The Committee for Protecting Rights of Prisoners (CPRP) has written to Attorney General (AG) Dappula  de Livera  requesting him to include detainees held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) in the scheme for bail that has begun in a bid to reduce overcrowding in prisons due to the spread of the corona virus.

The Committee requested the AG to especially  consider granting bail to PTA detainees who  are yet to be convicted even though they have been languishing in remand prison for many years.

Under a  program initiated on the directive  of  President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the AG has set guidelines under which minor drug offenders and others serving short jail terms are to be released on bail. The President’s Media Division (PMD)  announced on 4 April that  2,961 prisoners had been released between 17 March - 4 April under this program.

“PTA detainees are among prisoners who have languished for long periods in prisons. Most of those in longest detention are Tamils, arrested and imprisoned during and just after the war. PTA detainees includes suspects against whom no indictments have been filed, accused whose trials have not been completed, convicted whose appeals are pending and those convicted,” the Committee said.

It cited the case of PTA detainee  Terrence  Malcolm (Negombo High Court case No. HC/136/2012 and Negombo Prisoner No. 5329) as an example of the plight of PTA detainees. Malcolm was  arrested in 2008 and is still in Negombo prison. He was indicted in 2012 along with another accused, but due to death of the other accused, his trial was delayed. The submission of a death certificate of the deceased accused took around two  years and eight  months and amendment of charges took about two more years. Delays were also caused by the absence of police and witnesses and some court hearings days were rescheduled. The prisoner's  physical and mental health has deteriorated due to about 12 years in detention,” the Committee said in the  letter to the AG.

It added that the PTA has resulted in arbitrary arrests, prolonged detention without charges, long drawn out court cases, multiple cases against one suspect, inhumane detention conditions, torture and long years to release suspects and accused who are not guilty.

"Unlike in trials related to many other crimes, confessions in police custody are allowed in PTA cases. This has made PTA trials longer, as even persons typing the confession needs to come to testify. The tendency to obtain forced confessions through torture or threat of torture has brought about “Voir doir” inquiries to check if confessions were given freely, and this too has lengthened trials. Many Tamil detainees have been forced to sign confessions written in Sinhalese, a language they didn’t understand. Many of the detainees have spent most of their youth behind bars, and their mental and physical well-being has been severely affected due to long term detention, rigorous interrogation and torture. Unlike other detainees, Magistrates don’t have discretion on granting bail to PTA detainees and they can only be given bail with the AG's consent," the Committee said.

The letter to the AG was sent by the Chairman of the Committee Attorney -at-Law Senaka Perera  and its Secretary Sudesh Nandimal Silva.

The PMD  said last week  that there are more than 26,000 inmates in the country’s prisons while their  total capacity does not exceed 10,000 persons .