Duminda Silva, a murder convict on death row was afforded a special hearing by the Presidential Commission on political victimisation weeks after its term officially ended.
The Presidential Commission of Inquiry on Political Victimization concluded examining evidence in the complaints filed before the controversial body on October 31. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa issued a special gazette notification extending the term of the Commission by 16 days from November 9 2020 to November 25th 2020 to facilitate the finalisation of the Commission Report.
But the PCoI utilized the 16-day special reporting extension by convening especially to hear a complaint brought on behalf of former MP Duminda Silva who was convicted of murdering SLFP politico Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra and five others in 2011 by a High Court Trial at Bar. That verdict was upheld and ratified by a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka in 2019.
Several questions about the referral of the Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra murder case now decided and determined by a High Court Trial at Bar and the highest court in Sri Lanka – the Supreme Court – to a Presidential Commission of Inquiry remain unanswered.
There is no precedent for a Presidential Commission of Inquiry to investigate, vacate or overturn judgments made by Sri Lanka’s highest courts.
Furthermore, the scope of the Commission’s mandate extends only to complaints made by members of the tri-forces or public officials – namely government servants. However, the Commission has routinely interpreted its mandate loosely to include all manner of Gotabaya Rajapaksa acolytes and associates. Avant Garde Chairman Nissanka Senadhipathi – a private citizen – also filed a complaint before the commission and had it examined. Duminda Silva is neither a member of the armed forces or a public servant, yet the Commission has not only heard his complaint in a special sitting, but it has also noticed respondents.
Silva’s complaint was filed by his father Lal Silva. Lal Silva alleges that the arrest, prosecution and conviction of Duminda Silva was a “political conspiracy” to destroy his son. He said the conspirators included then CID Director SSP Shani Abeysekera, CID Inspector Nishantha Silva and CID officer Ranjan Lamahewa. Appearing for Lal Silva, President’s Counsel Anuja Premaratne claimed that the murder case was first heard at High Court 1 before Judge Devika Tennnakoon but the Attorney General had subsequently requested the Chief Justice to appoint a High Court Trial At Bar. Silva’s attorneys also played tapes of conversations between former UNP MP and current SJB Parliamentarian Ranjan Ramanayake and then CID Director SSP Abeysekera and then High Court Judge Padmini Ranawaka.
The Commission cited Ramanayake, SSP Abeysekera, former CID IP Nishantha Silva and retired HC judge Padmini Ranawaka as respondents to the Duminda Silva complaint.
Duminda Silva – now on death row – served as monitoring MP to the Ministry of Defence when Gotabaya Rajapaksa held office as Secretary to the Ministry of Defence (2005-2015). Silva is a special friend to the current President and his brother Rainor Silva who owns the ABC media empire including the powerful Hiru TV has been a strong backer of the Podujana Party and the Gotabaya Rajapaksa candidacy and subsequently his presidency.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s PCoI on political victimisation has routinely heard complaints by military officials and others who have been indicted in the Sri Lankan courts for high crimes and atrocities including abduction and murder.
The Commission is chaired by retired Supreme Court Justice Upali Abeyratne.
PCoI Chairman Upali Abeyeratne – a Brief History
Abeyratne was disgraced in 1998-1999 as a district judge after he was found to have persecuted a plaintiff suing WAB Jayasekera’s wife for divorce. The plaintiff – WAB Jayasekera – cited former Chief Justice Sarath N Silva as co-respondent in the divorce proceedings. Silva reportedly leaned on the District Judge to act in a punitive manner against Jayasekera. Jayasekera complained to the Judicial Services Commission about the conduct of the district judge. The complaint was investigated by two respected SC justices the late Mark Fernando and Tissa Bandaranayake. The Fernando-Bandaranayake report recommended legal action against Abeyratne and the JSC referred the matter to the Attorney General – then Sarath Silva himself who swept the matter under the carpet.
But due to pressure from the Bar Association of Sri Lanka then led by Romesh De Silva PC as president, the JSC was forced to appoint a three-judge committee of the Appeal Court to investigate the allegations into Abeyratne. The Committee investigated and recommended compulsory retirement for the errant district court judge. The JSC initially sent him on retirement effective July 31, 1999 but subsequently reversed this decision and gave him a punishment transfer to Moneragala instead. Abeyratne eventually rose through the ranks to become a Supreme Court Justice appointed by then President Mahinda Rajapaksa. (By Chinthika De Silva)