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Sri Lanka

Rules of Search, Arrest, and Detention

Despite the numerous protections of individual liberties embodied in the Constitution and the Code of Criminal Procedure, the government has succeeded in greatly expanding the discretionary powers of the armed forces and police through a variety of regulations and temporary provisions. The legal basis for these provisions comes from the Constitution itself, which sets conditions under which the government may act to restrict fundamental rights. Article 15 states that freedom of speech, assembly, and association may be subject to restrictions "in the interests of racial and religious harmony." It also allows the government, for reasons of national security, to suspend the right of a suspect to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. In addition, Article 155 authorizes the Parliament and, in certain circumstances, the president, to make emergency regulations which override or amend existing legislation.

Under these special provisions, the government passed the Prevention of Terrorism Act of 1979. The act empowered a superintendent of police, or an officer at or above the rank of subinspector authorized by the superintendent, to enter and search any premises and to arrest without a warrant upon reasonable suspicion of a crime. Although this act was originally slated as a temporary provision to be in effect for three years, the parliament voted in March 1982 to continue it indefinitely. In addition, an amendment passed in 1983 extended the police powers detailed in the act to members of the armed forces, and provided legal immunity for arrests and deaths occurring in the course of security operations.

The Code of Criminal Procedure allows the police to detain suspects without a hearing for a maximum of twenty-four hours. Under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, however, this period has been extended to seventy-two hours, and if the subsequent hearing leads to an indictment, the magistrate is required to order continued detention until the conclusion of the trial. The act further provides that the minister of internal security may, upon reasonable suspicion, order a suspect to be detained for a period of three months, extendable by three-month intervals up to a total of eighteen months. These provisions have been supplemented by the state of emergency regulations, first put into effect in May 1983 and renewed on a monthly basis thereafter. Under these regulations, police are given broad powers of preventive detention. In addition, a suspect may be detained for up to ninety days by order of the attorney general. At the end of this period, the suspect must appear before a magistrate's court which, with or without an indictment, is required by law to remand the suspect to prison. Subsequent detention may continue for an indefinite period of time.

Data as of October 1988