17 June, 2024


Govt Cannot Hold Persons Under PTA

By R. Sampanthan

Leader of the Opposition R. Sampanthan

Leader of the Opposition R. Sampanthan

Mr. Chairman, I am happy to start the Debate, on which a Cut has been moved by the Hon. Anura Kumara Dissanayake.

We are discussing the Votes of His Excellency the President, the Office of the Prime Minister, Judges of the Superior Courts, the Office of the Cabinet of Ministers and of several Commissions which have in terms of the Nineteenth Amendment, been appointed in recent times.

We are extremely happy that we are in the position to debate the Votes on these Commissions which today have been given a complete measure of independence to be able to perform their functions fearlessly without being in any way subservient to the Executive. I think that was achieved, Sir, as a result of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. The passage of the Nineteenth Amendment was eventually due to the very strenuous and indefatigable efforts of the President, His Excellency Maithripala Sirisena and the Prime Minister, Hon. Ranil Wickremesingthe. It was due to the efforts of the President, the Prime Minister and persons who thought correctly that the system had to be changed, that in the interests of the country and that it was vital to bring about certain changes to ensure that these Commissions will be appointed through a Constitutional Council that would function independently and that the persons who were appointed would be persons of integrity, calibre and possessed the necessary qualities to be able to serve in these Commissions in the best interests of the country.

I am happy that under your guidance, Mr. Chairman, you have indeed exercised, in my view, a great deal of alacrity in ensuring that these Commissions have been appointed without delay all these Commissions have been appointed. I have the good fortune of being a Member of the Constitutional Council in my capacity as the Leader of the Opposition. We have cooperated and made appointments purely in the interests of the country without being guided by any other factor. Sir, I must also at this juncture record my deep appreciation of the manner in which you have guided us to achieve this very important task. We will wait and see how they will perform. I have not the slightest doubt that the performance will be something which the country, the people of this country will appreciate because the persons appointed are those who would, without fear or favour, serve the people of this country and not certain individuals, not certain high-powered persons in the Executive. They would be concerned with the best interests of the people of this country and would serve in the best interests of the people.

Having said that, Sir, since we are discussing the Votes of the President and the Hon. Prime Minister, I want to raise the question of the persons in custody – detainees. I was extremely happy to listen to the Statement of the Hon. Minister of Foreign Affairs. It was a very progressive and a very positive Statement. Hon. Mangala Samaraweera, we expect that you will be in a position to fulfill the various matters that you have outlined in the course of that Statement. You can rest assured that within the framework of a united, undivided Sri Lanka, we will make our maximum possible contribution towards the bringing about of permanent peace, reconciliation, goodwill and harmony amongst all our peoples because the peoples have lived together in this country for, indeed, a long period of time and through the greater part of history in this country, we have lived as a united people. Unfortunately, as a result of the identities of people not being adequately recognized and they not being accorded adequate self-respect and dignity in this country, there have been certain conflicts. It has assumed a violent form, but all conflicts have to come to an end at some point of time. I think it is the duty of all of us to ensure that all conflicts come to an end and we are on that path now. We are not on the path of promoting the conflict. If there are any Hon. Members in this House, my Good Friends, who think that they can survive politically by promoting conflicts, I would appeal to them to abandon that path and return to the path where we all can resolve our conflicts and live together as a united nation, where we will serve the best interests of our country and in the best interests of all the people who live in this country, irrespective of which ethnicity they belong to.

