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State toughens on eve of budget

*Tissa Attanayake gets long remand
* Asoka Peiris gets more time to recuperate from overwork



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The remanding of Tissa Attanayake for nearly six weeks has sent shock waves through both sides of the political divide. Attanayake was the general secretary of the UNP during what was probably the worst period in its history. All of us journalists know him as a friendly and approachable politician. It was through Attanayake and his secretary that all the Sunday political columnists got their ‘gossip’ about the UNP. This was not leaked information. Every political party officially gives out the gossip relating to their organisation every week to the Sunday columnists and it was Attanayake who ran this operation for the UNP for many years. He left the UNP on the eve of the last presidential election sounding the warning that fielding a common candidate from outside the UNP would result in UNP members being subject to gross injustice. In the two years that has lapsed up to now his words have been proved right time and again and he has many sympathisers within the UNP who are appalled at the treatment meted out to the man who had shouldered party responsibilities during a difficult period.


What is incomprehensible is the fact that he has been remanded for one and a half months in one go. Even if a person is produced in courts over a murder charge, he is remanded for two weeks which is extended as required. But how was Attanayake remanded over a forgery charge for six weeks in one go – ie. until the next hearing of the case? The CID came into focus because of the manner in which they charged the suspects in the Ekneligoda case. One Magistrate before whom one of these suspects was produced said in open court that his hands are bound because of the laws under which the suspect is being produced before him and that according to the law he has to remand the suspect but that in his view the fundamental rights of the suspect has been violated by the actions of the CID.


The remanding of Tissa Attanayake for one and a half months is a case in point. Attanayake was supposed to have been indicted for forging what was purported to be an agreement between the TNA, the UNP and the common candidate at the last presidential election.  He has been charged under the Penal Code, the Presidential Elections Act and what is known as the ICCPR Act No: 56 of 2007. Surprisingly, this extended period in remand for Attanayake was not brought about because of the provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code but the the ICCPR Act. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights is supposed to guarantee the rights of citizens in a manner superior to the local law. But now the ICCPR Act too is being used as an instrument of repression by the government. The relevant Sections of the ICCPR Act are 3(1) and 3(4) which are as follows:


3(1) No person shall propagate war or advocate national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.


3(4) An offence under this section shall be cognizable and non-bailable, and no person suspected or accused of such an offence shall be enlarged on bail, except by the High Court in exceptional circumstances.


By what stretch of the imagination are we to say that Tissa Attanayake’s supposedly forged document propagated war or advocated racial or religious hatred? Both locally and internationally one comes across many instances where laws meant for a certain purpose are used for other purposes in such a manner that it defeats the original purpose of that law. Sections 3(1) and 3(4) of the ICCPR Act are obviously meant to deal with serious depredations committed by individuals and organizations such as the Bodu Bala Sena and particularly operatives like Gnanasara. Even the Eluga Tamil movement of C.V.Wigneswaran would not yet qualify to come under these sections of the ICCPR Act. Before applying the law, what has to applied first is commonsense. But that seems to be too much to ask of a government that seems to have taken leave of its senses. Judges are bound by the laws that are invoked before them by the prosecution. The prosecutions are handled by the executive arm of the state. The discretion of the judge can be used only during the hearing of the case. Unless the judiciary acts judiciously despite the dementia affecting the executive, all is lost. 


 


Antidote to the


blackmailing of judges


These days matters affecting the judiciary, such as the arbitrary power of judges and the personal vilification of judges by websites with vested interests with a view to influencing their judgments have become a hot topic not only among the legal fraternity but the general public as well, with the screening of documentaries like ‘Usaviya Nihandai’ which depicts the judiciary as a law unto itself and the parallel campaign being led by Hemantha Warnakulasuriya to protect judges from blackmail by various websites. These days the discussion is on whether the judiciary is a victim of unprincipled vested interests or a perpetrator of injustice in its own right as depicted in ‘Usaviya Nihandai’ or whether it is a bit of both at the same time.


At least with regard to one of these problems, the legal profession in the northern province has probably given the rest of the country an indication of what needs to be done. The blackmailing of the judiciary by websites based overseas with a view to obtaining the judgments they want, has become a matter even more insidious than the influence of the executive arm on the judiciary. The suspicion is that the executive arm itself is using these websites to manipulate the judiciary by holding out the threat of vilification and blackmail. Judges are not people used to negative publicity at a personal level. The capacity the websites have to blackmail the judiciary up and down the hierarchy gives them enormous power. The members of the judiciary itself have no one to complain to when they are vilified in this manner.


