Repressive Laws Remain Despite End to State of Emergency in Sri Lanka, Says Amnesty International

Press Release
August 26, 2011

Repressive Laws Remain Despite End to State of Emergency in Sri Lanka, Says Amnesty International

Contact: AIUSA media relations, 202-509-8194

(Washington, D.C.) -- The Sri Lankan government must follow up its repeal of the state of emergency by removing repressive legislation such as the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), Amnesty International said today.

Earlier this week, Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa promised to remove the state of emergency that has been in place in the country for nearly three decades.

"Sri Lankan civil society and Amnesty International have long called for the lifting of emergency laws, so we welcome the government's commitment to repeal them," said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific director. "There are hundreds of people who remain in detention under these regulations who should be released immediately, or charged with a recognizable crime in a proper court of law."

The Sri Lankan government still uses repressive measures such as the PTA, which allows authorities to hold detainees arbitrarily and for long periods without trial, including in places that are not officially acknowledged as detention facilities.

Police and security forces in Sri Lanka routinely ignore international regulations and procedures intended to protect the rights of individuals who have been arrested.
These include informing people of the reasons for their arrest, providing the opportunity to communicate with family members or friends and ensuring a judicial hearing within 24 hours after arrest.

"Due process and accountability have eroded after three decades of reliance on sweeping security legislation under the state of emergency," said Zarifi. "The current administration has further degraded judicial independence by concentrating power in the president's hands. Lifting the state of emergency is an important step, but the proof is in the treatment of detainees and government critics."

"The lifting of emergency regulations indicates the Sri Lankan government is feeling international pressure," added Zarifi. "With the U.N. Human Rights Council due to meet soon, it's time to demand the government undertake real reforms, including repeal of the PTA and providing accountability for the thousands of people who suffered during the country's civil war."

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.

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