Former Chief Minister of Northern Province in Sri Lanka and Secretary-general for Thamizh Makkal Thesya Kootanii (TMTK), C.V. Wigneswaran, has written an appeal for the 91 Tamil political prisoners who have been detained for the past 10-15 years under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).
In the letter, Wigneswaran specifies that almost all of those detained have been incarcerated for over 12 years. The government has claimed that 29 of the 91 prisoners have been convicted and are serving their sentence after disposal of appeal; 17 are convicted but are awaiting the outcome of their appeal; 38 have been indicted and are now being tried; 7 have pleaded guilty, have been convicted and are undergoing incarceration.
These arrests were under the widely criticised PTA which facilitates detentions without charge. Sri Lanka had vowed the repeal the draconian legislation as part of the GSP+ agreement and the UN Human Rights Council Resolution 30/1. However, the Rajapaksa administration has since disavowed commitments made under Resolution 30/1.
Wigneswaran notes the devastating impact that their continued detention has had on their own lives as well as their families. Those detained were initially imprisoned in their twenties or thirties. Two have died whilst imprisoned.
Since the end of the war in May 2009, families held an understandable expectation among the detainees of an early release, writes Wigneswaran. This was based upon the treatment of higher echelon leaders such as Karuna Amman, Pillayan and K.Pathmanathan. However, this has not been the case.
In defending the pardon of convicted war criminal Sunil Ratnayake, who was sentenced to death for the murder of eight Tamil civilians, including three children, Rajapaksa cited the pardon of these figures. Rajapaksa claimed the decision was “not unreasonable or unethical” and that the Sri Lankan government had pardoned former LTTE cadre who “had done worse”. Rajapaksa's decision to pardon Ratnayake has been heavily condemned by the international community and human rights activists.
Wigneswaran urges President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to review the cases of those imprisoned for over a decade maintaining that this would be “a big step in the right direction to initiate a serious and meaningful political process”. He further stressed that in order for “a peaceful permanent solution to the national question, a resolution of the problems of these hapless prisoners would go a long way to create trust and credibility among the Tamils”.
He concludes calling for “the early release of these unfortunate citizens of our country to enable them to rejoin their families and re-enter social life”. This would require the granting of special Amnesty to those convicted whilst others could be released by the powers vested in the President or through the courts.
The letter was co-signed with three other prominent Tamil leaders; K. Premachandran, President of the Eelam People Revolutionary Liberation Front; N.Srikantha, Leader of the Tamil National Party; Ananthy Sasitharan, Secretary-General of the Eela Thamizhar Suyaadsi Kazhakam.
Read his full letter here.