AP

Sri Lanka urged to withdraw bill allowing broad detentions

Oct 16, 2022, 3:29 PM | Updated: Oct 17, 2022, 3:30 am

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — An international human rights group is urging Sri Lanka’s government to withdraw draft legislation that would create military-run rehabilitation centers, saying it would give authorities broad powers to detain people without charge and place them at risk of abuse.

Rights activists and opposition lawmakers have strongly criticized the bill, saying it aims to suppress people seeking political reform and accountability during the country’s unprecedented economic crisis. A lawyer and an opposition legislator have challenged the legislation in the Supreme Court.

The New York-based group Human Rights Watch said on Monday that the Bureau of Rehabilitation Bill would allow compulsory detention in “rehabilitation centers” of “drug dependent persons, ex-combatants, members of violent extremist groups and any other group of persons.”

The group said the bill, which was presented to Parliament last month, would create an administrative structure controlled by the Defense Ministry to operate centers staffed by military personnel.

“The Sri Lankan government’s proposed ‘rehabilitation’ efforts appear to be nothing more than a new form of abusive detention without charge,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, the group’s South Asia director.

Sri Lankans protested for months over the country’s economic crisis, which has led to severe shortages of many essential imported items such as medicines, fuel and cooking gas.

The economic meltdown triggered a political crisis in which thousands of people stormed the official presidential residence in July, forcing then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to resign.

The protesters also occupied other key government buildings, including the offices of the president and prime minister.

The demonstrations dismantled the powerful Rajapaksa family’s grip on political power. Before Rajapaksa resigned, his older brother stepped down as prime minister and three other close family members quit their Cabinet positions.

The country’s new president, Ranil Wickremesinghe, has since cracked down on protests. His first action as leader included ousting the protesters and dismantling their tents in the middle of the night.

Wickremesinghe was elected by Parliament to complete Rajapaksa’s term, which ends in 2024.

Rights groups say the military has sought to curtail protests through intimidation, surveillance and arbitrary arrests since Wickremesinghe took office in July.

“The Rehabilitation Bill would open the door widely to more torture, mistreatment and endless detention,” Ganguly said.

Dozens of protest leaders and activists have been arrested since July. Wickremesinghe has promised leniency for those who committed violence unknowingly or at the instigation of others but promised to punish those who broke laws willfully.

“President Wickremesinghe is pursuing abusive and repressive policies that make it difficult for Sri Lanka’s international partners to wholeheartedly back desperately needed economic measures,” Ganguly said.

There was no immediate comment from the government. Some governing party lawmakers have called for legal action against those who led the protests and measures to rehabilitate participants they described as “misguided.”

Sri Lanka is bankrupt and has suspended repayment of nearly $7 billion in foreign debt due this year pending the outcome of talks with the International Monetary Fund on a rescue package

The country’s total foreign debt exceeds $51 billion, of which $28 billion has to be repaid by 2027.

“Foreign governments should make clear that they will support the urgent needs of the Sri Lankan people, but they will also take action through targeted sanctions and other measures against those committing serious human rights violations,” Ganguly said.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Image: A person wears a T-shirt with the names of Kristin Smith, Charity Lynn Perry, Joanna Speaks,...

Associated Press

Man probed in deaths of women in northwest Oregon indicted in 3 killings

A man who has been under investigation in the deaths of four women whose bodies were found across northwest Oregon has been indicted.

7 hours ago

Image: The headquarters for The Boeing Company can be seen in Arlington, Virginia, on Jan. 31, 2024...

Associated Press

Police conclude investigation into suicide of Boeing whistleblower

A former manager who raised safety questions about the aircraft maker and, later, was found dead took his own life, police said Friday.

14 hours ago

Image: Scottie Scheffler celebrates after a birdie on the 10th hole during the second round of the ...

Associated Press

No. 1 golfer Scottie Scheffler: From the course to jail and back after Friday arrest

Top-ranked golfer Scottie Scheffler was arrested after police say he dragged an officer while trying to get around a fatal accident Friday.

2 days ago

Photo: Seattle Times publisher and CEO Frank Blethen announced he will step down at the end of next...

Associated Press

Seattle Times CEO to step down after 4 decades in charge of family-owned paper

Seattle Times publisher and CEO Frank Blethen announced he will step down at the end of next year after four decades of leading the paper.

2 days ago

Image: Andy Jassy, Amazon president and CEO, attends an event on Aug. 15, 2022, in Culver City, Cal...

Associated Press

Comments from Amazon CEO Andy Jassy about unions violated federal law, NLRB judge rules

A federal judge ruled Amazon CEO Andy Jassy violated labor law by making certain anti-union comments during media interviews two years ago.

16 days ago

Image: Former President Donald Trump appears at Manhattan criminal court before his trial in New Yo...

Associated Press

Judge raises threat of jail as he holds Trump in contempt, fines him at trial

Former President Donald Trump was held in contempt of court at his trial Tuesday and fined $9,000 for repeatedly violating a gag order.

18 days ago

Sri Lanka urged to withdraw bill allowing broad detentions