Over 18,000 arrested under ER, PTA in 2000

Place: Sri Lanka | Courtesy: TamilNet
| Date: 20010214

More than 18000 persons, mostly Tamils, were arrested under the draconian Emergency Regulations (ER) and the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) last year said a senior human rights worker in Colombo Wednesday. "The press in Colombo reported 13514 arrests under the ER and PTA from January to November 2000. More than forty percent of the arrests under the ER and PTA are not reported by the press here.

So the real figure would be not anything less than eighteen thousand," Mr. N. Kandasamy, co-ordinator for the Centre for Human Rights and Development in Colombo said. At least 2500 Tamils are being held in various detention centres now, according to him. "They are all political prisoners" Mr. Kandasamy said. "Our delegates visited 3329 prisoners held under the ER and the PTA last year", Mr. Harasha Gunawardena, media officer of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Colombo told TamilNet.

"The figures published in the press are less than the actual number of persons arrested because of communications problems between the Colombo and the north and east. There was no communication with Jaffna at all for almost four months last year. Only limited phone connections were made available to the army and the government agent. Hence none of the arrests in Jaffna during this period were reported by the press in Colombo," said Mr. B.Sivakumar, editor of Sarinihar, a Tamil weekly published from Colombo.

"Not all those arrested under the ER and PTA are issued with receipt of the arrest and all arrests should be reported to the Human Rights Commission according to the law. But this is not the case" says Mr.N.Kandasamy, Co-ordinator for the Centre for Human Rights, Colombo.Photo:TamilNet

Audio Mr Gunawardena said that ICRC delegates visited 2066 prisoners for the first time last year, meaning that these were persons arrested and detained last year. "The ICRC is not always given free access to all detainees held in all the detention centres" a human rights worker pointed out, discussing the actual number of Tamil political prisoners currently held under the PTA and ER.

The ICRC was allowed protection visits to detention centres and prisons under a Memorandum of Understanding signed with the Sri Lankan government in 1989. Colombo tarried long before letting the ICRC work in Sri Lanka.

"Not all those arrested under the ER and PTA are issued with receipt of the arrest and all arrests should be reported to the Human Rights Commission according to the law. But this is not the case" points out Mr. Kandasamy.

Human rights activists have charged that detainees were and are still concealed by the detaining authorities when ICRC delegates are on protection visits to known detention centres. They say that there are many unauthorised detention centres in many parts of the island but mainly in the north and east and in the central province. It is required under the law to publish in the government gazette all authorised places of detention. But not all places are gazetted and authorised under the law, human rights workers say.

"One particular factor facilitating torture is the continuing use of unauthorised places of detention, especially in the Jaffna peninsula and Vavuniya. This is despite the requirement under ER 19 (8) that detainees can only be held in officially gazetted places of detention. Keeping a detainee in a place not authorised as a place of detention was first made a specific offence under ERs of June 1993. To date, to the best of Amnesty International's knowledge, no member of the security forces has been charged under these provisions," says the Amnesty International in a report on torture in custody in Sri Lanka published in June 1999 (AI Index: ASA 37/10/99).

"Another problem that the kith and kin of Tamil political prisoners face is their incarceration in places which they find very difficult to travel to because of travel restrictions imposed by the army and due to financial constraints. Also Tamils from the remoter parts of the north and east are scared and find it very difficult to visit places of detention located in the Sinhala heartland" a Tamil United Liberation Front MP in Colombo said.

"The main injustice in detaining Tamil political prisoners in such places as Galle, Kandy, Kalutara and Anuradhapura is that these cannot have easy access to legal redress in these places" Mr. Kandasamy says.

In a fundamental rights petition filed in the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka on 26 April 1999 on behalf of Ganeshanathan Ushananthan of Sangarapillai Road, Anaikottai in Jaffna who said he was tortured in detention, it is stated, "The delay in filing this application is due to the fact that the petitioner has been in continued detention from the date of his arrest. His family members are in Jaffna and are unable to travel to Galle due travel restrictions imposed by the Ministry of Defence and the costs involved. And it was only after his transfer to the Galle prisons that he was able to write a letter with the permission of the prison authorities to an attorney at law to obtain his services on his behalf. Further he was moved from prison to prison which prevented him to contact (sic) an attorney at law".

The Supreme Court ordered the state to pay Ushananthan 50000 rupees (approx. 570 US dollars) for wrongful detention and torture last week, Friday 10.

The Ushananthan, 23, a Textile Teacher Trainee studying in Nallur was arrested at his residence in Anaikottai by the Sri Lanka army on 7 November 1999. He was detained and severely tortured at the Urelu army camp. He was then held at the Kankesanthurai Police station (located inside the sprawling Sri Lankan security forces' base in the north western part of the Jaffna peninsula) for 44 days. Here too he was assaulted and tortured. He was then remanded in Anuradhapura (195 kilomters from Jaffna) and later transferred to the remand prisons in Kalutara (43 kilometers south of Colombo). Subsequently he was sent to the remand prison in Galle (116 kilometers south of Colombo) on 15 January last year.

Anuradhapura, Kalutara and Galle are Sinhala towns which Tamils rarely visit due to security concerns.

"Ushananthan's case illustrates the plight of thousands of other Tamils who are arrested and detained under the PTA and ER. Many others have suffered worse," Mr. Kandasamy said.