Tamil political prisoners resumed their fast today in protest over the failure by the Government to keep its promise and release all of them.
At least 29 Tamil detainees at the Anuradhapura prison were among those who resumed the fast today.
The Government was to release 30 Tamil detainees today and another 32 by next week but the detainees wanted all those arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) to be set free.
Nearly 200 Tamil detainees had launched a hunger strike recently demanding their release and the fast was suspended following an assurance given by the Government that they will be freed.
However subsequently the Government said that only a few will be released while the rest will have their cases expedited.
Political Prisoner Issue Threatens To Get Ugly
by Easwaran Rutnam, The Sunday Leader, Colombo, November 8, 2015
Opposition leader and Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Parliamentarian R. Sampanthan said last week that some Political prisoners will be released in stages beginning tomorrow but not all are happy.
The Tamil political prisoners says they were given an assurance a majority of them, who have not been charged for serious crimes, will be set free and not just a few of them.
On Friday the Tamil political prisoners said that they will resume a fast unto death in protest over the failure by the Government and the TNA to keep its word.
The prisoners had recently launched a fast demanding either to be released or cases against them to be expedited.
President Maithripala Sirisena then gave them an assurance through the TNA and Justice Minister Wijeydasa Rajapaksha that they will be freed by November 7 (yesterday).
A group of Tamil detainees were then presented to Court last week and most of them were re-remanded after they refused to accept an offer to undergo rehabilitation.
The detainees, who call themselves political prisoners but are not recognized as such by the Government, said that the court, Government and Tamil National Alliance will be held responsible for their lives if they are not freed unconditionally.
Tamil National Alliance parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran told Parliament last week that there are over 200 political prisoners in the country.
He said that while the Government does not recognize these people as political prisoners, most of them are political prisoners.
Sumanthiran also recalled that President Maithripala Sirisena had given the prisoners an assurance that they will be released by November 7.
However the MP said there was no progress to be seen and the Government must act fast.
Those who rejected the offer to undergo rehabilitation said that President Maithripala Sirisena, the Prisons Commissioner and parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran will need to take responsibility if any harm comes to their lives.
Sampanthan then had a meeting last Thursday with the Government and he said that 32 of the prisoners will be released tomorrow and another 30 on November 20.
But, the Tamil political prisoners feel they have been deceived by the Government and are threatening to resume their agitation.
The Tamil political prisoners have been in jail for several years and most of them have not been charged or have been accused of minor offences under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).
The new Government had said that it will replace the PTA with another law but added that replacing the PTA will not automatically mean that all those arrested under the PTA will be set free.
Tom Malinowski, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, during his recent visit to Sri Lanka, had said that the US recognizes the efforts being taken by the Sri Lankan Government to address the human rights issue and will not set a deadline to see results.
However, he said that at the same time there are some immediate issues which the Government can address including releasing political prisoners.
He also said that in the past, the failure to meet commitments on the human rights issue had undermined confidence in a domestic process.
If this Government does the same then the end result will be no different from the past. Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) Secretary General V. Anandasangaree said that there must be a fixed term of imprisonment as punishment for any offence and that can’t be more then 20 years for any offence in the penal code (Exclusive of fines) and if they had been detained for 20 years obviously they are “over punished”.
He urged the President to select a modern building in one of the prisons with all facilities and have all those prisoners transferred to that building under one set of officers, provide them all facilities that they are entitled to, to make them more comfortable, select a few retired judges both male and female and form a few panels to inquire each case and to release them accordingly, ensure that the panels are empowered to deal with them and recommend their release an also ensure that the complicated cases if any can be dealt with by senior lawyers or judges and recommend for release without any punishment since they had already served 20 years in jail .