Facebook icon
Twitter icon
e-mail icon

‘There are no political prisoners in Sri Lanka’ - claims Sri Lankan Justice minister

Speaking in parliament today, Justice minister Ali Sabry claimed that ‘there are no political prisoners in Sri Lanka’.

Responding to questions raised by TNA MP Shanankiyan regarding the governments failure to release Tamil political prisoners, Ali Sabry said that "There are no political prisoners in Sri Lanka...however, there are people in prison who charges have not been filed or cases are pending”.

A key demand of the ‘Pottuvil to Polikandy’ march was to repeal the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) which has been used to arbitrary detain Tamils and Muslims for indefinite periods of time, since its enactment in 1979. A report released by Amnesty highlighted that those detained under the PTA were often subjected to abuse such as torture and sexual violence. The current spread of COVID-19 within Sri Lanka’s overcrowded prisons has also impacted those detained under the act, it was reported that at least 64 Tamil political prisoners had contracted COVID-19 and a reported 14 prisoners had died after contracting it.

Read here: From Pottuvil to Polikandy: Why are Tamils marching?

Ambika Satukunanthan, the former commissioner at the Human Rights Commission (HRCSL) describes how “historically Tamils, dissenters, those critical of the government of the time, and anyone calling for accountability for human rights violations have been labelled LTTE or portrayed as threats to national security” and that “such labelling is done to create an environment that enables the state to justify any punitive action taken against them”.

 The act is also being used to target the Muslim population. Last year a Prominent Muslim Lawyer, Hejaaz Hizbullah was arrested on April 14 2020 alongside six others and has been under imprisonment since. The continued detention of 25-year-old Ahnaf Jazeem, a Muslim poet from Mannar has also raised concerns.

Sellapillai Mahendran

Last year, Sellapillai Mahendran one of the longest serving Tamil political prisoners died at the age of 45. He had been imprisoned for 26 years and was arrested at the age of 17. Mahendran was arrested during a round-up in Batticaloa on September 27, 1993. Two years later, he was sentenced to 70 years in prison and life imprisonment based on a confession produced following a month of torture in detention. Mahendran’s parents have stated that they were never told the reason for his conviction.

See: Brother, when the army caught me, I was only 17 years old. A letter by Mahendran.


Eelam Tamils have consistently demanded the release of Tamil political prisoners over the years and have staged numerous protests.

Read more at the Colombo Gazette 

We need your support

Sri Lanka is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a journalist. Tamil journalists are particularly at threat, with at least 41 media workers known to have been killed by the Sri Lankan state or its paramilitaries during and after the armed conflict.

Despite the risks, our team on the ground remain committed to providing detailed and accurate reporting of developments in the Tamil homeland, across the island and around the world, as well as providing expert analysis and insight from the Tamil point of view

We need your support in keeping our journalism going. Support our work today.

For more ways to donate visit https://donate.tamilguardian.com.