The Tamil Lawyers Forum has today urged President Maithripala Sirisena to give effect to his promise to release all political prisoners forthwith and to act directly without intermediaries in the matter to salvage the goodwill and hope entertained by people who helped elect the President and the new government that promised to usher in a new era and reconciliation.
We publish below the statement in full;
STATEMENT BY THE TAMIL LAWYERS FORUM ON TAMIL POLITICAL PRISONERS
Following the failure of President Maithripala Sirisena to resolve the issue of the Tamil political prisoners before the 7th of November 2015 as promised, the inmates have resumed their fast unto death.
Even the promise that 32 inmates will be released on Monday the 9th November was not honoured. This does not come as a surprise to many. The familiar pattern of unwillingness, intransigence, vacillation and reneging on promises by the Sri Lankan state and politicians vis a vis ethnicity related issues is only too well known.
What the Tamil political detainees demand is that they be treated in the same manner by which the Southern Sinhala rebels were treated in 1971 and 1989. Southern youth were sent in for rehabilitation and were swiftly released by courts within short time from their incarceration. The offence was the same — rebellion and conspiracy to commit offences against the State. Tamil political detainees were however, treated differently due to the entrenched and systemic discriminatory policy practiced by the Sri Lankan state towards its Tamils citizens. When Tamil political prisoners demand that they be released, they are not begging for pardon per se based on sympathy but as of right in that they are entitled to equal treatment which is a constitutionally guaranteed fundamental right. They were not tried under normal laws of the land but were arrested and tried under special laws which took away their right to fair trial and other legal safeguards that normal laws offer. The so called confessions( not admissible under ordinary law),no doubt obtained by police brutality, torture and duress were the basis of 90% of the cases filed by the Attorney General (AG) against the Tamil political prisoners. Time served awaiting trial and verdict itself amounted to punishment without trial, as happened in a recent case in which the trial took 16 years to conclude with over 400 visits to court on hearing dates, ending up being sentenced by the High Court of Colombo to 30 years hard labour in prison.
They demand a uniform decision that all political prisoners be unconditionally released, not merely to be enlarged on bail or divided into segments. Tamil Lawyers Forum (TLF) solidly endorses the demand of the political detainees and calls upon the President and the Government to honor their earlier promise to resolve this long drawn out issue by releasing all political prisoners unconditionally.
The TLF urges the President and the government to seriously consider the release of all political prisoners under whatever category they may be classified.
1. Prisoners arrested under PTA / Emergency laws but not yet charged or indicted in the High Court could be discharged by sanction of the AG at any time.
2. Prisoners already indicted in High Court and facing trial could be discharged by direction of the AG to withdraw prosecution acting under Chapter XVIII of the Code of Criminal Procedure Act No. 15 of 1979.
3. The President may exercise his powers under Article 34 and grant Presidential pardon to those who had been convicted by the Courts of Law.
It is no complex problem as the President and the Government have only to make a policy decision and communicate with the AG for legal procedures to unfold, resulting in the resolution of this festering problem. What is needed is only the political will devoid of chauvinist blinkers. The AG on previous occasions had exercised his authority to withdraw prosecution and enter nolle prosequi in favour of high profile persons alleged with heinous crimes of rape and murder . This is an opportunity for the AG to prove that he is even- handed in taking such decisions to benefit the “commoners” and people without influence.
Tamil Lawyers Forum further requests the President to give effect to his promise to release all political prisoners forthwith and to act directly without intermediaries in the matter to salvage the goodwill and hope entertained by people who helped elect the President and the new government that promised to usher in a new era and reconciliation.
Convenors , Tamil Lawyers Forum:
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