Presidential Secretariat of Sri Lanka

Minister Ali Sabri announces gazetting of revised Anti-Terrorism Act and emphasizes commitment to human rights

The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Ali Sabri PC, has officially announced that the forthcoming Anti-Terrorism Act will soon be gazetted. This significant legislative development has been amended in alignment with established international standards to ensure that it does not compromise the national security of the nation.

Furthermore, Minister Ali Sabri underscored that the existing Prevention of Terrorism Act has undergone substantial amendments with the primary objective of disseminating a balanced legal framework. This framework has been designed to safeguard and uphold the fundamental human rights of our country’s citizens.

Minister Ali Sabri, made these statements during his participation in a press conference convened at the Presidential Media Centre today(13) under the theme of ‘A Collective Path towards a Stable Nation.’

Minister Ali Sabri further commented:

In accordance with globally acknowledged standards, comprehensive measures have been undertaken to revise the current Prevention of Terrorism Act, aiming to establish a harmonious legal framework that safeguards both the national security of the country and the fundamental human rights of its citizens. The objective of these revisions is to formulate a law that strikes a judicious balance.

In this context, under the guidance and leadership of the Minister of Justice, extensive deliberations and consultations have been conducted with relevant authorities. These collaborative endeavours have resulted in substantial improvements to the proposed new legislation, elevating it to a commendable standard.

It is important to note that our country possesses a well-established system for enacting and promulgating new laws and statutes. Following the publication of the new Act in the Gazette, it will be made accessible to the entire populace, allowing for a comprehensive understanding of its provisions and implications by the citizens of the nation.

In accordance with the anticipated timeline, we are optimistic that the existing Prevention of Terrorism Act will be gazetted within this week or next week. Subsequently, the Act will be introduced to the Parliament for its initial reading. Within this framework, the citizens of our nation will retain the right to scrutinize the Act and raise any concerns they may have. They will have the opportunity to challenge its provisions and, if deemed necessary, seek legal redress by approaching the Supreme Court within a period of one week from its publication. This commitment to transparency and due process underscores our government’s dedication to upholding the principles of democracy and the rule of law.

Under Article 127 of our legal framework, the Supreme Court possesses distinct and exclusive deliberative jurisdiction. In line with the guidance and directives issued by the Supreme Court, the government stands prepared to make any necessary further amendments to the new Act, demonstrating our commitment to upholding the highest legal standards and ensuring that it aligns with the court’s recommendations. It is worth highlighting that this amended Act incorporates a multitude of progressive provisions that represent a substantial enhancement compared to the existing legislation.

The initial introduction of the Prevention of Terrorism Act back in 1979 was intended to be a temporary measure with a limited duration of six months. However, due to the prolonged and escalating security challenges faced by our country, the Act has remained in effect up to the present time. Over the years, the continuous enforcement of this legislation has attracted a significant amount of criticism and scrutiny within our nation. These criticisms have revolved around various concerns, including questions about the Act’s impact on civil liberties, its effectiveness in addressing the underlying security issues and its compatibility with evolving legal and human rights standards. The on-going debate surrounding the Act reflects the complexities and challenges associated with balancing the imperative of national security with the protection of individual rights and freedoms.

The years 2017-2018 witnessed efforts to replace the existing Prevention of Terrorism Act with the Anti-Terrorism Act, reflecting a desire for legal reform in our country. This initiative was driven by a changing atmosphere and security concerns. However, the urgency for maintaining the Prevention of Terrorism Act was underscored by the tragic series of Easter Sunday bombings that transpired in our country in 2019.

Subsequently, in the past two or three years, a re-evaluation of the legal landscape surrounding the Prevention of Terrorism Act led to the formulation of a plan to introduce reforms and relax certain aspects of the Act. Notably, in September 2021, the Inspector General of Police issued a directive to police stations, instructing them to refrain from making arrests under the Act unless individuals were directly linked to acts of terrorism.

As a result of these measures, the number of arrests made under the Prevention of Terrorism Act decreased significantly. It is important to highlight that the previous version of the Act did not impose any restrictions on the duration of detention and these recent measures represent a shift towards a more balanced and rights-conscious approach to counterterrorism efforts.

Under the provisions of the new Act, there are several key safeguards and procedural requirements in place to protect the rights of individuals detained under suspicion of terrorism:

Individuals can be detained and interrogated for a maximum period of 60 days without requiring prior approval from a magistrate. However, they can only be held in authorized detention centres.

After the arrest of an individual, they must be brought before a magistrate within 48 hours.

Prosecution cannot be solely based on confessions obtained from the detained individuals. Any confession used for prosecution must adhere to the common law requirement, which typically means that it should be made before a magistrate in accordance with established legal procedures.

Individuals arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act have the opportunity to seek bail after one year of detention, providing them with a legal recourse to challenge their continued detention. In cases where individuals are detained for more than one year, such extended detention must be authorized by a magistrate, adding an additional layer of judicial oversight.

These provisions collectively reflect an effort to strike a balance between addressing security concerns and safeguarding the rights and due process of individuals detained under suspicion of involvement in terrorism. It is important to ensure that these legal safeguards are effectively implemented to protect the rights of those affected by these laws.

Following the drafting of the new Anti-Terrorism Act, a wide array of authorities, including lawyers, the Bar Association, the international community, civil organizations, non-governmental organizations and trade unions, shared their diverse perspectives and opinions on the proposed legislation.

Demonstrating a commitment to democratic principles and a willingness to engage in a consultative process, the government opted not to immediately submit the initial bill to Parliament. Instead, it chose to actively seek and consider feedback from various authorities. This inclusive approach allowed for a comprehensive review of the legislation. Subsequently, with the incorporation of new ideas and revisions made to address concerns and feedback, the revised bill garnered the approval of the Cabinet of Ministers.

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