Prevention of Terrorism Act (Sri Lanka)

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The Prevention of Terrorism Act of 1978 is a law in Sri Lanka. It provides the police with broad powers to search, arrest, and detain suspects. It was first enacted as a temporary law in 1979 under J. R. Jayewardene presidency, then made permanent in 1982.[1]

Elements of the Act[edit]

Under the PTA of Sri Lanka, a person can be detained for periods up to 18 months (renewable by order every three months) if the Minister has reason to believe or suspect that any person is connected with or concerned in any unlawful activity. Unlawful activity includes even pasting posters on walls, and is punishable with death.[2]

Offences not known to ordinary laws of the country were also introduced. For example, if a person knows the whereabouts of terrorist (“terrorist” not defined in the Act) and if such person fails to inform the police, he commits an offence punishable with a minimum 5-year jail term. If the terrorist stays with any person for a night such person is guilty of harbouring, punishable with a maximum of twenty years' jail.[3]


Critics have accused the law of being used disproportionately against Tamils in the North and East. Due to the lack of accountability and alleged torture and executions carried out against those arrested under PTA critics have accused the government of torturing and killing Tamil youth that may not have been affiliated with the LTTE. [2]

There has been instances when Judges of Courts have ordered detenus were taken to remand prison, their names entered in Prison Registers and then the provisions of the PTA invoked and the detenus brought for torture to Army Camps. For the operation under this Act normally army camps were used for detention and they were notorious for their "torture cells". In one Army camp they had even built in rings and other implements for torture.[2]

There have been at least one instance of the law being used to arrest protesting relatives of war disappeared.[4][5]


  1. ^ Sanjana Hattotuwa (20089). "Terrorised Media". Index on Censorship. 38: 40–44. doi:10.1080/03064220802712183. Check date values in: |year= (help)
  2. ^ a b c "An Eyewitness Account of the Welikade Prison Massacre". Ilankai Sangam. Retrieved 19 July 2014.
  3. ^ "State Oppression". Eelam. Retrieved 19 July 2014.
  4. ^ "Sri Lanka arrest for missing son's campaigning mother". Channel 4. Retrieved 19 July 2014.
  5. ^ "Sri Lanka arrests Tamil woman who pressed case for disappeared rebel son". Reuters. 2014-03-14. Retrieved 19 July 2014.