By Shamindra Ferdinando
Prof. G.L. Peiris, MP, yesterday (03) warned that the Attorney General would become extremely powerful in an authoritarian state if the proposed Anti-Terrorism Bill became law.
Addressing the media on behalf of Freedom People’s Alliance (FPA) at Nawala, the former External Affairs Minister explained how the Office of the AG would facilitate the emergence of a dictatorship.
FPA consists of rebel SLPP MPs who voted against UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe at the parliamentary poll to elect an MP to complete the remainder of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s five-year term.
The former top law academic issued the warning in the wake of Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella’s declaration that the main Opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya would move the Supreme Court against the proposed law soon after the government tabled it in parliament.
Having explained the role of the AG, the National List lawmaker said that anyone could be at the mercy of the AG who could order rehabilitation of those having dissenting views.
At the onset of the briefing, Prof. Peiris alleged that the current dispensation was taking advantage of both local and international calls to replace the Prevention of terrorism Act (PTA) with a new law to bring in provisions meant to consolidate political power.
Commenting on the ongoing public sector trade union campaign demanding the revision of the government’s controversial tax formula, Prof. Peiris said that the proposed new law targeted trade unionists.
The issue at hand should be examined against the backdrop of growing opposition to privatisation of valuable state assets and profit-making ventures such as Sri Lanka Telecom and Sri Lanka Insurance.
In terms of the new law those who strike regardless of the declaration of selected sectors as essential services could be simply categorized as terrorists on the basis of strike being an act of terrorism, the former minister said.
The print and electronic media as well as social media platforms could be easily targeted for reportage of events and developments which the new law construed as act/acts of terrorism, Prof. Peiris said.
The former minister recalled how President JRJ sacked as many as 80,000 public sector workers for demanding a pittance of a salary increase. Alleging that 152 of those sacked public sector workers deprived of their salary committed suicide, Prof. Peiris said that the proposed law could be used to confiscate properties and cash of those found guilty of offenses under the proposed law.
The Professor explained how the new law applied to political and trade union activists and the media.
Giving Senior DIGs/DIGs the power to issue Detention Orders would be catastrophic as the process proposed in terms of the new law would be outside the purview of relevant courts, Prof. Peiris said. He declared that the courts, too, would be helpless as the government utilised the new anti-terrorism law to achieve its political objectives.
The former minister described the proposed law as the blueprint for what he called a complete dictatorial setup hell-bent on bulldozing political dissent.
The effort to put off Local Government polls was part of the overall strategy, Prof. Peiris said, urging the public to rally around the genuine Opposition to thwart the high profile project.
Prof. Peiris urged President Wickremesinghe to seek a new mandate to implement his action plan. Instead of Local Government polls, the President could call for parliamentary polls to ascertain the ground situation, the former minister said.