Three of those released had been convicted of trying to assassinate former President Chandrika Kumaratunga who was blinded in an eye by the bomb attack. Prior to releasing them through a presidential pardon signed by President Ranil Wickremesinghe, the government has ascertained the sentiments of the former president and obtained her consent. Former president Kumaratunga has demonstrated the magnanimity that is required to bring healing to our tortured and divided country and people.
In a shocking admission the presidential secretariat has stated that four of the eight prisoners had served longer prison terms than their court-ordered sentences. “Three prisoners had been sentenced to 30 years in prison and had served 22 years, one prisoner who had been sentenced to 11 years and had served 14 years, one who has been sentenced to 10 years and had also served 14 years, two prisoners who were sentenced to five years but had served for14 years, were among those who received a presidential pardon.”
This would appear to be a serious violation of human rights in terms of international human rights covenants and an intolerable abuse of power by those who kept them incarcerated in this manner for a long period of time. It is unfortunate that for some prisoners, completing their sentences does not mean that they are free. Denying prisoners’ freedom for years past their completed sentences demonstrates contempt of the rule of law and the powerlessness of the victims. These are human beings who have lives and families to go back to and should not face the cruel and unlawful prospect of incarceration beyond their court-ordered terms.
The weakness of the justice system in Sri Lanka with the police, prison and probation departments working separately and with very little coordination though they work for the same objectives is highlighted by this revelation. Regardless of how this happened, the National Peace Council requests the government to release them as soon as possible, as it is known that a large number of victims of this type are being held in prisons without prosecution. By keeping them in prison, there will be a need to pay compensation considering the number of years lost to the victims. If the government is willing to take such positive action, we are also willing to support the resolution of such problems.
The National Peace Council is an independent and non partisan organization that works towards a negotiated political solution to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. It has a vision of a peaceful and prosperous Sri Lanka in which the freedom, human rights and democratic rights of all the communities are respected. The policy of the National Peace Council is determined by its Governing Council of 20 members who are drawn from diverse walks of life and belong to all the main ethnic and religious communities in the country.