Having said that, Sir, I want to deal specifically with this question of the persons who continue to be in custody because this has become a very serious issue, where there is a feeling amongst people that not enough is being done in this regard, that this is the first issue which is being handled, which is being tackled by the Government and that the Government should perform more expeditiously in bringing this to an end. Now, there are persons who have been convicted. That is one category. There are persons against whom cases are pending. That is the second category. Then, there are persons who have not been charged and that is the third category. We have discussed this matter with His Excellency the President and with the Hon. Prime Minister. General agreement that this matter should be brought to an early end is prevalent in the course of all our discussions. We have also discussed this matter with the Hon. Minister of Justice and other ministerial Colleagues. These persons have been in custody for long periods of time. In fact, if they had been convicted and sentenced, they may have been released from prison by now. Some of them have been in custody for such long periods of time – 10, 15 or even more than 15 years. Some of them have been in custody for such long periods of time – 10, 15 or even more than 15 years. Some others may have been in custody for a shorter period of time. But, the fact of the matter is that in many of these cases, if they had been tried, if they had been convicted and if they had been sentenced, they would have by now been released and they would have gone home. I know, Sir, that there is a hue and cry being raised in this country by some persons who are opposed to the release of persons in custody and who allege that their release would not be in the interests of national security. I think this is a rather unrealistic and exaggerated fear which is being sought to be spread by some people in this country purely in order to bring about instability and to ensure that the Government is not able to proceed on its path which is to bring about reconciliation, goodwill, harmony, peaceful resolution of conflicts and enable this country to prosper and progress. Persons who are not interested in the achievement of this agenda and who are opposed to this agenda for their own selfish reasons think that they must somehow be an impediment and prevent these happenings. I would strongly urge the Government not to be influenced by such endeavours and to gather the necessary courage to be able to deal with this question in a very practical way.

All extremists in this country have been marginalized, both in the North and in the South. At the Parliamentary Election held last, persons who advocated extreme positions in the Northern Province have been totally marginalized. They have been totally sidelined; not one of them was returned to Parliament having taken up an extreme position and I want to say on the Floor of this House now that if anyone in the future attempts to take an extreme position, whatever his position maybe now, that person or such persons would be marginalized and sidelined. They will have no future in this country. Sir, I would like to say on the Floor of this House that if anyone in the North or the East thinks that by adopting extremist positions they can enhance their status politically, they are making a very sad mistake and they should abandon that position because the people of the country, the people of the North and the East have gone through such immense sufferings that they do not want that repeated any longer. They want to live in peace. They want honourable solutions to their problems.

As I said in Parliament a couple of days ago, the Tamil people are a very resilient and courageous people who will not succumb, but they are not a desperate people. They are not people who will opt to go along the path of extremism. They want to live peacefully with self-respect and dignity in this country. So, I think, Sir, even in the South, extremist elements have been marginalized. They have been cast aside by the people. We know that certain extremist organizations which were trying to spread communal venom in this country attempted to enter this Parliament at the last Parliamentary Election, but all of them have been marginalized. So, we should bear this in mind and I think that the Government should not hesitate; the Government should be courageous. The Government should do what needs to be done and deal with the situation pertaining to these persons in custody.

There have been such releases made in the past. In 1971, I remember the JVP insurrection, a large number of people were released and no one complained about it. They were young men who faced certain grievances. They had taken to violence. In fact, I have defended several of them in courts at that point of time. In 1988-89, consequent to the Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord, there was a similar position when amnesty was granted and several people were released. The persons who were released at these points of time were also persons who tried to bring down the legitimate government of the day. Despite that they were released. They had taken to violence and used weapons. They attacked police stations, but they were released. So, I do not know why the Government should be reluctant now or should hesitate now or should delay now? During the time of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, thousands of people were released at the end of the war, after rehabilitation. They were persons who had engaged with the LTTE, fought with the LTTE against the Government. But several thousands of them were rehabilitated and they were released. They were engaged in an armed struggle. The offences committed by the persons in custody are not any more serious than the offences committed by these people whom I have referred to.

I want to refer, Sir, to the basis on which these people are being charged. These people are today being charged under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and I would like to read out what is contained in the Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the 16th of September, 2015 in regard to this matter. It states, I quote:

“The Government has been slow to clarify the number and identity of detainees still held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and emergency regulations. As of writing, the Government is believed to have acknowledged 258 remaining detainees: 60 of whom have not been charged; 54 who have been convicted in the past; the remaining cases pending. Reports have continued to emerge about the existence of secret and unacknowledged places of detention, which require urgent investigation.”

The Hon. Minister of Foreign Affairs referred to that in the course of his Statement this morning. So, in this Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, he refers to persons being held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and Emergency Regulations. Then there was a statement made, Sir, by the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the 30th of September where he says, I quote:

“The Government has yet to clarify the number and identity of detainees still held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and emergency regulations. Reports have continued to suggest the existence of secret and unacknowledged places of detention. These require urgent investigation. According to local civil society sources, from January to August this year, 19 people were arrested under the PTA. 12 of them remain in detention and 14 cases of torture have been reported to us by credible sources since January 2015. I welcome the Government’s commitment to review and repeal the PTA, which has long provided a legal context facilitating arbitrary detention, unfair trials and torture.”

