The arrest of Azath Salley has made its way into newspaper headlines and has become a bone of contention in public and political debate. He was arrested by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) on May 2 under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), a law passed after the repealling of Emergency Laws.
According to the authorities, the main charge behind Salley’s arrest under the PTA was certain remarks Salley had reportedly made to a magazine in Tamil Nadu which could have caused ethnic and religious disharmony and portrayed a false picture about the Lankan Muslim community.
Being a multi racial and religious country, whoever making derogatory remarks about religion and race, causing ethnic and religious unrest should be restrained, regardless of their positions. If Salley hadvoiced remarks that could have instigated racial and religious hatred, he should be dealt with by the authorities.
But the question remains as to whether Salley is a terrorist. Why was he arrested under PTA whereas he could have been arrested under the common law applying to all Sri Lankans. Besides, it is palpable that it was not only Salley who had been making statements, rousing ethnics and religious unrest in recent times. A single one of them have not been arrested under PTA or the common law. More or less the same argument was voiced by the Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe in Parliament on Tuesday.
Meanwhile a reasonable doubt arises as Salley’s arrest had anything to do with his fallout with the ruling Rajapaksa government. During the Colombo Municipal Council elections, Salley was a staunch supporter of President Mahinda Rajapksa. But after the elections, his relationship with the President and his government started to show cracks.
Given Salley’s track record in politics and his family background, he is far from being a religious fanatic or a fundamentalist, who would advocate one section of society to take up arms against another. But then again, it can be argued that the arrest of Salley shouldn’t have been conducted under PTA unless the authorities had some sound evidence against him.
However, the government has to be careful in not to make a hero or a martyr out of Salley that could create the very racial and religious unrest the authorities are allegedly trying to avert through the arrest of Salley. It is not yet clear what would be Sally’s predicament as his health situation is reportedly deteriorating.
And also the government should be careful not to provide ammunition to the international community and rights group who are currently making an odious attempt to portrait Sri Lanka a godforsaken land where rule of law, due process and civil and political rights have no breathing space.