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LIFE SENTENCE FOR TERRORISM

The Government has proposed life imprisonment for the offence of terrorism if such act caused any other person’s death under the new Counter Terrorism Bill gazetted last week.

This vital piece of legislation, which received conditional Cabinet approval early this month, will do away with the widely-objected Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act of 1979.

The 88-page Bill is to make provisions for the protection of Sri Lanka and its people from acts of terrorism and other associated offences. It provides for the identification, apprehension, arrest, custody, detention, investigation, prosecution and punishment of any person who has committed an act of terrorism or any other associated offence.

It provides for the detection of terrorist acts and other offences associated with terrorism. The Bill has provisions to prevent terrorism and other associated offences committed within or outside Sri Lanka.It also prevents using Sri Lanka’s territory and its people for the preparation for terrorism outside Sri Lanka.

The preamble to the Bill states that the legislation is based on international norms and standards and domestic needs.

The provisions of the proposed legislation apply to any Sri Lankan citizen within or outside the country’s territory. It covers the territorial waters and the airspace of Sri Lanka, and the office premises of diplomatic missions in Sri Lanka including the residences of those diplomats.

The Bill says that the offences committed with the intention of “intimidating a population, wrongfully or unlawfully compelling the Sri Lankan government, any other government, or an international organization, to do or to abstain from doing any act, preventing any such government from functioning or causing harm to the territorial integrity or sovereignty of Sri Lanka or any other sovereign country,” are considered as acts of terrorism.

Identifying the need to deal with emerging cyber-terrorism risks, the Government has defined that “causing obstruction or damage to, or interference with, any electronic, automated or computerised system or network or cyber environment of domains assigned to Sri Lanka including websites,” as an act of terrorism if committed with the above mentioned intentions.

The Bill proposes life imprisonment for a person guilty of committing a terrorist act which caused the death of another person upon conviction by the High Court. If there had been no deaths, but still the act was aimed at killing another person, such person can be punished with “imprisonment for a period which may extend to life imprisonment upon conviction by the High Court”.

In addition to that, the court may order that all or any property of such person, be forfeited to the Republic.

As per the Bill, any person who “attempts, abets or conspires to commit”, an offence of terrorism is liable to imprisonment of a term not exceeding 15 years and to a fine not exceeding Rs 1 million.

The bill also states that a person could not be held in remand for more than 6 months without instituting criminal proceedings. However, the period of remand may be extended to a maximum of another six months on an order of a High Court Judge, on an application made by the Attorney General. The Magistrate can give conditional bail to the suspect if criminal proceedings are not instituted within 12 months.

According to the Bill, detention beyond two weeks is possible only with the approval of a Magistrate and no suspect shall be detained for more than two months under Detention Orders. The Police should notify the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka of the detention of suspects within 72 hours.The Magistrate, before whom a suspect has been produced and detained, and Human Rights Commission, can visit and interview the suspect and look into his well-being without giving any advance notice.

The draft law proposes to have day-to-day trials for cases filed under it.

Under the new law, the President can declare “Curfew” either to the entirety or part of Sri Lanka including its territorial waters and air space for the protection of national or public security from terrorism and other associated offences. The maximum period of any Curfew Order shall not exceed 24 hours at a time. A person, who willfully violates a Curfew Order, is liable to a fine not exceeding Rs 300,000.