Sri Lanka on Tuesday announced that it will soon replace the controversial Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) with a new security law, amid international condemnation over Colombo’s use of the draconian counter-terrorism law to detain student activists.
“PTA has been there since 1979. The justice minister informed the cabinet that a new National Security Act would be drafted by deleting the undesirable parts of the PTA,” Cabinet spokesman and minister Bandula Gunawardena told reporters.
The development comes a day after the US and the European Union on Monday expressed concern over the detention of three student activists under its draconian counter-terrorism law for participating in protests, which led to the resignation of former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
“Using laws that don’t conform with international human rights standards – like the PTA – erodes democracy in Sri Lanka. We encourage the government to uphold the rights of the people to express their views,” US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung tweeted.
The European Union also voiced its concern.
“Concerned about reports on the use of the PTA in recent arrests as we refer to information given by the (Sri Lankan) government to the international community about the de-facto moratorium of the use of PTA,” an EU statement said.
Mary Lawler, US special rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, has also expressed concern over the use of PTA to detain the students.
The three students – Mudalige Wasantha Kumara, Hashan Jeewantha and Buddhist monk Galwewa Siridhamma – of the Inter-University Students Federation (IUSF) have been detained since August 18 when the IUSF staged an anti-government demonstration.
The Sri Lankan police on Sunday began a probe into their possible links to an anti-government conspiracy and inciting violence and arson attacks across the country amid widespread protests over the worst economic crisis.
The Bar Association of Sri Lanka has asked the President and the law enforcement authorities to refrain from using the PTA and immediately rescind the Detention Orders.
The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) in a statement said it is deeply concerned at the use of the provisions of the PTA to arrest and detain persons who have been involved in protests against the Government.
The rights group, Amnesty International, too said protesters must not be detained under the PTA.
On Monday, the police said that three student activists have been detained under PTA. The detainees were transferred to the southern prison at Tangalle on Tuesday.
The police said the IUSF activists are needed to be detained to probe the alleged anti-government conspiracy in the background of recent incidents of violence since 9 May.
After months of protests over Sri Lanka’s unprecedented economic crisis, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled to the Maldives from Sri Lanka on July 13, then flew to Singapore, where he announced his resignation as the president a day later.
The anti-government protesters accused the Rajapaksa family, which has dominated Sri Lanka’s political scene for nearly two decades, of plunging the country into the worst economic crisis since the country’s independence in 1948 through mismanagement and corruption.
Sri Lanka is under pressure from the EU to reform the controversial PTA, which allows detention up to 90 days without being charged with provisions for further extension of the time.
The European Parliament in June 2021 had called for the repeal of the PTA and urged the EU Commission to consider temporarily withdrawing Sri Lanka’s access to GSP+, a favoured trade concession for the island’s exports.
Senior EU officials visited the island nation in October last year and discussed the PTA, recalling that its amendment was a key commitment in readmitting Sri Lanka to the GSP+ in 2017.
GSP+ preferences for Sri Lanka were withdrawn in 2010 due to significant shortcomings in the country’s implementation of three UN human rights conventions. Sri Lanka was readmitted to GSP+ in May 2017.
The EU’s GSP+ trade concession allows Sri Lankan exports to Europe without taxation. This has been a big boost to Sri Lanka’s apparel and fishing industries.
The EU remains Sri Lanka’s biggest exports partner followed by the US and India. Over 80 per cent of Sri Lanka’s exports to the EU are eligible for GSP+ concessions.