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Arqam Muneer started this petition to Parliament Members of Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka and


The government’s decision to place the draconian Counter Terrorism Act (CTA) draft legislation on the Order Paper of Parliament at the beginning of this year, ostensibly intended to repeal and replace the existing equally draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), is a serious threat to democracy in Sri Lanka. This Bill both retains and enhances provisions that will shrink spaces for active civilian participation in democracy, subject communities to intensive state surveillance, and militarise the State, thus continuing the damage done by the PTA, used by successive governments to arbitrarily detain citizens, torture detainees and disappear thousands of people.

Alarmingly, the CTA is a bill designed to covertly establish a permanent State of Emergency and to take away Parliamentary and Judicial oversight on Executive powers to declare Emergency for limited periods. Exercising civil liberties such as the right to protest against unjust actions by government or violations of human rights by the state, to engage in critical journalism, trade union action, and even
mere criticism of government could be potential acts of ‘terror’ under the newly proposed law.

If our history with the PTA has taught us anything, then it is that counter-terror legislation has a devastating impact on families and communities across Sri Lanka. Historically, communities who are economically, socially and politically marginalised, including minority communities have been disproportionately targeted under the PTA. Hence our legislature has a duty to listen to the concerns and fears arising out of the experiences of these communities before enacting any terror legislation.
Terror laws should also take into account the history of unethical conduct by law enforcement officers, and those within prosecution and justice system.

Excessive power to police and armed forces:

Under the proposed law, any police officer, army officer or coastal guard can arrest a person without a warrant on mere suspicion. For the first time in Sri Lanka Police powers are permanently militarised. Further, arrested persons can be kept in detention anywhere up to 24 hours. An arrested person does not have to be produced before a Magistrate up to 48 hours. The proposed bill does not make it compulsory for an arrested person to know the reasons for their arrest in the language they understand, for a female to be arrested by a female officer, nor impose a mandatory period within which family members of the arrested person have to be informed. In other words this Act empowers more than 300,000 armed forces and law enforcement officers in this country to detain persons and keep them in ‘secret custody’ for up to 24 hours.

Making a mockery of Judicial Oversight:

The Magistrate’s powers have been reduced to nothing more than a rubber-stamping role for arrests made by these officers. A Magistrate is not given the discretion to immediately release a person arrested, even if s/he finds that there is no credible grounds for the arrest, nor does s/he have the discretion to release a person from police custody even if s/he finds the detainee was tortured while in
custody. The Magistrate is even stripped of his/her powers to grant bail at her/his discretion on these arrests made without warrants up to fourteen days. Though there are provisions for this to be challenged in Appeal Courts, many socially and economically marginalized communities are unable to access legal aid and to access the justice system; thus, the most marginalised amongst us will inevitably
become the first persons to be unfairly persecuted under this Act.

Police Officers can request the Magistrate to enable law enforcement to access private information of any person without notice. Secret reports can be filed during a trial to which the lawyers representing the suspect will have no access. The police can issue directives to the general public to prevent their access to places and restrict movement. No justification is required, for the issuance of such directives.
Further, under the CTA a Minister can restrict public access to any place and can proscribe any organisation as a terrorist organisation at will.

Use Existing Laws:

The undersigned signatories recognise the legitimate exercise of power by a State to protect its citizens from acts of violence causing large loss to life and property by organised groups. In this regard we draw attention to the fact that currently existing laws in the country including Penal Code provisions, 14 Laws dealing with Acts of Terror, and the Public Security Ordinance which gives the President unfettered
powers to declare emergency and make Emergency Regulations. These are more than adequate to address violence against the State.

Something with such far-reaching and long-term implications for citizens and for our democracy deserves, at the minimum, a robust public discussion. Citizens, particularly historically marginalized communities who are going to be disproportionately affected, should have the opportunity to understand the scope and implications of this Act, and reach out to their representatives. We fear that
many legislators themselves are not yet aware of the potential implications of this Act on their constituents.

It is in this context that we the undersigned call upon our elected representatives in Parliament to uphold democracy, by voting against the draconian Bill.

We call upon our representatives in Parliament to urgently pressure the Government to bring a Bill which would unconditionally repeal the PTA.

If the Government fails to adhere to the Parliament’s demand, then we demand that our Representatives bring a Private Member’s Bill calling for the repeal of the PTA.

We wish to remind our Representatives that laws which claim to counter terror, have in reality been used to terrorise the marginalised and vulnerable across the world.

Today, as a country we sit in a historical juncture, where we have the power to free our nation from the iron shackles of terror legislation.

We demand that our political Representatives gather the political will to do so and vote for what is right by our people and say no to both the PTA and CTA.

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