So, there has been a commitment made by the Government that they propose to repeal the PTA under which these persons have been held in custody. What does the Resolution that has been adopted by the UN Human Rights Council on the 1st of October say?

The Resolution states, Sir, I quote:

“Welcomes the Government of Sri Lanka’s commitment to review the Public Security Ordinance Act and review and repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act and replace it with anti-terrorism legislation in line with contemporary international best practices;”

So, you have acknowledged it in the UN that the Prevention of Terrorism Act is a draconian law; it is a law which is unacceptable by international standards and that you will repeal that law. All those persons who are being held in custody, whatever position they maybe in, are persons who are being held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. When you yourself have made a commitment through this Resolution which you co-sponsored that you are going to repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act because it is an obnoxious, draconian law, how can you – I ask you – continue to hold persons in custody? You have accepted that this law is not in conformity with acceptable, proper, legal principles and in the face of the commitment that you have made in the Resolution that has been adopted by the UN Human Rights Council which you co-sponsored, I think it is obligatory; it is imperative that this matter be not delayed any longer and that all these persons are released.

I want to say it very clearly Sir, that this is not a legal issue. This is a political issue. The decision that has to be taken, has to be a political decision. We cannot permit legal nitpicking and allow this matter to hang on forever or for a long period of time. I think what is required is a political decision. My Friends in the JVP – Senior Leaders of the JVP have made a demand that these people be released. I want to commend you for that. I want to thank you for that. Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, who was the person who primarily conducted this war, has requested that these people be released. So, even Members of the JVP and Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka take the view that these persons must be released. Surely they cannot act in this manner if it would bring any harm to this country.

So, in the context of the war having ended, in the context of the LTTE having been decimated, in the context of no LTTE as an organization functioning in the country at present, in the context of the people having repeatedly demonstrated through their electoral verdicts that they want to live within an undivided, united Sri Lanka with self-respect and dignity as equal citizens with a legitimate constitutional recognition of their legitimate aspirations – in this background – I do not think there can be any justification whatever, Sir, for these persons to be looked at differently and to continue to be kept in custody. I would therefore, earnestly request, Sir, that this matter be addressed early.

Thus far, as far as I am aware, 39 persons have been released on bail. Twenty persons have been recommended for rehabilitation against whom cases are pending. Two of these persons, have already been released. Several cases are pending against those recommended for rehabilitation. They have been recommended for rehabilitation in one case, bearing one number. But there are several cases pending against these people which have different numbers. Unless they are recommended for rehabilitation in respect of all those cases pending against them under the different numbers, even after completing rehabilitation in one case in view of the fact that there are other cases pending against them, they will continue to be in custody. That matter needs to be addressed. All cases must be included in the rehabilitation procedures. There are, in all, 217 cases of persons in custody and only 59 cases have been dealt with thus far and there are yet 158 cases to be dealt with. So, I would urge His Excellency the President and the Hon. Prime Minister to look into this matter without delay. I think the persons who have been convicted must be pardoned and in view of your own Resolution where you say that the Prevention of Terrorism Act will be repealed because it is obnoxious; it is draconian and when you make an acknowledgement which accepts that without any reservation, how can you continue to hold in custody persons under that law? This is the question I want to pose. How can you take to court and charge persons under this law which you say is obnoxious, draconian and which, therefore, you are going to repeal? So, my submission is, Sir, that this matter should not be delayed any longer and these persons should be released early and I would earnestly request the Government to act expeditiously in regard to this matter.

I thank you, Sir.

*Speech made by R. Sampanthan, leader of the opposition in parliament yesterday

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Latest comments

  • 9

    Sri Lankan governments, whether it be the present one or the past ones are above the law:

    They can do anything violating laws to pleasethemselves, the majority Sinhalese community and their hegemonic designs over the island.

    For example they have not prosecuted the violators of the minority rights like what happened to Muslims in Aluthgama and elsewhere by the BBS terrorists, let alone innumerable violations against Tamils’ life and property.

    Honorable Opposition Leader, do you honestly believe that Sri Lankan governments will abide by the law now, or in the future? If you think so, you may be insane.

