Sri Lankan Tamils to protest over political prisoners

By: | Published: October 14, 2017 2:39 PM

Sri Lanka's minority Tamil nationalist groups said today that they will raise black flags demanding the release of over 160 political prisoners during President Maithripala Sirisena's visit to the northern city of Jaffna.

Sirisena will attend the Tamil National Day celebrations in Jaffna today at the invitation of the moderate Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leader R Sampanthan, who is also the official leader of the Opposition. (Reuters)

Sri Lanka’s minority Tamil nationalist groups said today that they will raise black flags demanding the release of over 160 political prisoners during President Maithripala Sirisena’s visit to the northern city of Jaffna. Sirisena will attend the Tamil National Day celebrations in Jaffna today at the invitation of the moderate Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leader R Sampanthan, who is also the official leader of the Opposition. “There are over 160 Tamil political prisoners. We have been urging for their release over the last eight years,” said M K Shivajilingam, a Tamil hard-line politician.

“These prisoners are being held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). Their cases are also to be transferred to Anuradhapura (capital city of North Central Province) from Vavuniya (Northern Province). We want that stopped,” Shivajilingam said. The protest warning has come after a shutdown was observed in the region over the same issue on Thursday. Sampanthan also wrote to Sirisena on Thursday urging for their release. However, Minister of Defence Ruwan Wijewardene has contended that the prisoners under the question are not political prisoners.

“They are those who have been charged for serious crimes during the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) time. Their cases have to be dealt with by the court,” Wijewardene said. He, however, agreed that their cases needed to be heard and settled without delays. Both Tamil and international rights groups have been demanding for the repeal of the PTA, which gives enormous power to security forces to detain people indefinitely. The government says they are in the process of reforming counter-terrorism laws with a modern terrorism act, which will maintain international standards.

Sri Lanka faced UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) resolutions for alleged human rights abuses during the last phase of the brutal three-decade-long civil war against the LTTE that ended in 2009.
Sri Lanka’s human rights record, particularly over the impunity enjoyed by law enforcement officers, has been the subject of international condemnation. The UNHRC has demanded accountability mechanisms to probe rights abuses blamed on both the LTTE and the government.

Sri Lanka is averse to setting up of an international hybrid court with local and foreign judges to investigate the alleged war crimes committed by the government troops and the LTTE in the last phase of the conflict. According to the government figures, around 20,000 people are missing due to various conflicts including the civil war with Lankan Tamils in the north and east which claimed at least 100,000 lives.

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