Complaining to the police will not produce results when the websites are operated from overseas. The Northern Province lawyers have shown how this can be dealt with. In response to scurrilous articles published on a website called newjaffna.com against Jaffna high court judge M. Ilanchelian and Killinochchi Magistrate A.Anandarajah, all lawyers in the Northern Province refrained from participating in court proceedings effectively shutting down the judiciary in the Province last Thursday. This seems to be an effective way of giving the judges the moral support necessary to be able to cope with this problem. A judge who is publicly supported in this manner will be less likely to succumb to blackmail by websites.


Public support for judges in this manner should of course be accompanied by the freedom given to the media to comment on the facts or the law relating to any matter before the judiciary without vilifying the judge concerned. If public support for judges in the manner mentioned above is not accompanied by the freedom given to the media to comment on the law and the facts relating to any matter before courts, then that will result in the judiciary becoming a law unto itself. Furthermore, these archaic notions about sub judice are no longer valid in this era of the internet and the social media. If the media can pick holes in a judgment they should be free to do so because that indicates that there are shortcomings in the case. But there is no need to personally vilify the judge in doing so.


 


No resting in peace for Lasantha


The Lasantha Wickremetunga murder investigation is fast turning into a fiasco with the exhumation of the body of the former army intelligence operative who had claimed to have killed him just days after the latter was buried. The exhumation takes place on the excuse that the police needed his fingerprints to carry out the investigation. The Magistrate may order the exhumation but it is the police that make the request and once such a request is made the magistrate has little choice in the matter however odd it may seem. It is said that the Judicial Medical Officer who conducted the post mortem examination on the former soldier ordered police to obtain the fingerprints of the deceased, but the police had not carried out the order. The CID informed the Magistrate that they needed the fingerprints of the deceased to ascertain whether they would match the prints found on the vehicle of Wickrematunga on the day of his killing.


Lasantha’s good friend Sarath Kongahage told this writer at his funeral that Lasantha was not able to survive the sub period of Saturn during the major period of Rahu. Well it still appears that even in death Lasantha is still not out of the woods. First the party that he supported made a formal a statement in parliament accusing a certain person of killing Lasantha. Then less than a year after the murder, his party was trying to make his alleged executioner President of the country. To add insult to injury, Lasantha’s own newspaper was backing his alleged executioner! If there is any truth in this suicide note left behind by the former military intelligence operative, then it virtually proves that that the statements made in parliament by the UNP about who killed Lasantha are true. What other indignities is Lasantha Wickrematunga going to be subject to before he is finally laid to rest?


 


CID’s search for body parts


The allegation made against the CID last week by Dr Neville Fernando, the head of SAITM, assumes a special seriousness in the context of what has been happening in this country. He stated at a press conference that when allegations were being made that the body parts of Wasim Thajudeen had been taken to SAITM by the former Colombo JMO Ananda Samarasekera, he had requested the IGP and the CID to come and investigate. Dr Fernando said that when the CID did turn up, they had taken away ten or fifteen boxes but that only the seal of the CID had been affixed onto them. They had rejected SAITM’s request to place their own seal on the boxes and Dr Fernando said that the CID can now place anything they want in the boxes and claim that Thajudeen’s body parts were found at SAITM.


The saga of the controversial Director General of the Bribery Commission Dilrukshi Dias Wickremesinghe ended with the acceptance of her resignation by the President. As we stated last week, her appointment as the Director General of the Bribery Commission to ‘expedite investigations’ after removing the serving DG on the allegation that he was not vigorous enough, was repugnant from the beginning because this was obviously a case of positioning partisan government officials to carry out a witch hunt against the opposition. Now this lady has gone back to the Attorney General’s department which is probably worse than her being at the Bribery Commission. The AG’s department should have a system whereby officers whose partisanship becomes a matter of public comment are automatically kept away from cases involving politicians.


After her resignation, Dilrukshi Wickremesinghe has been tarred and feathered by both sides of the political divide. The harshest criticism came from none other than the government co-spokesman Dr Rajitha Senaratne who lashed out at the way Minister A.H.M. Fowzie had been questioned by the Bribery Commission in the presence of trainee interrogators who were watching the proceedings as part of their training. Senaratne also spoke disparagingly of the clumsy moves she had made to get down the much talked about ill-gotten gains of the Rajapaksas from Dubai by getting President Sirisena to write a letter to the ruler of Dubai asking him to release the money allegedly lying in Rajapaksa’s accounts.


