SRI LANKA: The arrest and detention of Azath Salley 

Azath Salley, a prominent politician and a well-known Muslim leader, has been arrested and held in detention under the Prevention of Terrorism Law (PTA). According to reports a detention order of 90 days under the PTA days has been issued. However, even his family is unaware of what he has been charged with. His daughter, who has held a press conference and also written to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, has complained about the arrest and the attempt to take a statement from him by force. According to her, and several reports, Salley is refusing to take any food or drink in protest and is now in serious condition as he suffers from hypertension and diabetes. His daughter has urged the president to intervene and to have her father released.

The arrest of Azath Salley has come under strong criticism from the Minister of Justice and the leader of the Muslim Congress, Rauf Hakeem. He is reported to have stated that if anyone is taken into custody the reason for the arrest must be clearly stated but with regard to Mr. Salley’s arrest no such information was provided. He further said that if anyone is charging Mr. Salley for encouraging racial unrest there are many more persons who are in that business and who should have been arrested before him. Obviously the minister was making a reference to the Bodhu Bala Sena (BBS).

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) categorically condemns this arrest and further states that the use of the PTA purely for political purpose indicates the extremely serious threats that exist in Sri Lanka against personal freedom and the rule of law. The Constitution itself requires that at the point of arrest the person arrested should be clearly informed as to the crime he is suspected of and there are numerous cases under the fundamental rights jurisdiction where the Supreme Court has condemned arrests in violation of these constitutional provisions.

The AHRC warns that a new principle is emerging in Sri Lanka now where if anyone is considered as having made a wrong political decision the government agencies can arrest and detain them. What is considered politically wrong is also decided by these agencies themselves. These agencies function under the direct supervision of the Ministry of Defence. This ministry’s power of decision making on arrest and detention is beyond the control or supervision of anyone. Thus, the Ministry of Defense has become an instrument of politics.

Following the arrest of such persons they are subjected to interrogation, relating to political matters and attempts are taken to take statements or to agree on compromises that favour the position of the government.

Such arrest and detention is a method of instilling extreme fear in the minds of the victims and many of them are likely to develop post traumatic disorders and other kinds of psychological ailments as a result of the experience they undergo during such detention periods.

The emergence of the Ministry of Defence and the intelligence services that work under its direction are a fundamental threat to all citizens. Any citizen may now be subjected to this treatment without warning. The overall purpose of this strategy is to ensure that everyone conforms to the political dictates of the regime in power.

In the past there was the possibility of challenging these matters in a court of law. The fundamental changes that have occurred in the judicial sphere have virtually brought this possibility to an end. In any case the public trust in judicial intervention against government decisions has been seriously eroded.

The Ministry of Defense is emerging as the all-important big brother to conduct surveillance on all citizens. Alas, George Orwell’s fantasy of the big brother has now become a living reality in Sri Lanka.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-087-2013
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Issues : Judicial system, Right to food, Rule of law,