10/25/2016, 17.57
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Petition for the release of all political prisoners in Sri Lanka

by Melani Manel Perera

The National Movement for the Release of Political Prisoners backs the campaign. Tamil rebels captured before and during the civil war, but also some Sinhalese are in jail. Activists criticise prison treatment and confessions extracted under torture.

Colombo (AsiaNews) - The National Movement for the Release of Political Prisoners has organised a petition across Sri Lanka to demand the release of all remaining prisoners held on false charges and without trial.

"For Buddhism, IT is a question of 'maithree' (kindness, goodness). For Christians, it is a matter of love and mercy. But first of all, it is a matter of justice and peace,” said Fr Marimuttu Sathivel, a Colombo-based Anglican priest involved in human rights, who spoke to AsiaNews about the matter.

According to the clergyman, who is a member of the Christian Solidarity Movement (CSM), arresting and holding mostly Tamil protesters before and during the country’s 30-year civil war, "has become a reason for the minority to show deep distrust towards the Sinhalese, and a real barrier to the reconciliation efforts in the country. "

According to the activist, over the years those who "carried out the struggle for a just society" ended up behind bars. Given that the prisoners were accused of terrorism, the clergyman asks "Who gave them that label? The Government, supported by the media.”

“We must not forget that our country has faced political difficulties since the Fifties,” he explained. This time was “characterised by constant violation of fundamental human rights and ethnic clashes.”

What is more, “It is in this context that young Tamils (Tamil Tiger rebels, the LTTE) took up arms. The government's reaction was to suppress these young people in a war that killed more than 100,000 thousand people."

The Anglican pastor believes that it is right to arrest those responsible for violence, but "they must be guaranteed due process. These prisoners were not arrested under regular laws, but under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), which allows the police to hold people and use physical and mental force without charges. " This means that some [people "have been held perhaps for 10-15 years, without the possibility of release on bail".

For this reason, on 8 October, activists launched their petition campaign, starting from Mannar (in the north) to the western province of Negombo, then back northern to Kilinochchi and Paranthan. Finally, the petition caravan will end in Colombo on 3 November after which it will be presented to the president and the prime minister.

Although fewer in numbers, the Movement is fighting not only for Tamils ​​but also for jailed Sinhalese. The problem "is that the leaders of the [rebel] organisation were arrested and then released shortly after,” Fr Sathivel said.

“Only the innocent are still inside without any help. Often the charges are contentious, or extracted under torture or other violent methods, like pulling nails or violent blows to the genitals. We contest the legality of this."

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