Suspects could be held for up to 2 years under Sri Lanka's anti-terror laws

The rules have been set up under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.
The rules have been set up under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.PHOTO: AFP

COLOMBO (AFP) - The Sri Lankan authorities will be given sweeping powers to detain people suspected of hate crimes for up to two years, the government announced on Saturday (March 13), for "deradicalisation" under controversial anti-terror laws.

The new regulations allow the detention for 24 months of anyone suspected of causing "acts of violence or religious, racial or communal disharmony or feelings of ill will or hostility between different communities" at "re-integration centres".

The rules, effective on Friday, have been set up under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), which both local and international rights groups have repeatedly asked Colombo to repeal. Sri Lanka's previous government, which was defeated at elections in 2019, had pledged to repeal the PTA after admitting that it was draconian and seriously undermined individual freedoms, but failed to do so.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who came to power with a promise to battle Islamic extremism, announced the "deradicalisation from holding violent extremist religious ideology" measures in a gazette notification seen by AFP on Saturday.

The move comes ahead of the second anniversary of the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks that killed 279 people and wounded over 500. The coordinated suicide bombings, against three churches and three high-end hotels, were blamed on a local Islamic extremist group.

But the new regulations do not only target Islamic extremism and could apply to any religious group or community.

A presidential commission that probed the attacks called for the banning of both Islamic extremists as well as ultra-nationalist Buddhist groups, which were accused of feeding off each other.

Tensions between Sri Lanka's minority Muslims and the majority Buddhists resurfaced after the 2019 bombings, which also seriously damaged the country's tourism-reliant economy.