Hirunika Premachandra is the daughter of SLFP trade-unionist and long time ally of current prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra who was brutally murdered by Silva and his goons in October 2011. Silva was convicted of the murder by the High Court and the judgment was subsequently upheld by a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court.
In a five-page, hard-hitting letter to the President written the day Silva was released, Premachandra accused Gotabaya Rajapaksa of being a coward and a puppet, and no longer the man who “really leads the country.”
“Accept this truth,” she urged the President, calling him a cat’s paw of a few powerful people who were manipulating his decisions.
Sri Lanka was a lawless country under Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s rule, Premachandra said, likening him to a master leading a nation of slaves to certain death.
“Your rule is breeding injustice, Mr President,” her letter charged. “The day is not far off when the people will break these shackles and rise up,” the letter warned.
Premachandra goes into depth about the relationship between her father and Mahinda Rajapaksa, saying the pair shared an unique brotherhood. Her father had stood by the current prime minister when he was nearly denied the opposition leadership and the premiership by former President Chandrika Kumaratunga, she explained.
Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra made one big misstep when he criticised former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa for his association with Silva, who he said was taking the official to all the houses in Kolonnawa that were part of his lucrative illegal narcotics operation. Silva is a well-known drug kingpin in Kolonnawa and continued to run his narcotics operation from inside Welikada Prison.
Giving an unprecedented and heart-rending account of the day her father was murdered, Premachandra said even 10 years later the pain was still “unbearable”, cutting through her happiness as a mother and a wife. The families of Lasantha Wickrematunge, Prageeth Eknaligoda and Wasim Thajudeen who had not got justice were also probably reliving this trauma every day of their lives, she said.
“No matter how full our lives are, what blessings we receive, there is a void in our hearts that will never be filled,” her letter to the President emphasized.
The condemnation is the most scathing yet of the President’s controversial decision to pardon Silva, and has drawn little reaction from Hirunika Premachandra’s own party, which fears reprisals from the broadcasting giant Hiru TV, owned by the murder convict’s brother Raynor. The Samagi Jana Balawegaya General Secretary issued a statement opposing the pardon, but SJB MPs have refrained from making individual statements or launching a campaign against the President’s actions. Hiru TV has repeatedly blacked out MPs who speak openly against Duminda Silva and launched campaigns to discredit them.
See translation of Hirunika Premachandra’s letter below. For original Sinhala letter, click here.
Written on Poson Full Moon Poya Day, 24th June 2021.
H.E. Gotabaya Rajapaksa
President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka Presidential Secretariat
Re: Granting Presidential Pardon to R. Dumunda Silva, who was convicted for the murder of Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra by seven Judges.
I am the daughter of Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra, Trade Union Adviser to your brother, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, and former Member of Parliament.
On October 8, 2011, my beloved father was shot and killed in broad daylight, his body riddled with over 20 bullets. Two High Court judges convicted former MP R Duminda Silva of his murder, and their ruling was upheld by five judges of the Supreme Court, including the Chief Justice. Today, you granted him a presidential pardon.
On that fateful day, my mother and I received an anonymous telephone call informing us that my father had been shot. We did not panic initially, because we were used such phone calls. In the past they had always been followed up with confirmation that my father was safe from harm.
In 1999, it was my father who organized the final election rally for President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga in Borella. After the LTTE bomb attack on that rally, my father reached out to our family on the telephone to confirm that he was unharmed in the blast. Every morning, my brother and I would worship our father before leaving for school. I vividly remember that when we walked up to him to pay our respects the morning after the bomb blast at the rally, his tunic was still smeared with blood.
In a war-torn country, these incidents were common during his political career that spanned 30 years. But that day in October 2011, the phone never stopped ringing. My mother and I decided to leave for the National Hospital in Colombo. When we got there, we were told to make our way to the mortuary.
Ten years have passed, and the memory of my father’s tragic death still crushes me, filling me with dread and making me feel like the whole world is collapsing around me.
I was 23 years old when my father was assassinated. My mother and I, who had never stepped into a courtroom or a police station during his lifetime, trekked from courtroom to courtroom for five long years, to seek justice for my father. The 20s in any young girl’s life, is a time for happiness and playfulness. I spent those years locking horns with a group of powerful, brutal murderers. When he died, hardly anybody knew Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra had a daughter. After his death, the whole country knew my name overnight. I made terrible enemies. All because I decided to pursue justice in court against my father’s killers.
When the Rajapaksa regime was in power, Duminda Silva did not spend a second in jail. This was the man the highest court has said led my father’s assassins and murdered people in broad daylight. It was the CID Director Shani Abeysekera and his officers who conducted meticulous investigations into my father’s murder, collecting every shred of evidence in an orderly and unimpeachable way. Today, Shani Abeysekera suffers for his courage to execute his duties as a police officer independently.
From the moment my father was killed, politicians across party lines flocked to pay their final respects to him. But you never showed up.
Mahinda Rajapaksa, Chamal Rajapaksa, Basil Rajapaksa, Shiranthi Rajapaksa, Namal Rajapaksa, Yoshitha Rajapaksa and Rohitha Rajapaksa all your family members attended my father’s funeral. But still you never appeared. You remained at Duminda Silva’s bedside at the Sri Jayewardenepura Hospital. Your priority was to order a helicopter to fly Duminda Silva to Singapore.
Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra entered politics in 1977, under the guidance of the late T.B. Illangaratne. Subsequently, he engaged in political activities with Vijaya Kumaratunga, as a founding member of Sri Lanka Mahajana Pakshaya. Entering parliament as a member representing the Sri Lanka Mahajana Pakshaya in 1994, he became a member of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, under President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga in 1996. This was at a time when barely a handful of people could be assembled to hoist a blue flag. At times, he fought single-handedly for the SLFP in the Colombo District.
From the day they met, my father developed a close friendship with your brother Mahinda Rajapaksa. For this reason, my father would refer to him only as “Mahinda aiyya”. Every step of the way, through joy and sorrow, my father stood with Mahinda Rajapaksa.
It was my father who battled against President Chandrika Kumaratunge’s decision to give the post of Leader of the Opposition to another person. It was Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra who fought for Mahinda Rajapaksa to be appointed prime minister when the leadership had decided otherwise. Any current politician in the SLPP who once held membership in the SLFP, knows this story. You can ask anyone of them, irrespective if they are parliamentarians or not. You can learn this history from the Prime Minister himself. He was completely dedicated to his friend Mahinda who he considered a brother. Where he believed he was standing on principle, my father would not budge. He raised his voice continuously for laborers and marginalized people at the grassroots level. He did not amass wealth as a politician. Instead, he acted as a friend and brother to everyone in the government and opposition.
But he made one misstep on a public stage a few days before he was killed.
“The Organizer of Kolonnawa, is taking the Defense Secretary who is the President’s brother, to every house to which he is selling Heroin. This is my worry. I must state at this point that we will not only ensure the victory of Prasanna. We will also fight to sever the Rajapaksa generation we built with much difficulty, from these heroin dealers.”
I believe that these few words may have led to his murder. These are the very last words my father uttered in public.
Mr. President, ask yourself how prophetic these words of a murdered man have proved today.
A decade later, my father’s brutal death still haunts me. From time to time, I have had to seek treatment to deal with the pain and trauma. As a mother of three, I try hard to be optimistic and move forward. But to this day, the loss of my father cuts through that joy and fills me with unbearable pain. Perhaps this is how all families who suffer the sudden, tragic death of a loved one. The families of Prageeth Eknaligoda, Lasantha Wickrematunge and Wasim Thajudeen – they must all be living through this trauma every day of their lives. No matter how full our lives are, what blessings we receive, there is a void in our hearts that will never be filled.
These victims and their families have never been given justice. They have a right to see these killers brought to court and face up to their crimes.
You campaigned and won the presidential election under the these ‘One Country, One Law’. Today, those words have been reduced to nothing more than sloganeering to win an election.
Now, if every prisoner on death row demands a presidential pardon, you are in no position to refuse. If convicted prisoners are to be arbitrarily released by presidential pardon, what are prisons for? Why do we have laws? Why do we have judges?
By your cowardly decisions, today, this country is lawless. This is a nation of slaves, in the grip of a master leading them to certain death. You are not the real ruler of this country today. You must accept that. You are just a puppet manipulated by other forces.
Believing in the vision of you as a leader like Mahathir Mohamed, Lee Kuan Yew or Vladimir Putin, 6.9 million Sri Lankan citizens placed their faith in you and propelled you to the presidency. They gave you a two thirds majority in Parliament. They made it possible for you to enact the 20th Amendment to the Constitution. What more tools could you possibly need to make difficult decisions that will benefit all Sri Lankans. Instead, you have chosen to become a puppet. It is impossible to imagine now that your rule will ever usher in a better country. Your actions in this past year have amply demonstrated that.
My father is now a footnote in history. But he has left behind so much for his grandchildren to take pride in and remember. What legacy do you hope to leave behind? What will leave behind for your newborn granddaughter to speak of proudly when you are gone?
In accordance with the Buddhist precepts that I live by, I have already forgiven former MP Duminda Silva. But Buddhism also teaches that rulers must be just and uphold the laws of the land. Your actions have undermined the rule of law and made a mockery of justice. Two out of three High Court judges ruled that Duminda Silva had murdered my father and sentenced the killers to death. The defendants appealed to the Supreme Court. Five judges of the Supreme Court including the then Chief Justice, upheld the verdict of the High Court. Five judges of the Supreme Court determined that Duminda Silva had been the ringleader of the illegal assembly that killed my father. If the decisions of High Court and Supreme Court judges are cast into the garbage and the final decisions are made by you, of what use are laws in this country? 6.9 million people put their faith in you and chose you to be leader of this country. You must now be prepared to answer them. Your present conduct make sure that the people will never allow a Rajapaksa to rule the country again.
Now that you have dismissed the verdict of seven judges to release Duminda Silva, I would not be surprised if you were to nominate him as a Chief Minister and bring him back into politics. This country is transformed now into a nation of slaves, being marshalled towards their own destruction by their masters. But the people will not tolerate injustice forever. Your rule is breeding injustice, Mr President, and the day is not far off when the people will break these shackles and rise up. When it comes, people like you who have no backbone and no respect for justice and the rule of law will be bereft of a political future.
Hirunika Premachandra, M.P.