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Sri Lanka lifts emergency laws, but terror law has same powers

Sri Lanka lifted draconian emergency laws imposed nearly 30 years on Thursday - but similarly tough powers remain available to authorities under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).

See reports by AFPAP and Reuters.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa announced the lifting of the emergency regulations in Parliament.

The laws, which give security forces sweeping powers of arrest and detention, have been renewed on a monthly basis - with only brief breaks - since they were first imposed 28 years ago.

The government move comes ahead of next month's United Nations Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva which is expected to discuss Sri Lanka's human rights record.

It was not immediately clear how many people are currently being held under emergency laws, and if they would be freed or re-detained under the PTA once the emergency is allowed to lapse at the end of this month.

The PTA allows arrest, confiscation of property and life imprisonment for those involved in "terrorist activity" - which is open to interpretation.

For example Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa said of recent angry demonstrations outside military camps:

“Surrounding camps of security forces is a major offence and it is taken as a terrorist act for attempting to attack law enforcement institutions."

What the Emergency Regulations allowed:

A suspect detained under the emergency laws can be held up to one year without appearing in court and can't be released on bail. But thousands have been detained for without charge, hundreds for many years.

The law also enabled the authorities to displace civilians from their lands and declare high security zones and even to bury dead bodies without a post-mortem, lawyer Jagath Liyanaarachi said.

The military is involved in maintaining law and order in place of police and the authorities can ban rallies and demonstrations under the laws.


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