Terrorists will be treated with utmost leniency
Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa alleged that the proposed Counter Terrorism Law mainly penalises ordinary citizens by having provisions that can be used to stifle political dissent and freedom of expression while treating terrorists with utmost leniency to the extent where its actual effect will be that of protecting and giving encouragement to terrorists – not countering terrorism.
Issuing a statement, Mr. Rajapaksa said the Penal Code prescribes the death penalty for killing someone, but under the proposed Counter Terrorism Law a terrorist convicted of killing hundreds or even thousands of people will only be liable to serve a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
“Furthermore while the Penal Code prescribes the death penalty for aiding and abetting a murder, the penalty for aiding and abetting a mass murder in the proposed law is just fifteen years imprisonment and a fine of up to Rs.one million. How is terrorism to be deterred by giving convicted terrorists lesser punishments than what the ordinary law of the land prescribes for the same offences?” he asked.
He said, “One of the pledges given by the present government to their foreign masters through UN Human Rights Council Resolution No: 30/1 of October 2015 was to repeal and replace the Prevention of Terrorism Act of 1979. The draft Counter Terrorism Law that has been presented to Parliament for this purpose has encountered opposition from political and media activists on the grounds that the way it defines the term ‘terrorism’ leaves room for legitimate political and trade union action as well as the dissemination of information and protection of sources by the media could be labelled as terrorist activity. In the aftermath of the Easter Sunday bombings, the government has been trying to sell their Counter Terrorism Bill to the public with the claim that it has provisions to prohibit Sri Lankan nationals from having links with foreign terrorist organisations.
The proposed Counter Terrorism Law also requires the police and the armed forces to treat terrorist suspects with the utmost solicitude. If a terrorist suspect is arrested by the armed forces, he has to be handed over to the OIC of the nearest police station within 24 hours. The latter has to examine him for injuries and present him before a JMO for treatment or a report. The Human Rights Commission (HRC) has to be informed within 24 hours of the arrest so that they can determine whether the arrest has infringed on the fundamental rights of the suspect. When a terrorist suspect is arrested, the arresting officer has to reveal his identity to the suspect and the next of kin of the suspect or associates despite a history in this country of terrorists having massacred entire families of armed forces personnel. The next of kin of terrorist suspects have to be provided ‘reasonable’ access to the suspect in a situation where today the next of kin may well be the next suicide bomber coming to receive instructions. From the time of the arrest the welfare of the terrorist suspect takes precedence over everything else.
All arrested suspects have to be produced before a Magistrate within 48 hours and the Magistrate is required by law to personally look into the well-being and welfare of the suspect. A suspect can be kept in detention only for two weeks and if this period can be extended only with the approval of a Magistrate. The total period of detention of a suspect cannot exceed eight weeks. Under the PTA in contrast, a suspect can be kept in detention for three months and this can be extended up to a total of eighteen months. A suspect arrested under the proposed Counter Terrorism Law can be held in remand without instituting criminal proceedings for six months and this period may be extended for another six months on an order of the High Court. If criminal proceedings are not instituted within this extended period, the suspect will have to be granted bail. Under the PTA however, a suspect can be kept in remand until the conclusion of the trial. The proposed Counter Terrorism Law requires the Human Rights Commission and Magistrates to make unannounced visits to all places of detention and remand to look into the welfare of terrorist suspects and they have to ensure that the suspects are provided all the basic facilities. If the trial against a person remanded under this law has not been concluded within one year, the High Court is required by law to release the accused on bail,” he said.