Government Rules Out General Amnesty
By Easwaran Rutnam
The Government has ruled out a general amnesty to address the political prisoner issue which looks like erupting once again anytime soon.
Minister of National Dialogue Mano Ganesan told The Sunday Leader that the Government is seriously looking at the political prisoner issue but the idea of giving the prisoners a general amnesty is out of the question.
The Tamil National Alliance has been pushing for the release of the political prisoners and the issue was also discussed with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.
Northern Provincial Council Tamil National Alliance member M.K. Sivajiligham told The Sunday Leader that the Council is expected to once again raise the political prisoner issue at its next session later this month.
He said that a decision will be taken on the steps the council must take in order to secure the release of the detainees arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.
Ganesan says he understands the concerns of Sivajiligham and others in the Northern Provincial Council and added that the delay in appointing a new Attorney General was once reason the political prisoner issue could not be resolved sooner.
He says now that a new Attorney General has been appointed the process is likely to be expedited.
The Minister said that the prisoners will most likely be presented in court like a few others were recently, and they will be offered rehabilitation before being released.
Ganesan said that at a meeting he had with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights he had explained the process the Government has approved to release the Tamil political prisoners.
“An outright release of all the prisoners will not be possible,” he asserted.
At the end of his recent visit to Sri Lanka, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein had said that the Government must quickly find a formula to charge or release the remaining security-related detainees. He said he was misquoted in the media during his visit where he was reported to have said that the political detainees must go through courts to be freed.
Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said that his position is that if there are no charges filed against the political detainees then they must be set free.
In November last year a youth committed suicide in Kondavil, Jaffna over the failure by the authorities to release all Tamil political prisoners.
The youth had jumped in front of a train in Kondavil and committed suicide.
Reporters in Jaffna said that the youth had left a suicide note explaining the motives behind the suicide.
The victim was identified as 18 year old Rajeshwaran Senthuran, a resident of Kopai and a student of Kokavil Hindu College.
Students of the Jaffna university also staged a demonstration drawing attention to the death of the student.
The Jaffna university students held black flags during the peaceful demonstration held at the time.
Later in Parliament the TNA demanded the release of all Tamil political prisoners. TNA leader R. Sampanthan, speaking in Parliament last December had said that he could not understand why the Government is refusing to release the Tamil political prisoners.
Sampanthan had noted that the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and former army commander Sarath Fonseka have also backed calls to free the detainees.
The issue over the detainees grabbed the spotlight when some of the prisoners staged a fast last year demanding that their cases be expedited.
A few of them were eventually freed for rehabilitation but several others refused to undergo rehabilitation and demanded a general amnesty.
But the Government then communicated to the TNA that a general amnesty even at that time was very unlikely.
Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) Secretary General V Anandasangaree had later said that the release of the Tamil political prisoners is a must and cannot be avoided. In a letter to President Maithripala Sirisena, Anandasangaree noted with regret and much concern the decision taken by the Government on the issue. He said the decision will only make things worse.
“I feel justified in demanding the unconditional release of those in Prison. First of all rightly or wrongly the entire country, the Tamils in particular fully believed, that they will be released.
This was the type of campaign some political parties made during the Parliamentary Elections and also the general feeling was that all the burning questions would be sorted out including the release of the prisoners, after your election as President. Unfortunately although almost all expectations had been fulfilled this one and may be some others of less importance are still pending,” Anandasangaree said.
A failure by the Government to free the prisoners could result in the issue being raised at the UN Human Rights Council during its March session and in June.