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02/19/2022 Sri Lanka (International Christian Concern) – While preventing terrorism is a noble goal that any sensible person would support, many rights activists are of the opinion that the Sri Lankan government has used their Prevention of Terrorism Act to justify the arrests and harassment of those critical of the government, violating their human rights. The Sri Lankan Church has recently added its voice to the cries for repeal, as religious minorities such as Christians are targeted and harassed under the authority of the PTA.

The act was meant to be a temporary measure when it was enacted in 1979. It essentially allows for arrests without a warrant for unspecified, unlawful activities and permits detention for up to 18 months without a court appearance. Despite the 18-month restriction, there are instances of activists being detained for over 12 years. According to the Catholic priest who signed the petition, many minority rights activists were arrested under the PTA. Last Thursday, Amnesty International spoke about the PTA, saying, “Forty-three years since it was first passed as a temporary measure, the draconian law continues to be used by the government of Sri Lanka to target and harass minorities, activists, journalists, and critical voices.”

Civil society organizations said in a statement on Feb. 7 that “The proposed amendments to the PTA fail to address any of the shortcomings that enable grave human rights violations. We call upon the government to release all persons on bail, except those that would not qualify under the Bail Act and halt prosecutions where the confession is the primary or only evidence. The proposed amendments do not adhere to human rights standards enshrined in international conventions, such as the international covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the government of Sri Lanka has ratified and hence has an obligation to respect and protect.” 

The Prevention of Terrorism Act may have been introduced to give the government enough control to quell terrorism at the time, but it has since been used as a weapon to detain human rights activists and religious minorities. The Sri Lankan Church will continue to fight with its activist allies to abolish the unjust law.

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