The ICJ today condemned the promulgation by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa of new vague and overbroad anti-terrorism regulations, which make the already deeply flawed Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) open to further abuse.
The Prevention of Terrorism (Proscription of Extremist Organisations) Regulations No. 2 of 2021, published by way of Gazette notification on the 13 April 2021, outlaw 11 organisations identified as ‘extremist’ and provides criminal penalties for those accused of various kinds of associations with these and other organizations that may be similarly disfavoured.
A person who acts in contravention of the regulations is liable to a term of imprisonment up to twenty years, while any person who “conspires to commit or attempts, abets or engages in conduct in preparation to commit an offence” may be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of up to ten years.
“These ill-defined offences follow a similar pattern of the Sri Lankan executive unilaterally promulgating abusive regulations in the name of fighting terrorism over the years” said Ian Seiderman. “These latest ones come just a month after the decreeing of the ‘de-radicalisation’ regulations which allow for the Government to arbitrary detain people for up to two years without trial.”
Moreover, the listed acts shall amount to an offence not only in relation to the eleven
identified organizations, but also to any other organisation “representing or acting on behalf of such organisation or is connected with or concerned in such organisation or which is reasonably suspected of being connected with or concerned in any of the activities”. This is in violation of the principle of legality as the State may ex post facto identify any organisation as having associated with the eleven banned organisations.
The ICJ said that the Regulations were in contravention of the guarantees under article 13 of the Sri Lankan Constitution and its international legal obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
A key precondition to a fair trial recognized internationally is that criminal offences must be prescribed by law and conform to the principle of legality. Vague laws undermine the rule of law because they leave the door open to selective and arbitrary interpretation and prosecution. The vague wording of a law also has an adverse impact on framing of the charge against the accused.
Following the promulgation of the ‘de-radicalisation’ regulations a number of persons belonging to minority communities were reportedly arrested under the PTA, including for ‘spreading Wahhabism via social media’ and ‘promoting terrorism related activities’.
“While the Sri Lankan Government has an obligation to protect its inhabitants from the threat of terrorism, that protection is a part of, and must not be seen in conflict with, its overall duty to protect human rights; ‘threats to national security’ can never be used as a justification for contravening basic standards in relation to freedom from arbitrary arrest”, said Ian Seiderman.
The ICJ has consistently called for the repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which has been used to arbitrarily detain suspects for months and often years without charge or trial, facilitating torture and other abuse. The ICJ reiterates its call for the repeal and replacement of this vague and overbroad anti-terror law and all regulations brought under it, in line with Sri Lanka’s international obligations.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in her most recent report on Sri Lanka has reiterated the call for a moratorium on the use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act for new arrests until it is replaced by legislation that adheres to international best practices.
Osama Motiwala, ICJ Asia-Pacific Communications Officer, e: osama.motiwala(a)icj.orgNewsPress releases