dear ones should be a good starting point to highlight and fight against this serious anomaly.

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    Looking at the comments it is evident that the Hon. Sumanthiran is casting pearls before swine…. in this case swine being led to the slaughter and they squeal with delight along the way too.

    When many believe that “voicing an opinion” about separation equals terrorism, and when people have forgotten that voicing an opinion is a democratic right, you know the regressive forces of fascism are winning.

    But despite these knuckleheads we have to forge on to create a democratic state where the rights of people are upheld and the rule of law is supreme.

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      Are you saying USA is not democratic ?

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    Total insult to “Bodhisathwanayan Wahanse” Animal Slaughtering is a great sin according to the so Called “Dharmaya” but you can kill people who oppose Raja Passa Family with no mercy. What Darmaya this family try to teach us?

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    I enjoyed this article. I think the difference between this law and say the Patriot Act is that in the US there is still a habeas corpus right which guarantees that an accused can get access to the court. What M.A. Sumanthiran is talking about is basic rights in terms of the rule of law under the PTA. He raises some good issues and he is in a good position to know the real impact that this law has.

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    It is indeed a fine analysis. The 1978 constitution enabled the passage of the PTA which has the capacity to do away with the tenets of the rule of law, meant to operate “notwithstanding anything contained in any other written law”. Although this law claims to prevent terrorism it does not define the term “terrorism” anywhere. The PTA transformed the hitherto Sri Lankan terrorist into also a racist State having targeted Tamil militants at the beginnings of their struggle against oppression consequent to the State sponsored Pogroms against the Tamils in 1956,1958,1977 and 1979 to be later followed up. It also started the culture of disappearances now practised with greater impunity. Conveniently, it was subsequently used against the Sinhala youth during their second insurgency.
    Bensen

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    The current terrorist group TNA/LTTE and the former terrorist group JVP want the Government to abolish the PTA as it prevents them from organizing any new terrorist acts in the country and derail the progress. So far we have not witnessed PTA being used on any ordinary citizen, other than those involved terrorist acts or terrorist backers such as Sumanthiran, Sally etc.. These two parties will have a field day if PTA is removed, and they will take us back to 1971 or 1989 or the LTTE time.
    Therefore the PTA should stay.

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      Don Sarath

      “The current terrorist group TNA/LTTE and the former terrorist group JVP want the Government to abolish the PTA as it prevents them from organizing any new terrorist acts in the country and derail the progress.”

      Is there any law that prevents state terrorism?

      Could you name the chapter and verse of the law so that we can invoke it when extra judicial activities are committed by the state, its rulers and cronies (which includes saffron clad thugs and common criminals).

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    Even with PTA all previous governments could not eliminate terrorism. However we may have further tighten the provisions so that this ugly activities of terrorist organization can be brought under control even before it is hatched. Mr. Sumathiran seem to be talking on behalf of terrorist organizations. We want more of PTA to protect our families from terrorist ambitions.

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