The Justice Arm of State Turns the Screws
On 31 August 2020 night, the second in command at Jaffna police, Mr. G. Jayantha came home with a Tamil speaking police-officer Mr.A. Jeyenthiran. To be clear, they were both courteous. They informed me that they had closed the investigation on my daughter’s May Quarantine and sent the file to Colombo but it had been returned with instructions to ask me why I took my daughter to the Election Commission on 18, 19 May 2019 without home-quarantine, and why I had violated curfew during those days.
Summary: Incompetence of Dr. Anil Jasinghe
I have already reported in the press what happened and will do so again. My daughter, Elilini Hoole, a doctoral student at Cambridge, was evacuated during the COVID-19 epidemic by the UK Sri Lankan High Commission. The distancing rule was not maintained on the flight that arrived on 4 May, 2020. She was taken directly from the Airport to Jetwing Negombo for 2 weeks’ isolation. Upon completion, she was issued a certificate that was undated and unreferenced by any number, and signed by Lieut. General Shavendra de Silva (Head, COVID Taskforce) and Director General of Health Services Dr. Anil Jasinghe.
The certificate stated that she “underwent the necessary Quarantine Process.” There was no word of further quarantining at home. Although bearing Dr. Jasinghe’s signature, the certificate violated his own rule in Health Ministry Circular EPID/400/n-COV of 8 April 2020 which required stating on the same certificate in cases where further home-quarantine is recommended) and reads:
I had gone to Colombo on 17 May because of work. I expected Elilini to be released so I took my son with me as I have a still recovering fractured shoulder and cannot lift heavy bags.
On 18 May, while at office, I received a call asking me to pick up Elilini and did so. She was not given any instructions on further home quarantining for two weeks but told only to be careful as she could still pick up the disease although the PCR test for CoVID cleared her.
We took it for granted that our officials are competent and correctly cleared her of undergoing the necessary quarantine process in accordance with Ministry of Health Circular EPID/400/2019 NCoV dated 10 April 2020 which read in paragraph 2: “Please note that public health staff should do only home quarantining of contacts of confirmed COVID-19 cases.” The placement of the word ‘only’ lends this to confused interpretation. Elilini had not been in contact with any confirmed COVID-19 patient.
As I had been called while at work and there were still unfinished matters, I went back to office. We ordered our meals for delivery. After spending the night in my rented Colombo residence, I went back to work the next morning with my son and daughter, and went to lunch in Bambalapitiya before which we visited Albert Edirisinghe’s for glasses. While there, my driver Mr. Balahasan received a call from Mr. Rizan Manzil (Chairman’s PA) to tell me there was pandemonium at the office over my daughter’s presence, staff had been ready to jump off the second floor on seeing her, that all the offices had been disinfected and we all had immediately to go into quarantine. It was clearly unfounded mass hysteria at the Commission by people who had not read up on quarantine procedures.
I promptly returned to the Commission, picked up my brief-case, went to Borella for our bags and took off for Jaffna. When in Kochchikadai, we stopped for our lunch and thereafter Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya called and informed me that there was a misunderstanding and I could come back. I was too distraught at the animosity by my coworkers, and proceeded home. On the way we were stopped at almost every check point. A friendly soldier apologetically told us that our vehicle plate number had been given and they had been asked to check us without saying for what. Our number plate could only have come from the Commission Secretariat, just as it has appeared in Colombo Telegraph comments by one calling himself Eagle Eye. So, it was quite late when we reached Jaffna.
The next morning the police came home and wanted the whole household quarantined. Fortunately, our MOH, Dr. Balamurali, not motivated and enervated by communal passions, told us there was no need and only my daughter should confine herself because he is under pressure.
Offending the Rulers
It is no secret that I have offended the rulers. I broke with the Commission and challenged the dissolution of Parliament in 2018. A full-bench Supreme Court upheld my stance. Earlier during the local government elections too, I broke with long standing practice in pushing for action when big-wigs on both sides of the parliamentary aisle broke election laws. The same could be said of the presidential elections too. Dayasiri Jayasekera has promised to have me removed from the Commission for upholding the law. The police visit on a closed case could be a sign of the wheels turning. Prof. G.L. Pieris has effectively called me (or, as unlikely, Mr. Deshapriya or Mr. Nalin Abeyesekere the other two members of the Commission) a saboteur saying that the saboteur by absenting himself from meetings can forestall the elections. I did not earn their kudos when Mr. Abeyesekere and I did not permit elections on 25 April because of the dangers of COVID-19.
