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Challenges to inadequate counter terrorism legislation reforms

Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court has taken up seven petitions challenging the constitutionality of the draft Counter Terrorism Act (CTA), the proposed replacement for the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).

The international organisation Human Rights Watch (HRW) has also made submissions to the Sri Lankan parliament outlining how the proposed reforms to Sri Lanka’s counter terrorism legislation fall short of complying with international human rights standards.

The Supreme Court petitioners argued that the bill removed discretion of the Magistrate to grant bail and compelled him or her to act in accordance with requests of the police, which was an alienation of judicial power.

In their commentary HRW said problematic provisions in the draft Counter Terrorism Act (CTA) could be used to clamp down on peaceful protests and arbitrarily ban civil society organisations.

Writing to the Sri Lankan prime minister, the organisation also said it was “concerned by media reports that Parliament may consider amendments that reduce rather than enhance the CTA’s human rights protections in a process that excludes meaningful public scrutiny”.

HRW pointed out that “words either spoken or intended to be read that threaten the unity of Sri Lanka” are no longer criminalised in the bill, which the organisation said was an improvement from the previous draft. However the sixth amendment to the Sri Lankan constitution still outlaws supporting or advocating for a separate state.

Meanwhile, hardline Sinhala nationalist MP Wimal Weerawansa has also petitioned against the CTA claiming it curtails law enforcement capabilities, and also argued that its parameters did not cover the diaspora.

See more from Sunday Times and Human Rights Watch.

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