    • 0


      You are right.

      Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) is now Promotion of Terrorism Act (PTA) and also Protection of Terrorism Act (PTA).

      My Mahinda is the best to make use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA)and the present government is on the other two.

      We must thank Mahinda to end terrorism in Sri Lanka.

      The west and Russia must appoint Mahinda to preside over the world agenda to eliminate the ISIS. He is so noble that he will use the well trained Sri Lankan forces go into the ISIS territories to defeat them outright.

      This may lead to Sri Lanka getting free oil from the ISIS territories.

      Mahinda chinthana extended to the world forum will ensure passing a Prevention of World Terrorism Act in the UNO.

      He will appoint Wimal Weerawanse as his spokesperson and campaign manager.

      I too will do my part to help Mahinda if he is evolved.

  • 3


    Sampanthan Aiya is blowing conch on deaf persons’ ears. Let his mate Sumanthiran join him as well.

    When are these two incorrigible leaders going to start their fast unto death as promised to the Tamil political detainees?

  • 6

    The Govt. is more than committed to release those under the PTA on their own free admission and supported by themselves by co-sponsoring the Resolution. If this is not
    done, it can be assumed that they have cheated the I/C as was the usual habit of our
    politicians in the past?

  • 6

    There has to be a compelling reason why these people are still in custody in spite of what has been quoted by Sampanthan in his excellent presentation to parliament.
    What is the secret ‘unmentionable’ pressure on the regime to continue this incarceration?
    If JVPers had been released, after committing far grave crimes, why not the alleged LTTEers?

    And, what is ‘rehabilitation’?
    Is it ‘brain washing’ and ‘confession/admission’ ?
    This does not exist elsewhere in civilised society.

    • 1


      “There has to be a compelling reason why these people are still in custody in spite of what has been quoted by Sampanthan in his excellent presentation to parliament.”

      Maybe most of the Tamil prisoners did so bad things that the voters in the South would revolt if they were released?

      Maybe the government fears that releasing the prisoners might revive the LTTE?

      Maybe the government is very serious about not interfering with the work of police and courts in PTA cases?

    • 1

      “What is the secret ‘unmentionable’ pressure on the regime to continue this incarceration?…..
      Really you don’t know..
      It is the Mahavamsa mindset.
      Sadly no remedy available one has to live with it

  • 1

    “replace it with anti-terrorism legislation in line with contemporary international best practices;”

    Are these contemporary international practices any better than the existing PTA? I am thinking about, for instance, Guantanamo and the Tamils that have been detained in Australia without any charge indefinitely.

    Many countries are bombing Syria without any kind of decision by the UN. The attacks in Paris and against the Russian plane have caused revenge bombings without any kind of a court decision on who was guilty.

    Our country is not perfect but don’t expect anything better from the best international practices.

  • 1

    We Americans can hold people in Guantanamo indefinitely. We can rendition them to Romania, Egypt, Bulgaria so we can torture them. We can drop Predator drone bombs on suspects and wipe out their families. Ask Samantha anti and Hillary anti or Obama uncle. We will do it and therefore Sri Lanka can do it. These are not boy scouts. These are terrorist hardcore suspects. Sambandan maama if you like get Ranil and Sirisena couple to send them to Gitmo. Samantha anti destroyed Libya along with Hillary anti and now where there were no wahabi jihadi daesh terrorists, now it’s Islamic jihadi central . We are a Merika we can do what we want.

    • 1


      “We can drop Predator drone bombs on suspects”

      Not only the USA is killing its citizens. UK also authorized and killed one of its own citizens recently.

      Note that these UK and USA citizens are suspects that are “sentenced” to death by politicians and executed from distance.

    • 0

      Typical Sri Lankan logic. I thought it died down but still active. That is if someone kill someone somewhere some time why cant the Sri Lnakna do the same thing.

