Detainees face more severe conditions

[TamilNet, Thursday, 15 January 1998, 23:59 GMT]
Conditions for detainees arrested under the Emergency Regulations and the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) have been made more severe by stringent new restrictions on prison visits introduced by the Sri Lanka Government, said Tamil legal sources today.

President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga promulgated under the Public Security Ordinance on December 6 1997, that visits to persons detained or remanded under Emergency Regulations or the PTA had to be limited to one a week.

These regulations, published in the gazette extraordinary of December 10, 1997, also states that only one person would be permitted to visit the detainee and that the visits had to be at a time specified by the prison authorities.

Furthermore, visits are only permitted if the visitor produced a letter from the officer-in-charge of the police station in the area where he or she resides. The letter must state that the police had no objection to the visits. This letter has to be handed over to the prison official on each visit.

Vanni MP Dharmalingam Sidtharthan (Democratic Peoples' Liberation Front) took up the matter with the Justice Minister Prof. G L Peiris yesterday evening.

However the Justice Minister informed him that he was unaware of the new regulations.

Mr. Sidtharthan has despatched a telegram to the Sri Lankan President objecting to the new regulations, stating that they are unprecedented in any part of the world. He asked the President to remove the regulations.

Formerly, detention of suspects could either have taken place under detention orders, which requires a warrant for the arrest signed by the Secretary, Ministry of Defence, or under the PTA, where the suspect is remanded by a magistrate.

Persons held under detention orders were permitted visits by lawyers and relatives three times a week - on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. However, officials of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) had to be present at the meetings.

Persons remanded under the PTA were theoretically allowed daily visits by lawyers and relatives.

Human rights activists believe that the new laws which restrict visits by relatives will not necessarily apply to visits by lawyers.

Conditions in detention centres, police stations and prisons have come under the closer scrutiny of human rights organisations, recently.

The Human Rights Task Force (HRTF), which was first appointed in 1991 by United National Party's (now the opposition) President Ranasinghe Premadasa under pressure from international human rights organisations, was meant to make the welfare of detainees its primary concern.

However it was unable to make much headway in the matter, lacking teeth to overcome the security forces' lack of cooperation.

The Peoples' Alliance disbanded the HRTF in 1996 and its place has been taken by the Human Rights Commission.

The HRC, which recently established a branch in Jaffna, has been criticised for not being vigilant over the deteriorating human rights situation in Jaffna.

Tamil prisoners have protested against long periods of incarceration without trial under the draconian Emergency Regulations and PTA regulations, even going on hunger strikes.

The gazette notification is as follows:

The regulation may be cited as the Emergency (Prison Visits) Regulation No.1 of 1997.

These regulations shall apply in respect of visits to persons remanded or detained in prison in connection with offences committed under any emergency regulation or under the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act No 48 of 1979.

Visits to a person remanded or detained in prison in connection with any offense referred to in 2 (herein after referred to "the prisoner") shall notwithstanding anything in section 72 of the Prisons Ordinance be subject to the following restrictions:-

a. such visits shall be restricted to one a week and to a person nominated in writing by the prisoner.

b. the person so nominated shall be entitled to visit the prisoner at a time specified by prison authorities and only if such person has obtained a letter from the officer-in-charge of the police station where the person resides to the effect that the police have no objection to such vists. The letter shall be handed over to the prison officials by such person, when he makes the request to the prisoner.

c. the person so nominated shall be searched by the jailor before being admitted to meet the prisoner and where such person refuses to submit to such such search he shall be denied admission.


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