The Government finally came to the end of its tether on Tuesday in suffering the vexations of former Western Province Governor Azath Salley who had made no secret that he was testing the patience of the regime by taunting it at every turn and daring it to arrest him for his anti-government, near inflammatory rhetoric. [...]


Govt adds rehab option to its arsenal to combat ‘extremism’

Sweeping powers to detain suspects in rehab camps for two years

The Government finally came to the end of its tether on Tuesday in suffering the vexations of former Western Province Governor Azath Salley who had made no secret that he was testing the patience of the regime by taunting it at every turn and daring it to arrest him for his anti-government, near inflammatory rhetoric.

On March 10, leader of the National Unity Front Salley continued with his habitual practice of jeering at the Government by stating on television that he followed only the laws of the Quran and the dictates of his Prophet and did not regard himself bound by the general law of the land. ‘Let the general law be, but the Quranic law has been the law for the Muslims for years’, he said.

Merely stating that one doesn’t give a tuppence to state law but is governed by one’s own religious or moral code is not of itself an offence. Many get through life with total ignorance of the law but do not commit a single offence for the simple reason that their actions haven’t trespassed upon the criminal law of the land.

But Salley, whose speeches of late had tantalisingly dangled on the fringes of religious radicalism, perhaps, went too far down the road of secular blasphemy to upset the traditionally held image of the majesty of the law before which imposing altar all must prostrate in meek genuflection, however unjust its diktats are considered to be.

Salley’s brazen cheek in challenging the supreme authority of the State, alas, cooked his goose. It was too much for any self-respecting government to take lying down. Even tolerance has its limits. Nor was it the ideal occasion to turn the proverbial deaf ear or the biblical other cheek as a magnanimous gesture when the grassroots brayed for blood.

On Tuesday as dusk was setting in, Azath Salley was arrested by the CID. Police spokesman Ajith Rohana said he was taken in under the Prevention of Terrorism Act in connection with a statement he had made on March 10 where he had expressed his allegiance to only the Quran and Sharia law and not to state law.  The Attorney General had advised the CID that Salley had also allegedly committed offences under the Penal Code, the PTA and the ICCPR Act. The leader of the National Unity Front Salley still remains in CID detention.

IN DETENTION: Azath Salley held under Prevention of Terrorism Act but Government arms itself with extra powers for the ‘de-radicalisation from holding violent extremist religious ideology’

But though the authorities took the beaten track to detain the controversial Salley under the provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, a new road cut and tarred last week lay open for them to tread on, had they so wished, to hold Salley, and any other person suspected of extremist leanings, at a rehab centre for a year or more, until all forms of radical cravings were completely purged from body and soul;  and the detainee judged to be a fit and proper person to be safely returned to society.

Last Friday, the Government issued an extraordinary gazette to give legal effect to new regulation brought under the PTA for ‘de-radicalisation from holding violent extremist religious ideology’.

The crux of the new regulations now in force, authorises

n    any police officer, or any member of the armed forces, or any other person or body of persons authorised by the President by Order (S3),

n    to take to his custody any person on suspicion of being a person who by words either spoken or intended to be read or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise, causes or intends to cause commission of acts of violence or religious, racial or communal disharmony or feelings of ill will or hostility between different communities or racial or religious groups (S2); and

n    to hand over such person so taken into custody to the Officer in Charge of the nearest police station within twenty four hours (S5)

That is the first stage which also applies to a surrendee. Such a suspect may be sent to a rehabilitation programme in terms of the provisions of the regulations. In order to do this, these are the provisions in outline:

If there is reasonable cause for the OIC to suspect that the surrendee or person arrested has committed an offence under the Act, he shall send a report to the Minister of Defence, presently the President, to consider whether the suspect should be detained for further investigations (5)(2); and should the investigations reveal the suspect has committed an offence under the Act, it shall be referred to the Attorney General for legal action (S5) (3).

If the Attorney General deems that, instead of indicting the suspect in court, he should be sent to a rehabilitation centre, the suspect shall be produced before a Magistrate with the written approval of the Attorney-General and the Magistrate may order the suspect to be sent for rehabilitation for a maximum period of one year(S5)(4).

If at the end of the magistrate approved period, the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation shall consider the detainee’s rehabilitation progress, and send his recommendation to the Defense Minister (S7).

