Government must be even-handed in the enforcement of the criminal justice system

National Press Council | Published on May 7, 2013 at 7:57 pm

The arrest of former Deputy Mayor of Colombo and leader of the newly formed Muslim Tamil National Alliance Azath Salley under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) highlights the vulnerability of those who stand in opposition to the government on the question of the civil and political rights of the country’s ethnic and religious minorities. Mr Salley was arrested on charges that he had fomented communal hatred in his speech and subjected to a three month detention order. This action is in contrast to the hate speech followed by violence resorted to by the Bodhu Bala Sena which was permitted with impunity. The State is expected to uphold the Rule of law which requires the law to be enforced without regard to race, ethnicity of religion of the offenders. The law regarding human rights internationally also requires that there should be no discrimination on grounds of race, ethnicity or religion.

The Minister of Justice and leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, Rauff Hakeem, has been reported as saying that the government should have acted with more restraint and that Mr Salley’s arrest was an extreme unwarranted step. He had added that he did not endorse Mr Salley’s views but that the law should apply equally to all. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) in the United States makes it illegal to retaliate against a person because the person complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit. There is no place for discrimination in the criminal justice system between those who are politically with the government and those who are not. Discrimination by law enforcement officers involving minorities infringe on constitutionally protected Fundamental Rights.

The National Peace Council appeals to the government to release Mr Salley forthwith and not create an impression that instigators of communal hatred are spared if they politically support the government, but those who challenge them are arrested if they are from the political opposition. Democracy means not only government by the majority but a government which respects the human rights and fundamental rights of all the people and not only of the majority.

We also call on the Executive, Legislative and Judicial arms of the government to recognize the negative effects of PTA and take steps for the repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act. This draconian piece of legislation was formulated in 1979 as a temporary measure on the basis that the normal law of the land was inadequate to ensure national security in times of threats to the state. If Sri Lanka was governed properly after Independence, solved problems humanely and firmly, the necessity for PTA would not have arisen. The imposition of severe restrictions on freedoms and liberties available to the citizens under normal law, including constitutional guarantees, has often led to excesses and arbitrary exercises of powers leading to a climate of impunity as the arrest of Mr Salley points to. The application of PTA during the period of war has no place in a post-war society that is aiming for justice, peace and reconciliation.

Governing Council

The National Peace Council is an independent and non partisan organization that works towards a negotiated political solution to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. It has a vision of a peaceful and prosperous Sri Lanka in which the freedom, human rights and democratic rights of all the communities are respected. The policy of the National Peace Council is determined by its Governing Council of 20 members who are drawn from diverse walks of life and belong to all the main ethnic and religious communities in the country.

 


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Government must be even-handed in the enforcement of the criminal justice system

The arrest of former Deputy Mayor of Colombo and leader of the newly formed Muslim Tamil National Alliance Azath Salley under the Prevention of Terrorism ...