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Democratic Rights of Prisoners and the National Security - EDITORIAL

10 November 2015 06:30 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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The Tamil prisoners who had been arrested under the infamous Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) have again started a hunger strike demanding their immediate release. They had suspended an earlier fast that was started on October 12 following intervention by President Maithripala Sirisena followed by a promise by the government ministers that action would be taken on the matter before November 7.

On November 6, one day prior to the deadline, a high level meeting chaired by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe decided to release some suspects straight away and a ministerial committee would study the cases of the others and find ways to release them. Accordingly, the Justice Ministry had announced that 32 out of more than 200 suspects would be released on November 9 and another batch of 30 suspects on November 20. 

It was against this backdrop that the LTTE suspects have started a fresh hunger strike. They demand that all LTTE suspects irrespective of their alleged offences be released forthwith. 

Given the incredible long period of time that some of the suspects had spent in prisons even without being charge sheeted their impatience and the agitation cannot be totally ignored. TNA Parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran while speaking in Parliament last week said that some suspects had already spent 20 years in prison for alleged offences for which they would be sentenced, if convicted, only to a few years imprisonment. However, in spite of the presidential intervention for the first time in this issue, authorities seem to be facing legal constraints in releasing all the LTTE suspects as cases have been initiated with regard to some of them. Only a political decision at the highest level would resolve that matter. 

Some Opposition political parties seem to attempt to gain political mileage from the issue by arousing communal feelings among Sinhalese. They allege that the government was going to release hardcore terrorists. Hilariously these are the political parties that supported the former regime of President Mahinda Rajapaksa which released more than 11,000 LTTE cadres, who were fighting with the security forces until the end of the war in May, 2009. They were released after a so-called rehabilitation process which was nothing but incarceration with vocational training. 

This so-called rehabilitation cannot be considered as an assurance for them being severed from their past separatist ideologies. It has to be reminded that the most of the leaders of the second JVP insurrection in 1988/9 were those who had been “rehabilitated” after their first insurrection in 1971. Therefore one cannot find a distinction between these two groups of “former hardcore terrorists” -- those rehabilitated and those still languishing in prisons for years.

However, one cannot deny the fact that there are extremist elements, among Tamils in general and among Tamil politicians in particular, who are still loyal to the LTTE and its separatist ideology. There is a debate going on in Tamil media these days on the mass expulsion of Muslims from the North by the LTTE in 1990 and some prominent Tamil politicians blindly justify that heinous crime while attacking those like Sumanthiran for calling it an ethnic cleansing. Still there are individuals and groups who in the guise of commemorating their loved ones who perished in the war, commemorate the LTTE’s great heroes’ day on November 27 which was in fact a politically set day by the LTTE in memory of Shanker, its first cadre to be killed in action in 1982.  Against this backdrop vigilance on the part of the government is also very vital in respect of releasing the LTTE suspects.

But that should not be an excuse for the government not to release these prisoners, at least on bail for the moment as requested by the TNA. In short, what is needed is to strike a balance between the democratic rights of these prisoners and the security of the country.
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