  • 2

    Mr. Sambanthan – You are just pouring water on ducks back by delivering
    speeches in parliament, where no one pays any attention. Unable understand, as you being the Opposition leader, cannot get to speak personally with President & PM. on these important matters. Although a year passed with the new Govt.in power, We have never heard a TNA delegation meeting the Govt. to discuss the lingering Tamil issues. It
    should be emphasized that Tamils voted this govt. into power in the hope that existing Tamil problems will be discussed on a priority basis
    and solved but Govt. has turned their backs to the very same people, who voted them to power, as against MR, though he was hated by the Tamils, he did much more to the Tamils than the present Govt. He released large amount of Ltte and political detainees, made sure Yarl Devi train service commenced operation right up to KKS, provided with paved roads all over the province, was making arrangements to downsize the armed forces in the N/E and started releasing the lands confiscated by the Army to the rightful owners but one serious mistake he made was he did not maintain proper rapport with the people of N/E and treated them as second class citizens due to undesirables standing in between him and the people. Mr. Sambandan , patience is waning out
    and people may revolt against TNA, unless you engage the govt. at the
    earliest, instead of being ‘yes’ men in the parliament. People may tend
    to think that Mr. C.V. Wigneswaran C.M. NPC, is right in opposing the present stand taken by TNA.

    • 1

      Lanka Watch,

      “Mr. Sambandan , patience is waning out and people may revolt against TNA, unless you engage the govt. at the earliest, instead of being ‘yes’ men in the parliament. People may tend to think that Mr. C.V. Wigneswaran C.M. NPC, is right in opposing the present stand taken by TNA.”

      You give the reason for the lack of united TNA action above.

      How to arrange a TNA delegation when different TNA politicians cannot stay in the same room? I read that our CM visited prisoners but left without saying a word when Sumanthiran arrived to also visit the prisoners.

      Have you noticed how noisy the Tamil politicians who were not elected are about the political prisoners? They must be noisy about something in order to avoid being forgotten.

  • 3

    While I support the release of PTA prisoners who can be cleared of charges, I think the comparison to the JVP prisoner release is disingenuous.

    The JVP was never an international terrorist group as was the LTTE. No Sri Lankan diaspora supported the JVP at the level of sophistication and financial might as the Tamil disapora’s support for the LTTE.

    The JVP also did not get diplomatic support at the highest levels internationally, as the LTTE received from India, Canada and the EU.

    The JVP also did not get overt and covert military support from intelligence agencies of foreign countries, as did the LTTE from India and Israel.

    Furthermore, the LTTE still has an intact international fund-raising capacity and is still active internationally, according to the CIA as of this year!

    We have seen the repercussions of releasing die-hard terrorists from prison – Zarkawi and others who have gone on to organize groups like ISIS, Al-Qaeda etc.

    So one should not be flippant about releasing terror-suspects just to please the US or for political reasons. That’s why Obama has refused to release some of the prisoners at Guantanamo, despite his promises to close that prison. Obama is a cheer leader for human rights, but yet he’s also an analytical and objective person – hence he has in fact increased the ability of the government to conduct surveillance on citizens, and hold terror suspects in prison, even indefinitely.

    Perhaps, our politicians have something to learn from the US after all!

  • 0

    Even the USA said that TNA was the proxy of LTTE.

    Now that LTTE PROXY is asking former suicide bombers and black tigers who were chicken to bite the Cyanide capsule to be categorized as Political prisoners.

    It is Mahinda Rajapakse’s fault that TNA was saved from LTTE suicide bombers.

  • 2

    I just received this forward – no compliment to the Judicial system in Sri Lanka for some decades now :-

    “A cow was running away from the jungle
    An Elephant stopped the Cow and asked him why the panic
    The Cow said ‘Govt. has ordered to catch all Buffaloes in the Jungle’

    The Elephant said ‘but you are not a cow’
    Said the Cow ‘I know I am a Cow but then if they catch me
    then it will take 20 years to prove I am a Cow and not a Buffaloe

    And then the Elephant also started running away with the Cow”


    • 0

      Correction in the 3rd para “But you are not a buffaloe” – instead of Cow.



  • 0

    Unless the Yahapaalanaya regime acts illegally and as insensitively as the highly communally prejudiced Rajapakse government, all these young persons should be released without any further excuse or delay – without legalistic impediments coming their way. The eloquent senior lawyer
    Mr. Sampanthan, MP has made, once more, a brilliant and moving appeal.

    The Government should not leave room for the country and the world to wonder if there is a different law for Sinhalese offenders of the same crime and another for the Tamils. Let us recall when the JVP insurgents were released unconditionally in 1971 and after 1988/89 Tamils applauded this good move – both in Parliament and outside.


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