t is not clear whether the Tamil remand prisoners languishing for years in various prisons in the country started their hunger strike on October 12 spontaneously calling for their immediate release or whether advised by the legal eagles within their community to do so. Whatever it is, it seems to be the opportune time for an agitation of this nature in the wake of the government working hard to get into the good books of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) after the regime change in January while the question of these prisoners are also under the microscope.
There are subtle opposition cries against the release of these prisoners suspected of activities planned by or supportive of the LTTE. Some say these prisoners may be used as witnesses against the armed forces during the domestic judicial mechanism proposed by the US-led resolution at the UNHRC sessions this year amid claims that hardcore terrorists who had committed grave crimes against the people of this country are to be let loose.
However, this is a country where a person like Kumaran Pathmanathan alias KP who supplied weapons to the dreaded LTTE to kill and maim tens of thousands of people, the majority of whom were innocent civilians, has been at large without a case being filed against him at least at a Conciliation Board.
Similarly, Vinayagamurthi Muralitharan alias Karuna Amman who is alleged to have ordered the cold-blooded butchering of more than 600 police personnel who had surrendered to his armed group and thousands of people in the villages adjacent to the North and the East was offered the post of vice president of the ruling party. None of the “patriots” uttered a word against these moves by the previous regime.
Two important questions need to be raised in respect of these remand prisoners who are agitating for their release. One, should the authorities release these suspects forthwith without considering the offences they are alleged to have committed. Two, should they be detained for years without cases being filed against them if there is sufficient evidence against them. The answer to both those questions is an emphatic ‘no.”
The biggest challenge the government is facing at the moment is the addressing of the accountability issues as urged by the UNHRC and the human rights organisations around the world. However, accountability is not something that has to be addressed only by the government. Each of those mentioned has to be held accountable for his or her actions and KP or Karuna Amman or the LTTE suspects agitating for their release cannot be exceptions. But on the other hand, the authorities have no moral right and it is profoundly inhuman to incarcerate a person for an incredibly long time without trial.
One might argue that the Attorney General’s Department has to await the investigation reports of the police and the CID to prosecute these suspects, but on the other hand one should not forget that these suspects were arrested before the end of the war and more than six years ago. The shortest period of incarceration of the LTTE suspects has been six years and if one argues that the authorities need more than six years to investigate and prosecute them, it is nothing but an immoral justification of lethargy.
The seven-point plan suggested in this regard by Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran who is also a former Supreme Court Judge would be an appropriate solution. Though Mr. Wigneswaran was branded as an extremist in recent times he has not suggested an immediate release of these prisoners without considering the offences they had allegedly committed. He has urged the authorities to categorise the prisoners according to their alleged offences and to take legal action immediately while having them released on bail. There cannot be a security threat in releasing them on bail because some 11,000 former combatants including hardcore fighters are already at large without being such a threat, after a so-called rehabilitation process.