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Counter Terrorism Act and Prevention of Terrorism Act comparison in a nut shell

Counter Terrorism Legislation bill has been put to the parliament on October 06. It has both positive and negative vice versa. The Act itself has both positive and negative aspects. Since, it comes as the new version of Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) with some changes in it. And in CTA, Judicial to act less on Human Rights Violations.

The context of which it is being brought up is not appropriate. To a country like Sri Lanka, after passing three decades of conflict and moving towards a peaceful environment in the transition process to achieve reconciliation the current proposed Counter Terrorism legislation. This has already created a panic situation among the people in the North and East. Because they have the worst experience of the PTA in past and even now.

CTA gives broad power to Executive President and Minister comparing to PTA and the power is not equally given to the parliament. Lot of power given to the Police and Attorney General’s Department. Police can bring the arrested to any magistrate within 48 hours. It’s not mentioned as the nearest magistrate. This sounds as a loop in the legislation. With the experience of Sri Lanka, we cannot assure that the police will behave according to the rule and follow the instructions as it is. Therefore, the clause of ANY MAGISTRATE has an obvious problem with itself. Apart from police, Army and Coast Guards are given power to arrest the suspect with equal power under CTA. That is something has to be taken out from the proposed legislation if it’s to be legalized.  

As usual due the prolonged PTA cases in the courts, the suspects use to accept the charges and undergo rehabilitation and released after the process and those who have not accepted their charges are still in prisons and the cases are ongoing. Victims are not assured enough protection and also the CTA does not clearly state about the legal aid to the victims when he is arrested.         

There is nothing mentioned to these who misuse the act. Regarding the penalty there is not a single word mention in the CTA. It means indirectly the CTA encourages to misuse it as well. We have clear evidence and experience of the misuse of PTA in the past.

There will be database of the victims or the arrested suspects under CTA and Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka will be given access to the database and it’s being updated by the police. This is a safety method as well as police can misuse it as well. This is not up to the international standards since the arrest location of the suspect will not be notified here. It is possible to be accessed in 24 hours’ time of the arrest. Therefore, within that 24 hours we never know what will happen.

There are some remedies given at the CTA to safeguard the suspect not to be tortured or disappeared. The database is one option and the other is the magistrate. The magistrate will speak to the suspect in a closed door room and without the police officers with the suspect at each time suspect is produced to the magistrate.

After the arrest the suspect has to be produced before the Magistrate within 72 hours in PTA and it’s reduced to 48 hours in CTA. 18 months’ detention under PTA is reduced to 3 months’ detention and if they want to expand then 6 months is possible with the magistrate’s approval.

The dangerous part is that if there is no legislation called CTA or PTA then the Executive can decide by his or her own when there is an issue threatens the security and peaceful environment of the country then there won’t be time to argue on legislations and orders. Therefore, the CTA is necessary to be passed as an Act, but it needs to be polished well and clauses should be explained well and should not lead to misuse it and target the people who are innocent.                         

By: Anthony Vinoth


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