The Minister may then order the detainee’s release or extend the detainee’s rehabilitation by a further six months.  The total extensions shall not exceed a further twelve months. Each such extension shall be made on the recommendation of the Commissioner-General of Rehabilitation (S7)(2).

While the aim of these new regulations is, indeed, most commendable, the drastic means used in peace time to realise its noble ends, however, must give pause and raise concerns.

For instance, to strike at the core of the matter, what is the definition of extremism? Is one who denies the existence of an Almighty God or rejects the notion of an immortal soul an extremist?

If one proclaims one’s own religion as supreme and infallible and that of another as inferior and bunkum, or if one gives one’s own religion foremost place and treats all other creeds lowly and base, will that be a cause for disharmony or give rise to feelings of ill will amongst religious groups, who also give foremost place to their own respective religions and exile all else from their realm and ken?

Would that be sufficient to pack off a person to rehab camp to be cleansed of his faith and purged of his belief in the oneness of God?

Once a suspected person has been taken into custody by a member of the armed forces, or a person or body authorised by the President by order, why is 24 hours granted to the ‘person arresting to produce the suspect to the nearest police station?

What is the time frame for the OIC to compile his report on the suspect, for the Minister to consider whether the suspect should be detained, for the OIC’s investigation to be concluded, for the Attorney General to study it before deciding whether to institute legal proceedings in court or send the suspect to a rehabilitation camp?

Will the writ of habeas corpus, which is used to bring a prisoner or other detainee before the court to determine if the person’s imprisonment or detention is lawful, be available to a person so detained?

These are some of the issues that must be considered before acting impetuously under these new regulations. If unwisely used, it can lead to the arbitrary denial of a citizen’s right to liberty, with his personal freedom lying at the mercy of the Attorney General’s sole discretion and dependent on a magisterial order made not on compelling evidence placed before court but merely on the Attorney General’s written approval of his own decision.

Or else, if these sweeping powers are used improperly, these rehabilitation camps which seek to exorcise the radical demon from the souls of those stoned after smoking bigotry’s joint and craving their daily recuperative fix, will come to be branded as Lanka’s own Gulags.

Wimal plugs local fag as the ayurvedic smokeIndustries Minister Wimal Weerawansa went indigenous this week and came out of his smoker’s closet to plug a locally made cinnamon cigarette as the ‘ayurvedic smoke’ that helps you kick the nicotine habit.

Attending the launch of the new cigarette this Wednesday, Minister Wimal championed the herbal smoke in blatant disregard for Government regulations that bans the promotion of cigarettes at media events.

In his speech as chief guest, he said: “I met the manufacturer about a year ago when he came to see me about his project to produce this unique local cigarette. On the same day I was able to take him to meet President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. We explained to him the hurdles that we would have to face and received the strength to go ahead with this venture. From then on, though many hurdles came our way, we were able to triumph them all and go forward with the project. This product is based on this country’s raw materials, based on a substance extracted from cinnamon. Smoking this can even help smoking addicts to beat their addiction. I believe it will be a success not only in Lanka but worldwide.”

COME TO WHERE THE FLAVOUR IS: Industries Minister Wimal Weerawansa turns up as local cinnamon cigarette promoter

“Some of our Government institutions,’’ Minister Wimal continued, “prompted by big multinational companies have got excited and are turning the law books to see how to put a spanner in our works. But whatever laws the statute books may hold, as the Minister of Industries, I will work with dedication and go ahead with this cigarette project come what may.’’

But as Government health warnings repeatedly warn ad nauseam, smoking can be hazardous to one’s well-being. No sooner had Wimal butted his fag, the National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol declared it will initiate legal action against the newly launched cinnamon-based cigarette brand. It said, ‘the cigarette had been launched without obtaining the necessary approvals which was a violation of the law and the Ayurveda Department and the Health Ministry had informed NATA that they had not granted approval for the cinnamon-based cigarette’.

On March 10, Wednesday, exactly a week before Wimal launched his new cigarette line, controversial leader of the National Unity Front Azath Salley found himself in hot water after saying on TV he recognised no law but his own Quranic law.

One question: Now that Wimal the Lion Heart has stated, a week after Salley, that whatever laws there are in the statute books, it will not stop him as the Industries Minister from going ahead, wonder under what monotheistic law of his own he will operate to see his project to fruition? At the last check, the prevailing policy still was ‘one country, one law’.

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