The Committee for Protecting Rights of Prisoners (CPRP) has written to Attorney General (AG) Dappula de Livera, requesting him to consider including detainees held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) for bail under the Government-initiated program to reduce overcrowding in prisons, given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The committee requested the AG to particularly consider granting bail to PTA detainees who are yet to be convicted even though they were held in remand for many years.
“PTA detainees are among prisoners who have languished for long periods in prisons. Most of those in longest detention are Tamils, arrested and imprisoned during and just after the war. PTA detainees include suspects against whom no indictments have been filed, accused whose trials have not been completed, convicted whose appeals are pending, and those convicted,” the committee said.
It cited the case of PTA detainee Terrence Malcolm (Negombo High Court case no. HC/136/2012 and Negombo prisoner no. 5329) as an example of the plight of PTA detainees. Malcolm was arrested in 2008 and is still in Negombo prison. He was indicted in 2012 along with another accused, but due to the death of the other accused, his trial was delayed. The submission of a death certificate of the deceased accused took around two years and eight months, and amendment of charges took about two more years. Delays were also caused by the absence of Police and witnesses on some days when court hearings were scheduled. “The trial had been presided over by High Court judges and the prisoners’s physical and mental health had deteriorated due to about 12 years in detention,” the committee said in the letter to the AG.
The letter to the AG said that the PTA has resulted in arbitrary arrests, prolonged detention without charges, drawn-out court cases, multiple cases against one suspect, inhumane detention conditions, torture and long years to release suspects and accused who were found not guilty.
Unlike in trials related to many other crimes, confessions in Police custody are allowed in PTA cases. This has made PTA trials longer, as even persons typing the confession needs to come to testify. The tendency to obtain forced confessions through torture or threat of torture has brought about ‘voir doir’ inquiries to check if confessions were given freely, and this, too, has lengthened trials. Many Tamil detainees have been forced to sign confessions written in Sinhalese, a language they don’t understand.
“Many of the detainees had spent most of their youth behind bars, and their mental and physical wellbeing have been severely affected due to long-term detention, rigorous interrogation and torture. Unlike other detainees, Magistrates don’t have discretion on granting bail to PTA detainees, and they can only be given bail with your consent. Hence, we kindly request you to include PTA detainees in schemes for bail and relief, and in particular, to give your consent to release on bail to some of the unconvicted PTA detainees,” the CPRP said.
The letter was sent by the Committee Chairman Attorney-at-Law Senaka Perera and its Secretary, Sudesh Nandimal Silva.
The PMD said last week that there are more than 26,000 inmates in the country’s prisons while their total capacity does not exceed 10,000 persons. Around 3,000 have been released on bail between 14 March - 4 April.