BY Buddhika Samaraweera
The “Repeal PTA” mobile signature collection campaign reached Colombo’s Galle Face yesterday (22), after travelling across the country from Kankesanthurai, resulting in an argument with the heavy police presence in the area about the purpose and result of the gathering at the iconic venue.
Organised by the youth organisation of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the Galle Face gathering was attended by Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (ITAK) Opposition MP M.A. Sumanthiran PC and ITAK MP Shanakiyan Rasamanickam, Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) Opposition MPs Tissa Attanayake, S.M. Marikkar, Mujibur Rahuman, and Eran Wickramaratne, Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) Leader and SJB MP Rauff Hakeem, Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) Education Secretary Pubudu Jayagoda, SJB member and former MP Hirunika Premachandra, Ceylon Teachers’ Union General Secretary Joseph Stalin, and actress Damitha Abeyratne. In addition a number of trade unions (TUs) and civil and political organisations were also in attendance, all of whom demanded that the Government repeal the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act (PTA) and release of all prisoners held arbitrarily.
The vehicle, which collected signatures from people around the country during its journey, reached the Galle Face Green at around 4 p.m. By that time a large number of Police officers had been deployed around the area and subsequently a Police officer was seen having an argument with Sumanthiran and others. In the video footage related to the incident, the Police officer was telling the group that there might be a conflict due to the crowd, while Sumanthiran and Rasamanickam made assurances that there would be no such conflict.
Speaking to the media, Rasamanickam said that the PTA is being used by governments to exact revenge against the people and groups that oppose them. He also said that almost every political party and civil and political organisation except for the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) has joined hands to demand that the Government led by President Ranil Wickremesinghe repeal the PTA immediately.
“Representatives of several political parties including the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, the FSP, the TNA, the SLMC, and some from the Sri Lanka Freedom Party have signed the petition carried in this vehicle. We have been saying in Parliament for a long time that the Government would suppress the people with the PTA when they take to the streets, as it can’t handle the prevailing issues. What we said has now proved true. It was not the terrorists who were engaged in the people’s struggle (“aragalaya”). What they all raised their voice against was the corrupt Rajapaksa (a reference to former Presidents Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Mahinda Rajapaksa) regime,” he said.
Rahuman, speaking to the media, said that as a result of Wickremesinghe’s attempts to suppress the people with the use of the PTA and other means, the people of the North and the South have come together, adding that this is a long-awaited victory. Charging that the current President and the Government are undermining the uprising of the people, he warned that the day when the people once again surround the Presidential Secretariat and the President’s House is not far away. He said that the next uprising of the people will be roused by such suppression, claiming that Wickremesinghe will have no place to stay by then.
Addressing the gathering, Marikkar said: “Politicians use this Act to suppress the people from time to time. After the civil war, the Tamil people were suppressed by the then Government using the PTA. After the Easter Sunday terror attacks of 21 April 2019, Muslims were suppressed, but no one paid attention to it at that time. It is only when the struggle is being suppressed today that the seriousness of the PTA has been understood. We would like to remind the Government and the President that we came today only to obtain signatures. We will be coming to overthrow the Government too, but this is not how we will come at that time.”
Emphasising that international support is important to overcome the prevailing crisis situation in the country, he said that international organisations will not support Sri Lanka just because Wickremesinghe “is wearing a blazer and tie”. He said that such organisations will support a country only if the citizens’ freedom is established there, and said that everyone should therefore make Sri Lanka a country with citizens’ freedom, adding that suppression should therefore be stopped.
Premachandra also spoke to the media and said that although the people are still facing issues, they have been able to obtain some relief as a result of the people’s struggle. However, she said that although the whole country is reaping these benefits, those who led and engaged in the struggle have been placed in custody under the PTA, against which everyone should speak up.
“Everyone will feel the gravity of this when suppression is at their doorstep. If we don’t speak for the victims of this suppression today, there will be no one left to speak against it when we are suppressed. It has been many years since the end of the war. Therefore, we condemn the suppression of young people through the PTA and the Government must therefore repeal it,” she said.
Speaking to the media, Stalin, a frontline activist of the people’s struggle, said: “The Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa Government now has only suppression. The PTA and many other laws are brought to suppress the upcoming struggles. Therefore, this Act should be repealed immediately. Despite promises to international organisations that this will be abolished, it has not happened yet. The Government is also trying to suppress forces that are against them by deploying the Police. They see all opposition to the Government as terrorism and anti-Government acts. Therefore, stop this programme immediately. Except for the SLPP gang, everyone is saying that this Act should be repealed. All parties including the political parties, trade unions, and civil organisations will definitely defeat this Act.”
The PTA, No. 48 of 1979 is a law in Sri Lanka which gives the Police broad powers to search, arrest, and detain suspects. It was first enacted as a temporary law in 1979 under President J. R. Jayewardene, and then made permanent in 1982. Under the PTA, a person can be detained for periods up to 18 months (renewable by order every three months) if the Defence Minister has reason to believe or suspect that any person is connected with or concerned in any unlawful activity.
With the detention of several activists of the people’s struggle which demanded the resignation of former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa under the PTA including Inter University Students’ Federation Convenor Wasantha Mudalige, many parties including the SJB have been insisting that the Government repeal the PTA, a demand that has been made by several parties including the TNA and the SLMC for a long time.