11/05/2015, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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Tamil political prisoners to resume hunger strike if authorities do not release them immediately

by Melani Manel Perera
A court ruled that Tamil prisoners ​​have to stay in prison until at least 18 November and that they have to undergo rehabilitation. For Anglican priest, the authorities want to rehabilitate them in prison even though they refuse to recognise them as political prisoners. In “this case it serves no purpose to keep them locked up”. The prisoners began their hunger strike in October, and stopped when President Sirisena said he would release them by 7 November. However, “so far, he has done nothing”.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – Scores of Tamil political prisoners are threatening to resume their hunger strike next Saturday if the government of Sri Lanka does not order their immediate release.

"When the Tamils ​​started their first hunger strike on 12 October, President Sirisena promised to free them by 7 November,” Fr Marimuttu Sathiveil told AsiaNews. However, “so far (as of yesterday), he has done nothing. Inmates will wait until midnight, and then go ahead with their protest."

Some 268 Tamil prisoners have been languishing in the country’s jails for years. For the Anglican clergyman and social activist, the conditions in which Tamil prisoners ​​are forced to live are becoming increasingly precarious.

Fifty-one are waiting to be put on trial on terrorism charges in connection with the country’s 36-year civil war that pitted the Sri Lankan military against Tamil Tiger rebels. The prisoners have always claimed their innocence, and consider themselves as "political prisoners".

When Sri Lank held is presidential election back in January, the Tamil population overwhelmingly voted for Maithripala Sirisena because he seemed more open to address with their ordeal.

After he was elected, the new president allowed the losers in the civil war to mourn openly their war dead for the first time.

President Sirisena has also tried to address the issue of private land seized by the military, following a United Nations report that blamed former President Rajapaska for much of the violence at the end of the civil war.

Yet, jailed Tamils complain that Sri Lankan authorities are still ignoring their plight. Although they are being held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), many of them are accused only of minor crimes.

Complicating matters, a court yesterday ruled that the prisoners in question must remain locked up until at least 18 November. At the same time, the Attorney General said it wants to rehabilitate them, behind bars.

"We were surprised when we heard that the Sri Lankan government wanted to rehabilitate these people since it does not recognise them as political prisoners,” said Fr Sathiveil, a member of the National Movement to Free Political Prisoners.

“Prison might be the best place for an inmate’s rehabilitation, but only if the prison system works,” he said. “However, in this case, it serves no purpose to continue to keep them locked up after so many years. Many of them have already been condemned to have no future."

According to the activist, the only solution is a process of reconciliation and the prisoners’ immediate release.

Short of this, Tamil prisoners will resume their hunger strike and their families will continue their peaceful protests (pictured), as they have done on several occasions in the past few months.

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