Sri Lanka

‘De-radicalization’ regulations should be immediately withdrawn by Sri Lanka- ICJ

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) today condemned Sri Lanka’s new ‘de-radicalization’ regulations, which allow for the arbitrary administrative detention of people for up to two years without trial. The regulations could disproportionately target minority religious and ethnic communities.

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa promulgated Prevention of Terrorism (De-radicalization from holding violent extremist religious ideology) Regulations No. 01 of 2021, which was publicized by way of gazette notification on 13 March, 2021. The “regulations”, which were dictated by the executive without the engagement of Parliament, would send individuals suspected of using words or signs to cause acts of “religious, racial or communal violence, disharmony or feelings of ill will” between communities to be “rehabilitated” at “reintegration centres” for up to two years without trial.

“These regulations, which have been dictated by executive fiat, allow for effective imprisonment of people without trial and so are in blatant violation of Sri Lanka’s international legal obligations and Sri Lanka’s own constitutional guarantees under Article 13 of the Sri Lankan Constitution.”

– Ian Seiderman, ICJ’s Legal and Policy Director

Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Sri Lanka is a party, provides for a number of procedural guarantees for any person deprived of their liberty, many of which are absent in the Regulation. Administrative detention of the kind contemplated under the Regulations, is not permitted, as affirmed repeatedly by the UN Human Rights Committee.

Even prior to the promulgation of the new regulations under Sri Lanka’s Prevention of Terrorism Act No. 48 of 1979 (PTA), Sri Lankan authorities had already been invoking the PTA and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Act, No. 56 of 2007 (enacted to incorporate certain provisions of the ICCPR into domestic law) effectively to persecute people from minority communities. Yet little or no action has been taken by the authorities against those inciting hatred or violence against minorities.

“The new regulations are likely to be used as a bargaining tool where the option is given to a detainee to choose between a year or two spent in “rehabilitation” or detention and trial for an indeterminate period of time, instead of a fair trial on legitimate charges.”

– Ian Seiderman, ICJ’s Legal and Policy Director.

Section 3(1) of the ICCPR Act which prohibits advocacy of hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, violence or hostility has hitherto been misused to target members of minority communities. In April 2020, Ramzy Razeek, a retired government employee, was arrested for a Facebook post calling for an ideological ‘jihad’ against the policy of mandatory cremation of people who had died as a result of Covid-19. He was detained under the ICCPR Act for more than five months and finally released on bail due to medical reasons in September 2020.

In May 2020, Ahnaf Jazeem, a young Muslim poet, was arrested under the PTA in connection with a collection of poems he had published in the Tamil language, which were apparently misinterpreted by Sinhalese authorities to be read as containing extreme messages. Just last week, a few days after the promulgation of the new regulations, Ahnaf’s lawyers expressed alarm that both Ahnaf and his father were being pressured to make admissions that he had engaged in teaching ‘extremism’. The ICJ had previously raised concerns about the arbitrary arrest and prolonged detention of Human Rights lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah. After being detained under the PTA for 10 months without being given reason for his arrest, he is now being tried for speech-related offences under the PTA and ICCPR Act.

The ICJ has consistently called for the repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which has been used to arbitrarily detain suspects for months and often years without charge or trial, facilitating torture and other abuse. The ICJ reiterates its call for the repeal and replacement of this vague and overbroad anti-terror law and regulations brought under it, in line with Sri Lanka’s international obligations.

The new PTA regulations require those who surrender or are arrested on suspicion of using words or signs to cause acts of violence, disharmony or ill will between communities to be handed over to the nearest Police Station within 24 hours after which a report is to be submitted by the Police to the Defence Minister (the position is currently held by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa) to consider whether the suspect should be detained further. The regulations would also apply to those who had surrendered or been taken into custody under the PTA, the Prevention of Terrorism (Proscription of Extremist Organizations) Regulations No. 1 of 2019 and the Emergency (Miscellaneous Provisions and Powers) Regulation, No. 1 of 2019.

The Attorney General is given the power to decide if a suspect should be tried for a specific offence or be send to a rehabilitation centre as an alternative. If the decision is to rehabilitate, the suspect would be produced before a Magistrate with the written consent of the Attorney General. The Magistrate may thereafter order that the suspect be referred to a rehabilitation centre for a period not exceeding one year. Such period can be extended by a period of six months at a time up to one more year by the Minister upon the recommendation of the Commissioner-General for Rehabilitation. The regulations further state that the Commissioner–General should provide the detainee with psycho-social assistance and vocational and other training during the rehabilitation period to ensure reintegration into society. The regulations also provide that such detainee may with the permission of the officer in charge of the Centre be entitled to meet their parents, relations or guardian once every two weeks.

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