For all these reasons I presume, Ceylon Today (owned by Tiran Alles, now an MP) and Divaina (Upali Newspapers) of 20 May launched a tirade against me. It was alleged that I took my daughter to the Commission without undergoing quarantine, and ignoring the staff who were objecting. No one objected or even commented. The article also claimed that my using a Commission vehicle was “an act of corruption” although the Commission by resolution had asked me to use the Jaffna car because of COVID-19, and curfew.
Dr. Jasinghe told Ceylon Today on 21 May that I had acted unethically in taking my daughter to the Commission when it was he who had been unethical in writing a circular, which he disregarded when signing quarantine certificates, and then put the blame on my daughter and me. The physical harm caused by neglecting to instruct a patient in proper quarantine procedures and signing incorrect medical certificates, in addition to the mental harm caused by then publicly slandering the patient and her family, seems far from the Hippocratic oath primum non nocere. I teach ethics and one thing I say is it is unethical and disrespectful of persons to use poor grammar in public health circulars because, in writing unintelligible documents we do not care if the reader understands us or not.
Lake House got into the act now. On 23 May 2020, Mr. M.A.M. Nilam, a senior journalist, wrote a piece in Thinakaran stating that Chairman Deshapriya had given an interview saying that I am a nuisance and that the Commission had decided to ask for my removal. Only parliament can remove a Commission member and there was no parliament at the time. When Rizan Manzil telephoned Nilam, he admitted that there had been no interview and claimed that our retired Commissioner General M. Mohammed had given the information (which Mohammed denies). In any case, there was no interview with the Chairman, although Mr. Deshapriya’s denial in I believe Divaina is yet to receive proper circulation. That conversation with Mr. Manzil where Mr. Nilam admits he did not interview the Chairman is on record.
Yet, the next day, there was another piece from Nilam repeating the same untruths. For Lake House to recklessly stick its neck out like this, pressure must be from very high up. He claimed I owned my rented house in Borella.
On 8 June, 2020 Ceylon Today mischievously claimed as based on reliable reports that I, who had lost 4 years of my life hiding from the LTTE and lost my post as VC/Jaffna, “had attempted to spread the separatist ideology of the [LTTE] and engaged in fundraising for the LTTE” in Nigeria. The same news-report gave a complaint filed against me by Douglas Devananda without saying that it had been thrown out by the magistrate saying he did not see any evidence of the alleged police inquiry, which was being used to keep me on bail 6 years after the complaint. In an expanded article on 8 June, the headline was “Hoole the liar!”
The next day, 9 June, writer Dr Sudath Gunasekara Mahanuwara, had a post in Lankaweb headlined “Prof. Hoole is not a fool. HE is a tool. How did the Constitutional Council Appointed a Nigerian Citizen as a member of the Sri Lanka Election Commission?”
I was on a work permit in Nigeria. The accuracy of these articles and the level of English testify to the quality of the authors and publishers. It is noteworthy that these untrue articles originate from sources that have the same political leaning. There was desperation at the time to ensure a 2/3 parliamentary victory by shutting down anyone who would stand in the way when they flout election laws.
Minister of Justice:
Mr. Ali Sabry just before the presidential elections is recorded on video saying that Mr. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa will win and if his audience of Muslims do not vote for him, they will get a thrashing (ambaanai). The recording came to me and, as is my duty, I filed it with our complaints unit. If found guilty, Mr. Sabry stands to lose his seat and to be banned from politics for 7 years. Is it right for him to occupy the position of Minister of Justice? Even if he does not interfere, would law enforcement officials not try to shut down the complaint? Even harass me by reviving well-settled investigations to curry favour with the Minister?
Response to Police
I told the police who came for a further 3 hours of statement recording from me and my two children on 1 June that this is all politically motivated because I do not play the game of writing of all violations without naming the culprits. Why did the police in Colombo send the closed file for another inquiry when Jaffna police had closed the matter? When the Commission had closed its inquiry? What right have cheats to impunity through anonymity? I mentioned that Mr. Sabry and Mr. Alles stand to lose their seats in Parliament if the complaints against them I have passed on to the Commission are found to be true.
As for violating curfew, I ensured to travel outside curfew hours. Government itself had said officials on duty may travel during curfew. And like with a driver driving without a licence, action could have been taken while I was violating curfew but not after I had gone home saying “I heard you went out in curfew hours.” In any event, there was no valid curfew that was gazetted as required in law. We have no competence in government.
Taking an appointment at the Election Commission is a very dangerous job. How the Commission regards upholding the law is seen in applicants for new party registration giving as proof of their political experience posters that do not have the publisher’s name, a punishable offence!
The police said the inquiry is based on the Divaina article Since when do the police act on newspaper articles without a formal complaint? If that is practice, let them investigate all my complaints here. We need to re-invent our institutions.