Senaratne said of this attempt that it was only too obvious that Dubai would never divulge such details as that would damage their banking reputation. In other words Senaratne himself was saying Wickremesinghe was incompetent. Dilrukshi Wickremesinghe lived in obscurity and nobody knew whether she was competent or incompetent until she was catapulted into the limelight by being appointed as the good governance government’s chief investigator and she too took to her assigned role like a duck to water. Some said she even had ambitions of becoming a Supreme Court Judge. Now she has had to make an exit from her high profile position under fire from the very powers that appointed her to that position. The JHU has also lashed out at her saying that she resigned because she did not want to take action against her ‘friends’ who were involved in the bond scam.


Now we are hearing from a section of the government side that the perception that the opposition had of her of being partisan and biased was correct. Now this person who has been accused of being partisan and biased by both sides of the political divide is holding the position of Deputy Solicitor General in the Attorney General’s Department. How is that supposed to be conducive to the impartiality of that body?


 


Faizer’s concern for Asoka


Peiris’ health


It was with amusement that many people noted last week that the minister of Local Government and Provincial Councils Faizer Musthapha had given his Delimitation Committee a further extension up to 31 December 2016. Nobody was surprised. Earlier he had given an unsolicited extension to this committee appointed by him from 31 August to 31 October 2016 on the grounds that Asoka Peiris the Chairman of this committee was working too hard and ruining his health. Mr Peiris is truly fortunate in having a kind and considerate minister in Faizer. While other public servants are paid to perform, it appears that Asoka Peiris is being paid not to perform. Delimitation of the wards for the local government election is being carried out like the bicycle race where the winner is the rider who maintains his balance longest at the slowest pace.


It will be useful if the Chairman of the Delimitation Committee holds a press conference and informs the public about what he is doing; after all he is not doing the initial work on delimiting the wards. The delimitation of the wards was completed last year by a different Delimitation Committee and they were even gazetted. The present Delimitation Committee has been appointed to look into various complaints received about the previous delimitation. Asoka Peiris should hold a press conference and keep the public informed of the number of complaints, the types of complaints, the action taken to resolve the issues and now many unresolved issues still remain. As of now his silence seem to indicate that he, being an appointee of his minister, is playing along with his masters to deprive the people of their right to exercise their franchise.


Given the fear that this government has of elections, it seems almost certain that this government will allow the North Central, Sabaragamuwa and Northern Provincial Councils to lapse next year without holding elections. They may try to pacify the southern electorate by using C.V.Wigneswaran and his extremism as an excuse not to have the Northern PC elections and they can always says that since a new constitution is in the pipeline, there is no point in holding elections to the North Central and Sabaragamuwa Provinces either.   


The vehemence of the reaction from within the yahapalana coalition to President Maithripala Siriena’s speech about the CID, FCID and Bribery Commission has come as a surprise to the opposition. In the past too the president has blown hot and cold and most people have got used to the contradictory statements he makes from time to time. Even the things he said about the CID, FCID and Bribery Commission have been expressed earlier as well though perhaps not in the same words and tone. The words of reassurance that he offered to his camp after his outburst at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute by saying that this government will not fall till 2020 appear to have fallen on deaf ears. The outpouring of chagrin from within his camp continued last week as well.


In his regular column which had the telling title this week ‘Whither yahapalanaya?’ Sunanda Deshapriya had said that what has now been christened as President Sirisena’s ‘cyanide speech’ had shaken the January 8 revolution and poured honey into the ears of the likes of Wimal Weerawansa and Udaya Gammampila and caused immense pain of mind to the forces that supported him with hopes of democratic good governance and a solution to the ethnic question. Deshapriya said that Sirisena had now adopted the position of unconditionally protecting the so called war heroes. He also said despairingly that the president’s speech was an indication of disunity within the unity government.


Government co-spokesman Rajitha Senaratne’s insistence at the cabinet press briefing that President Sirisena had not mentioned Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s name during his speech even though the whole country heard the President mentioning GR’s name among those who should never have been ‘herded’ to courts, could have been Senaratne’s own way of sending a signal to the President that he too disapproved of the President’s speech even though he was compelled to support at least a part of it in public. Lankaenews said that after the president’s ‘cyanide speech’ the thieves and murderers who had been defeated on January 8 are now jubilant. They said that the president has expressed his opposition to bringing the former Defence Secretary and former service chiefs to court even if they have done wrong. Lanka e News has described the realignment of forces and thinking patterns taking place in the yahapalana coalition as a ‘dance of death’.


 


 


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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